November 3, 2023 •
As locals pass by the Carter Memorial United Methodist Church on a Sunday, they may hear more than just hymns.
Within that sacred hall, performers will play the musical stylings of Mozart, Brahms and Schubert as part of the Needham Concert Society’s first of four classical shows in its 2023-2024 season.
Outside of religious service, the space provides an “intimate” atmosphere for both the musicians and their audience, NCS President Jane Knetzger said. Unlike a traditional concert hall or theater, the church — acoustically and socially — makes the concert all the more special, she said.
During the pandemic, people were “starved for music,” Knetzger said, not only because they enjoyed it but because, in many ways, it became their solace.
“I think that chamber music is very restorative,” she said. “People find it to be a really moving and intense experience. I certainly do, and that’s what I see on people’s faces as they’re leaving the concert, too.”
The Orion Chamber Ensemble, which includes NCS Artistic Director Ron Lowry, will perform Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. alongside violist Noriko Futagami.
Lowry, who also plays principal cello with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the Boston Ballet Orchestra, selected the pieces: two piano quartets — a lighthearted one from Mozart and a more somber piece by Brahms — and a Schubert string trio.
It’s a “can’t-miss” performance, Lowry said, and one that forges connection, no matter how foreign classical music may seem to some. Chamber music — wherein only person plays each instrument — is designed for such small settings, Lowry said.
“You’re up within a few feet of the performers. You can hear them breathing, you can feel the experience being there,” Lowry said, “which I think is a great way for people to hear music.”
That level of access extends to the post-concert reception, where attendees can speak face to face with the performers and ask them about the music and their technique.
Later in the season, Lowry will play the Brahms String Sextet No.1 — arranged for a piano trio — and Schubert’s Piano Trio No.1 on Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. alongside Irina Muresanu, a “star soloist” and violinist, and Max Levinson, who is the resident pianist at the Boston Chamber Music Society.
NCS also hosts a cello-piano duo performance March 3 at 3 p.m. with “rising star” Leland Ko, as well as a three-string trio April 7 at 3 p.m. in the season’s final show, Lowry said. All the musicians, sans conductor, also have a unique artistic freedom, he added.
By his estimation, the works are “absolute masterpieces,” Lowry said.
“Every moment on the program is beautiful,” he said, “and so we’re quite excited about that.”
The NCS has provided music to listening Needham ears for nearly 50 years, after founder and resident William Gibson was inspired to bring high-quality musical performances to locals. Before moving to Carter Memorial, the organization held its shows at the First Baptist Church for close to 40 years.
Knetzger said the concerts are a “low-stakes” setting for families, particularly those with children learning an instrument, and the society also hosts three spring student festivals that allow young musicians to showcase their talent. The piano, string and voice shows are open to Needham residents, or those with a Needham-based instructor, who are 18 years old and younger.
As the community continues to have an appetite for classical music, Knetzger sees the concerts and programming as a way to give back to that growing audience.
“Our donor list is getting so large I’m having trouble fitting it on the program,” Knetzger said. “That’s that sign of health, I think, that there’s so many loyal concert goers and (donors).”
Those interested in tickets can visit NeedhamConcertSociety.org.