SR: The first thing we try to understand is the flexibility with the artist or the band. It’s a unique hall; it’s tuned for orchestral music, so some band or artist is going to have a different kind of performance because the space allows for that. That’s one of the bullet points we need to check off. We also chat with the museum about what themes or topics they might be dealing with in the art or in some of the contemporary art they bring into the new wing and see if there’s someplace we can meet them there. But for the most part, it’s really been up to us to figure out how we want to shape and mold sounds that we have in the season.
I’m curious, have there been any major differences of opinion between you guys and the museum in terms of programming? How much freedom do you have?
SS: It is a very good collaboration in the sense that our goals were very well aligned from the very beginning. They give us a lot of freedom. We kind of got this gig because we performed there a few times before; they trust our taste and direction for this, so no, we’ve been on the same page.
SR: If there’s been any pushback at all, it’s been like, “Could we have something come down from the ceiling?” And they’re like, “No!” I mean, some of those ideas kind of get lost but outside of that, sonically and performance art-wise, it’s pretty open what we can bring into the hall.
It must be such a unique experience for the performers. Aside from the layout, when is the next time they’re going to get to perform in an acoustically perfect cube?
SS: It definitely is. We’ve had various responses to the hall. It’s a pretty intimidating hall at first because, first of all, you’re not higher than the audience, the audience is higher than you.
SR: Also, if you come into the museum early and you’re an artist and you have the opportunity to go into the historic building, you realize what the hall is adjacent to—this beautiful art that hasn’t been touched in many, many years. For some artists it can be intimidating, but part of what Simone and I do during the sound check is kind of help them understand. Part of our curation is to have that kind of performance coaching with the artist if we have the opportunity to.
SS: And on the other hand, it’s a very intimate hall, so once you connect you can really connect.
What kind of role, if any, did the Gardner play in your life during your time as Berklee students or before you got this gig?
SR: I related to Isabella herself. She was just this badass woman in her time and did everything she wasn’t supposed to do. At that time, how my career was going and trying to make a name for myself in Boston, that was also a connection. I was not wanting to be boxed in and I could relate to her story of just being an independent woman who loved art and was an influencer in her community.
RISE is such an exciting extension of the music that she would have in the museum back in her time. This is a fascinating, fresh way to continue her legacy. You’re also making sure that Berklee students are opening each concert. That’s an unbelievable opportunity.
SS: We are really happy to be doing it and, in fact, we were doing it even before the partnership with Berklee became official. Our first instinct was to reach out to people who graduated with us that we knew, and I’m personally very grateful to Berklee, so it feels beautiful to give back in that way. At some point in a person’s career someone gives you an opportunity and believes in you so you can perform. It feels good to be able to do it. It’s very rewarding.
SR: Yeah, I feel like we’ve come full circle. We’ve now been invited to identify inspiring and incredible acts from Berklee and we know what it’s like to even get a paycheck. Some of these students at Berklee, just to get invited, you don’t think about “I’m getting paid.” You’re just humbled that someone thinks you’re great besides your family, your friends, and your parents. To be on this side of it—we know what that opportunity feels like. It’s a real honor, actually.
The thing that always sticks out to me at the Gardner is that there’s this very sexy juxtaposition of the old and the new. You guys are undeniably a huge part of that. Why does it feel like such a sexy thing, bringing new, diverse, young people into an old museum?
SS: That’s a beautiful question. I feel like what we are trying to do is historically accurate, in a way. To think about a certain kind of classical music or a certain kind of audience according to a museum, we’re talking about the wealthiest class. Popular music is dominating the whole scene and the whole industry, so it’s a natural evolution for a space like that to become a bit more of the people and to embrace what’s going on right now while maintaining all the richness of classical heritage. We are grateful to the museum for being open to strive for that balance.
SR: And I think they are really honoring Isabella, right? She was bringing in the sexy, she was always cutting edge but it was always at the highest level. It was always rich in art and provocative and intelligent; that’s kind of what we are honoring and that’s what the museum has handed over to us.
RISE MUSIC SERIES. STARTING IN THE FALL AT ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM, 25 EVANS WAY, BOSTON. GARDNERMUSEUM.ORG