Born in Oakland, just east of San Francisco, NEP violinist Tim Alexander moved to Boston a few months after the legendary storm of 1978. Our principal contrabassist Emily Koh sat down with him this week to chat about his life-changing experience at a David Oistrakh concert in Cleveland, what’s left on his bucket list, and his upcoming NEP milestone.


Violinist, Tim Alexander

EK: I have to ask, how did you feel watching the ’78 weather reports from your home in sunny California, thinking I’m moving there?

TA: To be honest, I wasn’t much focused on the snowy aspect of New England back then. Moving to Boston was a big career move for me at the time. I was in the customs brokerage business (import/export), newly licensed, and my company needed me to open a new office in Boston. I stayed in this line of work until 1986 and then pursued other interests. My career since then has mainly been helping manage community orchestras, including the NEP where I’ve done lots of grant writing, and also playing with many ensembles.

EK: You mentioned it was seeing the great Russian violinist David Oistrakh perform live in Cleveland when you were only five years old that prompted you to ask your mother for a violin. Can you still recall what about the evening inspired you?

TA:  Well, I was only five years old, I think, so it’s mostly that my parents noticed that I seemed inspired by his playing. Pretty soon after, I started taking violin lessons.

EK: Your 20-year anniversary performing with the NEP is approaching. What are some of your fondest NEP memories?

TA: Britten’s War Requiem at Boston’s Cathedral of Holy Cross in 2012 and in the cathedral in Providence, RI— those were two amazing performances in front of huge audiences. I would add Alban Berg’s Wozzeck a few years before that, performances of Nielsen’s Symphony no. 4, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto, and Gunther Schuller’s Cello Concerto as particularly memorable.

EK: From your perspective, how has the NEP changed over your tenure?

TA: The orchestra has attracted more really good players, some of whom have had long tenures with it. I find it particularly inspiring to have had Danielle Maddon as our concertmaster for all the time she has been with us.

EK: Let’s just say that for your 20-year anniversary, Maestro Pittman asks you, “Tim, what would you like to see the NEP perform?” What would make your list?

TA:  If I had to pick just one piece that the NEP has played before, it would be Gunther Schuller’s Cello Concerto (we performed it with Jan Muller-Szeraws in 2009). For something we’ve never done, Alban Berg’s Lulu or Henri Dutilleux’s Metaboles (or both, just not in the same concert).

EK: When you are not performing with the NEP, what are you up to?

TA: I am retired now and am truly getting the chance to do the things I love. Aside from the NEP, I also perform with the Brookline Symphony and Symphony Pro Musica. I play tennis and golf, and I have a home and garden I enjoy trying to maintain. I also inherited a huge library from my parents, which I’m trying to work my way through. I fashion myself as a pretty good cook and can follow a recipe. My significant other and I have made Thanksgiving turkey, with all the trimmings, every year for the last 10 years, and my favorites to make are ratatouille (Mom’s recipe) and apple pie. Bucket list items include more writing, translating (French), and editing.

EK: Finally, we’ve got NEP’s first concert of the 40th anniversary season coming up on October 29 at the Tsai Performance Center. What piece are you most looking forward to performing?

TA: That’s a difficult choice. I’ve always loved Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, but Ruggles’s Evocations is really beautiful, and I think Yehudi Wyner’s Piano Concerto deserves more than one hearing – especially now that I’ve heard it once with our piano soloist.


george-mullerFor over three decades, bassoonist George Muller has performed with orchestras all over the globe—and he’s got the tales to prove it. George sat down with NEP’s board president Ann Teixeira to talk about his musical journey from Germany to his new life as a down easter, scary sight-readings, and the art of beekeeping.

AT: You’ve been performing with the NEP since 2011, but I’ve heard this is actually your 34th year performing in orchestras all over the globe. Did I do my math right?

GM: It’s true. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. We don’t have enough time to go through the list, but I can say that the ones I recall the most fondly include the Hamburg Symphony, Bonn Beethovenhalle Orchestra, Deutsche Oper Berlin (West), Nuernberger Philharmonker, and Bochumer Symphoniker.

AT: And it was always the bassoon?

GM: In fourth grade I started with the trumpet, and then we moved. Then in the sixth grade, I took up the violin, and then we moved again! It wasn’t until high school that I joined the band and was offered the bassoon, and I never looked back. That was in September of 1961.

AT: With a career spanning as many years, and miles, as yours, you must have some amazing tales to tell. Can you name one of your most rewarding, challenging, and/or comical memories?

GM: The first two years with the Hamburg Symphony were the best. I was just starting out, and I was totally immersed in daily rehearsals, concerts, and recordings. I recall getting paid $250 a month—this was 1971. I still have contact with my mentor from those days, a clarinetist who is in his eighties now.

There are plenty of challenging stories. Subbing with operas in neighboring cities was always nerve-wracking; I’d get a call in the morning and play that evening. In the Deutsche Oper, I sight-read almost every night over a seven-month period as a substitute for 27 operas!

AT: I heard you’re a busy man off the concert stage as well and that your hobbies include gardening, sailing, camping, hiking, pickup basketball, travelling, and beekeeping. I’d love to hear more about the last one! How did you get into it?

GM: Bees have always interested me, and eight years ago, I decided to try it. My property sits on a half-acre lot, so I had the space. I produce honey and sell to people I know, just enough to offset costs.

AT: A little bird told me you have quite a vinyl record collection. What is your most prized record in the collection? 

GM: That would be the Verdi Requiem with the Hamburg University Orchestra, my first major work in my final year at Hamburger Musikhochschule. The soprano Luisa Bossabalian sang with acute appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital right after the concert. She could have died on stage!

AT: This year marks your sixth with the NEP. What is your fondest NEP memory?

GM: Britten’s War Requiem at Boston’s Cathedral of Holy Cross in 2012. It is just such a great composition, and I really bonded with the other wind players that cycle.

AT: Finally, we’ve got NEP’s first concert of the 40th anniversary season coming up on October 29 at the Tsai Performance Center. What piece are you most looking forward to performing?

GM: The whole 40th season schedule is exciting; it’s hard to choose one piece. I just love playing my bassoon, and I’m looking forward to the season.


Meet Sam Schmetterer – Principal Percussionist for the NEP

October 5, 2016

Born in Chicago and current resident of Quincy, Sam Schmetterer is the NEP’s principal percussionist, and has played with the orchestra since 2010. Our violinist and board member Charles Lin sat down with him this week to chat about Radiohead, Iceland, and his fondness for his didgeridoo. CL: How did your musical journey begin, let […]

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