Pianist Diane Braun is island–hopping this season, traveling with Music Street, the ensemble she founded in 2013, to St. John and Martha’s Vineyard, in addition to their ongoing Boston-based performances. Braun and her merry band, all awardwinning New England Conservatory of Music alumni, enjoy playing the classics of the classics, rarely played classical works, and newly commissioned scores.
Braun relishes snooping around musical history, searching for musical gems not usually heard in the standard canon. Obscurity isn’t the point when choosing new repertory, but good music is. She founded Music Street, in part, to provide an avenue to perform her discoveries, saying, “Our goal in our concerts is to curate a program of interesting music which has context and connections, often to real life. I believe audiences are hungry to learn and are eager to find a relevant place for music in their lives. To that end, we provide lively narration as part of each program, which we hope acts as a set of verbal, entertaining program notes.”
“I attended NEC for eight years because I loved my teachers,” says longtime Music Street violinist Danny Koo. “The community at NEC is very warm, and the level of string playing is in its golden age. Every year, the level keeps going up.”
Supplementing her work at NEC as a collaborative pianist, Braun produces Music Street concerts that vary in content, instrumentation, size, and intention, but do not vary in quality, which is world-class. The musicians, a collective of 21st century classical minstrels, all have active careers with other ensembles, traveling the world making music. Braun’s skill and authenticity help to create a great format for virtuosic performing, and the fascinating observations shared with the audience. You can enjoy their next outing, “A Program of Russian Romantic Masters,” on Sunday, March 31, from 4 to 5 pm at the West Tisbury library.
The concert features cellist Eunghee Cho, with Koo on violin and Braun at the piano. Thematic programs with lively narration are a unique hallmark of Music Street events, and this one is no exception. The performance includes works by Arensky, Glazunov, Glière, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. Music Street explores the intersection of these composers’ lives and music, some more nationalistic than others. Living in interesting times, from the Tsarist to revolutionary epochs, they knew and competed with one another. Music Street’s verbal information gives the audience an opportunity to draw their own conclusions about Russian trends based on the essential style of the music itself.
Music Street prides itself on its community involvement. Braun and four other Music Street artists recently gave outreach workshops and a concert in St. John. She is clever when dealing with unexpected realities of a touring ensemble. “Since our inception,” she says, “We have performed themed salon concerts, high school arts residencies, an annual chamber series on Martha’s Vineyard, in a rehabilitation hospital, and at homeless shelters. Before our first engagement at a shelter, I was stopped in my tracks when I realized the facility probably didn’t have a piano. OK, I figured, I’ll get a piano donated. Which I did. This led to our ‘Pianos in Shelters’ initiative, an ongoing program where Music Street donates good-quality pianos to institutions or people in need.” Koo adds, “I love the spontaneity of the group. It also helps that it is quite the unusual group of instruments.”
A high school piano phenom who studied at Peabody Conservatory’s preparatory division, Braun was encouraged to pursue a solo piano career. She attended Oberlin Conservatory for a year with that in mind, but changed her major to sociology with a minor in religion. She married young, raised a family in the Boston area, teaching private piano, accompanying students, her kids — now grown — and others, all of which she loved. Eventually she earned an NEC master’s in collaborative piano, attending from 1999 to 2001. The give and take, the imaginative sharing of ideals, the historical research, and the collective artistry combine to make Music Street’s performing exceptional. The ensemble’s collaboration has become Braun’s musical home.
“A Program of Russian Romantic Masters,” a free concert presented by Music Street, will take place Sunday, March 31, from 4 to 5 pm at the West Tisbury library. This event is made possible by the generous support of Jane Coakley and Max Skjöldebrand, the Procter Smith family, the West Tisbury Library Foundation, and the Friends of the West Tisbury Library. If you can’t make the Russian Romantics, watch for the library’s next Music Street event on June 8, with an entirely different program.