Chamber Music Collaborates with Music for Food

By BB&N February 5, 2024

In a master class a couple of days before the Winter Chamber Concert, visiting Music for Food artist fellow Long Okada encouraged collaboration between violinist Presley Jacobson ’25 and pianist Ari Kung ’24, playing a Schubert sonata. “Come to a mutual agreement about what you’d like to do,” he said. “That’s what chamber music is all about.” 

That advice was a fitting prelude to the concert—itself a partnership between BB&N chamber musicians and Music for Food, a national nonprofit organization that aims to fight hunger in local communities. Musicians volunteer their time and talent to stage a free concert; in turn, the audience donates as they wish to a local food pantry selected by the musicians. In BB&N’s case, concert-goers were invited to bring nonperishable food items, earmarked for the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Center Food Bank. 

Director of the Orchestra and the Chamber Music Program Elliot Cless ’02 was thrilled to introduce his favorite violist, Kim Kashkashian, “one of the great chamber musicians of our time and the founder of Music for Food,” in attendance that evening.  

Kashkashian welcomed BB&N “to the team of artists and organizers who are our Music for Food angels. We turn the beauty of music into the beauty of physical nourishment for those in need,” she said, noting that 49 million people, one in six Americans, rely on food pantries for adequate sustenance. “The philosophy behind good chamber music parallels exactly what you are doing here this evening: support, inspire, and help each other. That’s what a good chamber music team does, too.” 

Having attended several Music for Food concerts in the area, pianist Vartan Arakelian ’26 was inspired by Kashkashian’s mission. “I thought it was an interesting and effective model,” he said. “Even through making music, you can better society and help people in need.” So, he pitched the partnering idea to Cless, and the two started planning the event last fall. 

In addition to being delighted that Vartan’s idea came to harmonious fruition, Cless said, “I’m also really excited for all seven of our ensembles; they have been working so hard. They are doing the challenging work of chamber music, which is full of nonverbal communication, attention to detail, and nuance.” The twenty-eight students performed works of the classic greats—Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel—as well as by more contemporary composers Jacques Castérède and Yichuan Shen, among others. 

Collaboration and care, the event’s recurring motifs, were echoed in artist fellow Okada’s parting advice at the master class: “There’s a reason you play the violin, the viola, the cello—because you like the sound. Share it with people.”