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To (and From) Russia With Love

Written by Alexandra Evans

Professor Jeffery Meyer in rehearsal

Jeffery Meyer was a pianist living in Berlin, Germany, when he made connections through a friend to play a concert in St. Petersburg, Russia. The opportunity fell through, but a subsequent conversation with his friend about St. Petersburg’s deeply rooted classical music scene and its lack of appreciation for modern composers compelled him to switch to conducting and head to the cultural capital of Russia to create a new chamber orchestra. Meyer wanted to form a group that was “dedicated to up-and-coming performers and composers,” he says. “To be a progressive voice in the culture.” And so, in 2002, Meyer founded the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic.

Last May, the orchestra performed pieces by Pärt, Shostakovich, Schnittke, and Lutoslawski in its New York City debut at the Wall to Wall Festival at Symphony Space, a free, daylong cultural gift to New Yorkers.

“A good majority of the musicians had never been outside Russia, let alone to New York, so just watching them absorb New York was incredibly fun,” says Meyer, who still serves as artistic director of the group. “We got a fantastic write-up in the New York Times. I couldn’t have dreamed that just eight years after we started we would find ourselves in a major performing venue in New York City being reviewed by the Times. It’s sort of stunning, and really quite gratifying.”

Two years ago, the IC community got in on the action when Meyer, now a professor of performance studies and director of orchestras at Ithaca College, brought a group of School of Music professors and students (called Kulmusik) to St. Petersburg to play with the orchestra.

“To see this non-Russian-speaking American student from Ithaca College next to a non-English-speaking Russian musician and have it work beautifully and seamlessly was something,” says Meyer.

Kate Goldstein ’09 was one of the students who played in St. Petersburg. “Meyer has a special way of helping students reach their career goals both inside and outside the classroom,” says Goldstein. “Through his guidance and expertise, I feel that I have the necessary skills to play in a professional orchestra one day.”

Cellist Tyler Borden ’11 adds, “He is always pushing us to the next level, and his depth of musicality makes him an influential presence in the music school as well as a large component of the rising quality here.” Meyer relishes the experiences he shares with his students: “To see them change over the four years, and to see them grow and to see them be moved by this music in a way that they weren’t before, is really quite extraordinary.”




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