Julie Scolnik

Year of Graduation: 
Julie Scolnik performing

“We pride ourselves on our unstuffiness.”

For the first 20 years of her career, Julie Scolnik ’74 played the flute for many of Boston’s leading orchestras. But after the birth of her second child, she stepped away from the large ensembles, moved north of the city and focused on a more personal form of music making. 

With her husband, physicist Michael Brower, Scolnik launched Andover Chamber Music (later renamed Mistral Music) in 1997. “I started the series thinking it was a way to play the music I loved the most with the most amazing musicians I knew,” says Scolnik, who first picked up a flute in fourth grade. “Then it turned into something much deeper than that. I realized that I’d found a way to really connect to people through the intimate concert experience.”

Often described as the “music of friends,” chamber music is performed by a small ensemble — usually three to 11 people — who play without a conductor, relying instead on cues from one another. “The experience of watching musicians engaged in fervent musical conversation in such intimate venues gets the blood pumping,” Scolnik says. 

Scolnik personally curates each of the dozen or so concerts Mistral puts on each year in its own series and in touring programs. In her role as artistic director, she carefully selects the pieces and the musicians, uniting both with an unconventional theme — such as “The Gypsy Spirit” and “In Search of Marcel Proust,” inspired by Proust’s novel “In Search of Lost Time.”

“We try to break down the barriers between the musicians on stage and the audience by introducing the works in a fun and appealing way,” Scolnik says. And she asks the musicians to join in the banter as well. “There’s a lot of laughter during our concert Q&As,” she says. “The musicians become more human and people see a different side of them. We pride ourselves on our unstuffiness.”

The familial vibe of these performances reflects Scolnik’s own musical youth in Lewiston, Maine. Her father was a serious tenor saxophonist (he still plays in a jazz band at 96) and she spent many formative summers at the Amherst Summer Music Center.

“My parents filled the house with beautiful children’s records, records that had Greek myths narrated to some famous piece of music in the background. That was really the soundtrack of my childhood. I remember being so steeped in music, it must have soaked into my DNA in some way.”

Scolnik works tirelessly to share her love of music with others. She often takes a small ensemble into the Lawrence elementary schools and extends her outreach to the elderly, persons with disabilities and families in need by ensuring free Mistral concert tickets are always available. Following treatment for breast cancer in 2005, she also began organizing benefit concerts for underserved women battling cancer. The next fundraiser, in November, will be a full orchestral concert led by world-famous conductor Sir Simon Rattle in Boston’s Jordan Hall. 

Two decades after founding the series, Scolnik’s verve for music and the community it fosters hasn’t waned. “Every time we come together for one of our concerts, it feels larger than that,” she says. “There is a buzz in the air. ... When I greet my audience and see 300 smiling faces of people who are just so happy to have put aside their techno-busy lives to come together with loved ones and friends to enjoy something that is lasting, it’s nothing short of miraculous.”

— Karl Wirsing

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.