Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
When I was a child, there was always music filling our home. The gorgeous, poignant records that my mother found for her three daughters became the soundtrack to our childhood, seeped into our DNA, connected us most profoundly as sisters, and very likely influenced the direction of our careers.
Ballet was my first love, but I realized at the tender age of 13 that it was my emotional response to classical music that made me crave a physical outlet for the deep stirrings it evoked. So off I went to spend three idyllic summers at a music camp in Maine, where Beethoven and Brahms symphonies were broadcast through loud speakers to awaken us in our woodland cabins, as if the trees had burst into song.
I connected deeply with these young peers of mine, each day listening to friends rehearse the Schubert Cello Quintet in the woods before lunch. When I played the recording at home after camp was over, my eyes filled with tears. And then I knew: Music would become my life.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
This one is easy. In 2010 and again in 2019 I invited the world-renowned conductor Sir Simon Rattle to conduct a full orchestral concert in Boston’s Jordan Hall, in order to benefit underserved women going through breast cancer. I hired all the players who came together from across the country to take part in what turned out to be a complete love fest—musicians who had known each other from years ago at music festivals, conservatories, or former orchestra jobs were playing music again together in a deeply emotional reunion. I chose the program and made a speech about how I was one of the lucky breast cancer survivors—not just because of my family or the world class hospitals nearby, but because of the fundamental role that music played in my healing. There was not a dry eye in the house. Both these concerts were not only deeply satisfying musically and emotionally, but they raised over $100K for women who needed the support. Here is the link to the most recent concert in 2019:
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
The Simon Rattle concerts I mentioned above were definite highlights of my career, as were the recordings we made from those evenings. In addition to those, I would have to say that I might be most proud of the two recordings I made with my daughter, pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower. One is a collection of short concert gems for flute and piano that we chose and arranged together, called Salut D’Amour, and the most recent, and not yet released, are the complete Bach flute Sonatas. For some people, their art is their only child and for others, their children are their only art. I am very aware of how fortunate I have been to have both and to share music with her in this way. Eventually when we live closer I will make recordings with my son as well, Sasha, who is a cellist.
But my most recent creative project is not a concert, but a memoir that I wrote! And one that is very closely connected to my life as a musician. ‘Paris Blue’ is a story that has lingered in the corridors of my psyche for over forty years, and I always knew that one day I would have to tell it! That day finally came last October, with the publisher Koehler Books. The story is set against a backdrop of classical music and Paris in the late seventies and is about the grip of first love! Besides the enormity of finally sharing it with the world, I am beyond grateful that it is resonating across boundaries and bringing back personal stories to so many readers. Find out more here
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I would definitely have to say that my strengths lie in playing lyrical pieces, expressing beautiful phrases with luscious sound more than in works of technical fireworks! One link from a CD I made with my daughter, Elgar’s Chanson De Matin . And Debussy’s Beau Soir here
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
At the risk of sounding clichéd, I would have answer that I try to find love and connection in my daily life, and try to communicate all that is beautiful in the world when I play.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
This is a great question, and one that audiences seem to always want to know during our Q & A sessions. Music and memory will forever play and interconnected role in my life, and this emotional component often inspires me to programme music that has in some way altered my own sensibilities with the hope that it will do the same for my audience members.
For me personally, as the founding artistic director of a chamber music series, I had to first gain the trust of my audience members, and once that happened, I have tried to keep a mix of beloved masterpieces and rarely performed gems, sprinkled with carefully chosen works by living composers that are accessible even to the wariest audience members!
My concerts have always been thematic so this takes a bit more planning than simply throwing disparate works together from different eras and nationalities. Some of our titles, for instance, have been: “In Marcel Proust’s Salon,” “Dvorak and the Heartbeat of America,” “Souvenirs from Abroad,” “No ordinary Women,” “Tales from Around the World,” “A Latin Valentine,” “Voices of Nature,” to name a few. And, more recently, we are making a long overdue effort to program works by composers of colour.
In terms of the actual decision process, my programming usually begins with one germ of an idea or theme, either a piece I really want to do, or an artist I want to feature. Then the program evolves slowly: It’s a bit like the children’s book, “If you give a Moose a cookie . . .” if that means anything to you. I always need to consider whether I am asking too much of my pianist (who usually has the hardest job), or if my fiddles have equally demanding roles. Sometimes it works nicely to program pieces for smaller ensembles for the first few pieces (maybe winds, first then strings), and then to bring the whole cast together for a nonet that uses everyone for the rousing finale. This usually brings our audience to their feet.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Ooh, I would always have to say that I prefer intimate 17th-century stone churches of Europe to almost anything else! Second in line would be the exquisite, perfectly-sized, Salle Cortot in Paris, its tawny curved walls and stage, a kind of all-embracing closeness with the audience, and perfect acoustics! Nothing comes close to that experience! Next would be a small museum setting in front of gorgeous paintings, and, finally, living room-like salons, the way music was meant to be heard. Here is a photo of Salle Cortot at one of my last concerts there.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I don’t know if I can add anything insightful. to the widespread discussion of this very important subject. All I can really answer is how I approach it as an individual artistic director of a chamber music series. The hardest part is finding a way to convince young people first-hand how unstuffy concerts can be, how riveting, current, and exciting! Playing concerts in our window and in parks during the pandemic brought many new music lovers into our world.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I love this question because I have always believed that success lies not in the numbers of people sitting in the audience but in the honesty and emotional depth of the experience. This is why I have been content to keep my series on the small side, even though I know the level of our concerts cannot be surpassed at any of the great concert halls of the world. Playing intimate concerts for music lovers, feeling the exchange between us, seeing the faces, the tears, the smiles of our audience members standing with gratitude after a performance—that is my definition of success.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. Find your niche.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being with the people I love, working on a concert to come, being in a beautiful place where I can commune with nature, and having a writing project always on the side. Telling stories, through music or writing.
What is your most treasured possession?
This has nothing to do with music. But it has everything to do with the subject of my memoir: memory, childhood, and love. I would have to say old photos and old videos of when my children were young. It’s what I would run into a burning building to save. They are irreplaceable.
Julie Scolnik is a concert flutist and the founding artistic director of Mistral Music, a chamber music series which since 1997 has been known for its virtuosic artists, imaginative programming, and the personal rapport that Scolnik establishes with her audiences.
In earlier years, Ms. Scolnik performed as principal flute with many of Boston’s leading orchestras including Emmanuel Music, The Boston Ballet, and the Boston Lyric Opera. Ms. Scolnik is a frequent featured guest on Boston’s WCRB radio, having made over three dozen radio appearances.
Since her treatment and recovery from breast cancer in 2005, Scolnik has found ways to play and organize benefit concerts which raise funds for support for underserved women with the disease. The most recent include two full orchestral concerts with the world-renowned Sir Simon Rattle in Jordan Hall, Boston and at the Hotel de Ville de Paris, for the League Contre le Cancer. She has been a guest speaker at the Harvard Medical School twice a year since 2009.
She lives in Boston with her husband, physicist Michael Brower, and her two cats, Daphne and Chloë. They have two adult children, also musicians: pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower and cellist Sasha Scolnik-Brower, and they perform frequently together. Ms. Scolnik has released two solo CDs, one entitled ‘Salut d’Amour & Other Songs of Love,’ with her daughter, and the other, “Bejeweled: Short Concert Gems,” with harp. She will release the complete Bach flute Sonatas with her daughter in the fall of 2022 with Parma Records.