On a warm, breezy night in late September, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church came alive with the hypnotic sounds of The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, chamber work for klezmer clarinet and string quartet written by the world-renowned Argentine composer and Brookline resident, Ozvaldo Golijov. The Brookline-based chamber music group, Mistral, performed the haunting set.
Coined as “unstuffy, unpredictable, and unmatched,” Mistral is the brain-child of flutist Julie Scolnik, who is the artistic director and pulse of the ensemble. The group aims to bring exciting and powerful chamber music to audiences that may not otherwise be exposed to it and enhance the cultural fabric of the community.
Scolnik’s musical passion began during her early childhood and evolved into a successful, freelance orchestral career. When Scolnik moved to Andover with her family in 1996, she recognized an invaluable opportunity to bring chamber music to her new community.
“When I first founded the series, it was to play music I loved the most with the most wonderful, communicative musicians,” she said. “But I soon learned that it afforded me something which freelance orchestral work could not — a chance to connect with my community through an intimate concert experience.”
The group evolved into Mistral in 2013 when Scolnik and her family moved from Andover to Brookline. Today, Mistral is comprised of five core members and enjoys a steady rotation of guest musicians and composers. Artistic variety is important for Scholnik as she recognizes the importance of playing recognizable music. However, she still believes it is part of Mistral’s mission to expose the community to classical music that is either newly composed or lesser-known.
Beyond Mistral’s music, it is the intimate concert experience that truly differentiates Mistral from other local cultural offerings. In this day and age, with technology and endless entertainment options available at our fingertips, the opportunity to sit in a small concert hall and listen to live, classical pieces both old and new, is a unique experience because it connects both musicians to the audience
“When people experience something beautiful together, sit and listen to a few hours of music that we have prepared, it fosters a sense of community, and it changes them in some way,” she said.
Scolnik fondly recalls the many compliments and notes of appreciation that Mistral’s performances have inspired. Mistral has performed for low-income schools in Lawrence and Scolnik says that she is blown away by the enthusiastic reaction of schoolkids to their performances. Children have free admission and Scolnik does not hesitate to promote concerts the old-fashioned way through hanging up posters around Brookline and chatting up people she meets while out and about. Scolnik is delighted when she looks out into the Mistral audience and sees a cab driver or a cashier from Trader Joe’s that she had chatted with sitting in the audience.
Healing Others During Julie’s Cancer Recovery
As a breast cancer survivor, there was a period of time when music evolved from being Scolnik’s livelihood to her lifeline. She recalls how she sat in chemotherapy for hours, opting out of the classic self-help material offered to cancer patients, and, instead, plugged in earphones and enjoyed all her classical music favorites like Mahler 5 and the Beethoven string quartets.
“It was like love serum that flowed through my veins and lifted me out of a place of darkness and into one of beauty and hope,” she said.
Even having lost all of her hair and eyelashes, Scolnik continued to perform wearing wigs. Performing her music provided her with the joy and energy (and endorphins) helpful in carrying herself through her illness and to an ultimate recovery. Mistral fans also became another support network to lean on while she battled the disease.
“My audiences, who felt like extended family, were in the know throughout the experience, and I felt their support too,” she said.
Today, Scolnik performs at several benefit concerts and regularly speaks about her experience and the healing power of music at Harvard Medical School.
With Mistral’s regularly packed performances, Scolnik has no plans of slowing down or retiring Mistral. Every performance is very emotional for her even after all these years since its founding.
“When I see it all come together after months of planning, fundraising, marketing, the posters, the emails; then the artistic elements — the programming and researching every piece, finding the best team of artists to perform, writing the message from the director, etc,” she said. “When all this happens on the night of the concert it is nothing short of miraculous.”
This dedication and joy illuminated from a radiant Scolnik the night of their most recent concert before the “Dreams and Prayers” performance began. Scolnik greeted the full crowd beaming in an elegant gown, thanked them for coming and announced heartily “It means so much to me that you love this as much as I do.”