For Sasha G. Scolnik-Brower ’17, music is a family business.
“I have very specific memories of first playing in a full orchestra when I was 10 years old,” he remembers. As a cellist, and the youngest in a family of musicians—his mother is a flutist, and his sister is a pianist who also attended Harvard—he’s been immersed in classical performance for much of his life.
“Always going to concerts, it makes you think that that’s what life is normally like,” he laughs. “Which I guess it’s not.”
Even among his family, Scolnik-Brower stands out. A winner of the Boston Symphony and Boston Youth Symphony concerto competitions, he’s accrued a long list of honors for his cello performances, including a recent masterclass with Yo-Yo Ma. When we schedule an early interview so that he can catch a train to New York, I expect that he’s heading off to another illustrious recital. This time, however, he tells me he’s just visiting his girlfriend. “Not musical,” he says. “Just recreational.”
It’s a rare respite for the director of both the Harvard College Opera Society and the Bach Society Orchestra. Indeed, classical music devotees are as likely to see Scolnik-Brower on the conductor’s podium as in the cello section. In his time as a student, he’s been involved with many of Harvard’s various student ensembles. It’s difficult, in fact, to imagine the classical music scene at Harvard without his involvement and leadership.
Yet Scolnik-Brower is humble about his roles. “I never worry about there not being classical music at Harvard,” he tells me. “There are so many things and so many people interested. If I weren’t here, everything would be totally fine.”
Keeping the Harvard community engaged, on the other hand, is an ever-present task. “In BachSoc, we made our concerts free last year,” Scolnik-Brower says, “which we found has been helping. And things like that—just trying to figure out how to make things sustainable and interesting.”
In his last year at Harvard, Scolnik-Brower isn’t slowing down. He’s currently serving as musical director for the Harvard College Opera Society’s production of “Le Nozze De Figaro,” which will be sung in its original Italian. “It’s a really big project,” he says, “and kind of crazy that undergrads manage to pull off an opera every year somehow. But people are into it.”
Directing the opera, on top of Scolnik-Brower’s other musical commitments, is a full-time job. We’re meeting in Harvard Yard because Scolnik-Brower walks through here every day, on his way over from Winthrop House to the Music Department building. “I have a very weird schedule,” he says. “I have two or three hours of coachings with singers. I might practice the cello for an hour or two.” When he’s not practicing, he’s just a normal student: “And other times I’m doing work in the library over there.”
Although Scolnik-Brower’s days in the Yard are numbered, his musical career is only just beginning. After a year at the New England Conservatory to finish his dual degree, he plans on pursuing a master’s degree in conducting. “I’m inspired by the amount of work I would have to do in order to do it,” he says. “How much I don’t know is frightening, but also really amazing.”