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How this Boston musician landed megastar conductor Simon Rattle for her breast cancer fund-raiser

Julie Scolnik befriended Simon Rattle during his guest conducting stints with the BSO.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Looking back on her battle with breast cancer nearly 15 years ago, flutist Julie Scolnik knows she was ultimately “one of the lucky ones.”

First of all, the disease was detected and treated early. And also, she said, “I had a support system: friends, family, husband, and insurance that would pay for these treatments at the best hospitals in the world.”

Not everyone has access to these advantages, said Scolnik, the artistic director of local chamber ensemble Mistral Music, in an interview at her Brookline home. And to raise money for local underserved women battling breast cancer, she’s doing what she best knows how to do: put on a show. This Sunday’s concert at Jordan Hall, “Hope and Harmony,” is the third such breast cancer benefit Scolnik has organized and the second featuring conducting megastar Simon Rattle on the podium.


Scolnik never “identified” as a cancer patient during her treatment and recovery; she didn’t log into chat rooms, or attend support groups. But, she said, “I felt that there was something I could do when I was done, and that was to give back in the form of these concerts.”

Though Mistral is presenting “Hope and Harmony,” it’s not typical of a Mistral concert. First of all, Mistral concerts usually feature a small handful of musicians, but Scolnik has pulled together a full orchestra for this one, including musicians from top ensembles such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in addition to regular Mistral players, Scolnik included. Second, all the personnel are volunteering their time and labor — including Rattle, who was principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic until last year and now leads the London Symphony Orchestra.

Scolnik said landing Rattle for her second cancer benefit, in 2010, was her biggest triumph; after that, the chips fell into place. She got to know the British conductor, whom she described as “very un-egotistical,” during his guest conducting stints with the BSO when she was a regular substitute musician. “He would hang out backstage with the musicians and not seclude himself ... we just became buddies!” Scolnik said, smiling. “We would show each other pictures of our children."


The musicians, whom Scolnik recruited through Facebook and e-mail, apparently leaped at the chance to play with Rattle, who hasn’t appeared with the BSO since 2000. “These are wonderful people who care about worthy causes, but he was my magnet. It was like saying ‘Barack Obama’ or something,” she said. “It was just the easiest ask in the world.”

“He’s an inspiring musician at all times,” said violinist Juliette Kang, the concertmaster for the “Hope and Harmony” program, speaking on the phone. As first associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, she’s worked with Rattle during several of his guest conducting stints. “He makes music from an intensely focused part of his heart,” Kang said.

Scolnik mobilized her neighbors and friends to house the out-of-town musicians who are staying overnight. New England Conservatory, the concert’s presenting sponsor, gave Jordan Hall for free. “I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when people kept showing up,” Scolnik said. “Everyone was just so willing to make this big sacrifice of time when time is their scarcest commodity, getting on planes and trains.”


Though the preparation and organization took many months, the music itself will come together within a single day. Sunday is a rare day off for Rattle, in the middle of a block of rehearsals for “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Met. The ad-hoc orchestra will assemble for one three-hour rehearsal in the afternoon, break for dinner, and then play the concert: Mozart’s ebullient overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” the rise from the abyss that is Brahms’s Symphony No. 1, and the slow movement from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, a piece Scolnik said she returned to repeatedly for comfort during her chemo treatments.

Proceeds from the concert will benefit three local organizations: Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Boston Breast Cancer Equity Coalition, and Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, all of which help underserved populations access treatment and support.

Kang, who befriended Scolnik while playing with the BSO, is carpooling up with a caravan of Philadelphia colleagues. “Anyone who was available to ... was really grateful to be able to be a part of this. It’s not just Simon Rattle, it’s an amazing cause. Almost every one of us has been touched by cancer treatment,” she said. “This is a great way to use our music to help and hopefully heal.”


Presented by Mistral Music and New England Conservatory. Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m. 978-474-6222, www.mistralmusic.org

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.


A.Z. Madonna can be reached at az.madonna@globe.com. Follow her @knitandlisten.