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Sheffield Chamber Players seek local living rooms for world premieres

Sheffield Chamber Players kick off an ambitious five-year commissioning project with a new work by Kevin Day.Hannah Shields

Sometime in early 2022, Boston-based Sheffield Chamber Players will give the world premiere performances of a string quartet by 25-year-old composer Kevin Day. Where the first performance will be, no one knows yet. But it’s a safe assumption that it’ll be a living room, kitchen, or backyard somewhere in Greater Boston.

“If you can fit 25 people in your house — and you’d be surprised how many people can fit 25 people in their house — then we’d love to play a concert in your house,” executive director Christina English said in a phone interview, explaining the philosophy behind the seven-year-old group’s motto: “Bringing Chamber Music Home.”


Day’s piece will be the first in the group’s new commissioning project, which will ultimately include five pieces over the next five years. Composers Kenji Bunch, Osvaldo Golijov, and Jessie Montgomery have already been tapped for future seasons. “It seemed like the perfect way to grow beyond what we’re doing already, as well as to really have an impact on the canon,” English said.

Sheffield’s programs run the gamut from Mozart to modern, typically in the same night — just one of the ensemble’s four programs devised for 2021-22 doesn’t feature a living composer. The house concerts work like this: Hosts apply to offer space for a performance, and if it works with Sheffield’s schedule, someone from the ensemble visits and suggests configurations for the room — where the players might set up, where the audience might sit. After that, the host’s only obligation is to be present on the night of the performance and provide a full room of ears. The ensemble can even provide chairs if necessary.

The suggested donation for each audience member is $30 to $50, English said, but no one is ever turned away. Hosts aren’t required to donate either, though some choose to subsidize the performance and eliminate donations entirely.


What Sheffield aims for is something akin to a 19th-century music salon, minus the aristocratic atmosphere. Though making money off these concerts would be ideal, English said, the group’s mission of accessibility comes first, and funding from grants, foundational supports, academic residencies, and individual donations is key.

“We want to be sure that we are performing in homes where people might not easily be able to subsidize the performance,” she said. “Part of our goal of creating community around music is really to be clear that this is open to anyone who wants to host, who thinks their friends would enjoy it, and who wants to be part of that community.”

And as many Bostonians become able to welcome large groups of friends into their houses for the first time in over a year, the musicians are preparing to play for in-person audiences once again after a season of online shows. The ensemble is launching its “host drive” this week, and they’re hoping to bring their music to less familiar territory.

Kevin Day will write his first commissioned string quartet for Sheffield Chamber Players.Karen Cubides Agency / Sara Bill Photography/Sara Bill Photography

Day met the married Sheffield players Sasha Callahan (violin) and Leo Eguchi (cello) during a stint at composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s namesake Creative Academy, an incubator that unites composers with performers on her farm in California.

“I feel like a lot of chamber groups pick a particular genre or time period to stick to, but with Sheffield, their programming spans multiple centuries, which I’ve enjoyed,” said Day in a phone interview from Florida, where he’s about to begin a doctoral program at the University of Miami Frost School of Music.


Following from his background as a tuba player, much of Day’s composition work has been for wind band and brass ensemble. (Players from the Boston Symphony Orchestra brass section performed his piece “Ignition” at last year’s online Tanglewood festival.) The Sheffield piece will be Day’s first commissioned string quartet, and his first new string quartet in a few years.

“Now that I’ve had a few more years of training ... I feel like I have more tools in my toolbox, and I’m ready to go after this and see what comes out,” he said.

However, it won’t just be hosts and their hand-picked guests that get to hear Day’s piece and everything else Sheffield offers. After dates and venues for a run of house concerts are locked down, the ensemble will start looking for a venue to perform the same program for the general public.

“Our plan for this season is to intentionally perform public concerts of all of our programs,” English said. “But we also are inviting people to consider becoming hosts.”


More information at www.sheffieldchamberplayers.org

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