The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

Beacon Street Quartet puts a modern twist on classical music

Heidi Ho
The Beacon Street Quartet performs during a Candlelight Concert at First Church in Cambridge April 5. The quartet performed modern music such as pop songs by Adele and Taylor Swift.

Adele. Taylor Swift. Coldplay. What do all these artists have in common? Their songs are on the Beacon Street Quartet’s setlist for the viral Candelight Concerts currently taking place at various Boston churches, temples and theaters. Unlike most concerts that involve classical instruments, the Beacon Street Quartet performs  hit songs like “Hello” by Adele, “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift and “Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay, attracting a diverse audience of music lovers. 

Described by the quartet’s cellist, Timothy Paek, as a “perfect match made in heaven,” Paek, Nikki Naghavi (violin), Bree Fotheringham (violin) and Oliver Chang (viola) formed Beacon Street Quartet after Candlelight Concert hired them for their Boston concerts. Members of the music group formed a tight-knit friendship, bound together by the strings of their instruments, and became an official quartet in 2021.

It’s a relatively new experience learning modern music – which makes up the bulk of their Candlelight Concert gigs, – for the four members. Members of the quartet have classical training, but the musical landscape has changed and pop music has become more and more popular. One of Beacon Street Quartet’s goals when it performs is to make music played on classical instruments more accessible. 

“Classical music is definitely unapproachable,” Paek said. “It’s very elite, and I hate that. We are trying to dissolve that.”

Bengisu Gokce, guest artist at the Quartet’s series of April 5 concerts, said, “Today’s mainstream music is so much more understandable, but in classical music — there’s so much more depth. It’s a foreign language.”

Although its audience demographic changes at each concert, attendee makeup is more diverse when the group plays songs by non-classical composers, according to Naghavi. People buy tickets on the Quartet’s website, where the setlist is publicized beforehand. 

“We have a lot of younger people, with that comes parents bringing their younger children. Then you get into Queen and Pink Floyd — the older crowd, couples and friends. Then you have Beyoncé, which is strictly mid-20s to mid-30s people. But, you’ll see everyone,” Naghavi said. 

At the group’s “Tribute to Taylor Swift” concerts, Swifties made up the bulk of the audience — mostly women and children. The audience was quite different at its “Tribute to Blink-182/Green Day” concert, which saw mostly punk-loving millennials. Regardless of the concert, attendees said they were excited to hear their favorite songs played by the Quartet. 

“I love how they don’t just replay the songs. They make it their own. They have really neat, solid melodies that make it an entertaining show — on top of it already being great music,” said Jenny Erickson, an attendee at the “Tribute to Blink-182/Green Day” concerts April 5. 

Timothy Paek, Bengisu Gokce, Nikki Naghavi and Oliver Chang (left to right) pose for a photo. The Beacon Street Quartet decided to make music played on classical instruments more accessible by performing modern music. (Heidi Ho)

In addition to playing for Candlelight Concerts with the Beacon Street Quartet, all four members are freelance musicians. From teaching and administrative work to engineering recordings, they have had to adapt to the changing music landscape, they said. 

“Classical music is a dying field. Because of the adherence to tradition within our field, I personally don’t think we can survive if we don’t play that more modern music,” Naghavi said. 

As an example, she pointed out that their audience differs from other concerts of that ilk, where everyone is going to be “old, white and rich.” She said that being a part of the Beacon Street Quartet is “really gratifying.”

The Quartet has reached a level of comfort and trust with each other that they can function as colleagues and best friends, Naghavi and Paek said. “We all love each other and learn together,” Naghavi said. “If someone doesn’t like the way someone [else] is playing, you can respectfully ask, ‘Hey, can you try this instead of XYZ?’ It’s always great.”

Paek had never been exposed to playing non-classical music before he worked for Candlelight Concerts, he said. Despite saying there is still stigma around musicians diverting from classical music, he described the process of learning a new genre as “fucking awesome.”

“[Non-classical music] makes my classical music playing better and vice-versa because it makes me think outside the box,” he said. 

In between sets, the group will crack jokes together, drawing chuckles from the audience. Naghavi said that traditionally at these types of concerts (symphonies, orchestras) the audience is expected to refrain from clapping in between movements and be overly relaxed in the dress code and mannerisms. 

The Candlelight Concert performance is many attendees’ first quartet concert. 

“They don’t really know what to expect. Are you supposed to sit down and be a statue the whole time? Not breathe? Not talk?” Naghavi said. “We’re trying to get rid of that stuffy atmosphere where it feels uncomfortable and encourage people to dress comfortably. We encourage people to just be themselves in the hall.”

How does the Beacon Street Quartet keep people interested in coming to its shows? The answer is simple, Paek said. 

“[It’s] really difficult to keep old programs fresh. The mindset for me is not feeling like I achieved greatness 100%. It’s keeping yourself curious and engaged is what makes music,” he said. “Being a musician is one of the most incredible things.”

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