Berklee Artists Selected to Open for Melissa Etheridge at Symphony Hall

By
Nick Balkin
May 5, 2014
Sarah Walk
Sarah McKenzie
Ahmad El Haggar
The Western Den

Berklee Night at the Pops featuring Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter and Berklee alumna Melissa Etheridge will showcase four up-and-coming artists from her alma mater in the first half of the program June 12 at Symphony Hall.

The Berklee artists—recent graduate Sarah Walk, and current students Sarah McKenzie, Deni Hlavinka, and Ahmad El Haggar—were selected by Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart to perform at the event. Each artist will pair with a Berklee student arranger to create orchestrations of their works to be performed with the Pops.

To preview the event, the Loft Sessions, a video showcase for Berklee students and alumni, released a new video for Sarah Walk's "Keep on Dreaming," recorded with 60 students at Symphony Hall. Watch it here.

The event is the latest in an ongoing collaboration between Berklee and the Boston Pops. In recent years, students have gained exposure performing at the JazzFest and EdgeFest series at Symphony Hall. Many Berklee faculty members are also members of the Pops, including Julianne Lee, Gus Sebring, and Owen Young. Berklee professor Bill Elliott arranges for the Pops and is coaching the student arrangers for this concert. The alumni and student arrangers include Evan Chapman, Dante St. James, Joel Sim, and Ziga Pirnat.

The concert is Etheridge's first-ever appearance with a symphony orchestra, and kicks off her two-night run with the Pops. Etheridge attended Berklee through 1980, and returned to the college in 2006 to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate.

Berklee Night at the Pops with Melissa Etheridge takes place on Thursday, June 12 at 8:00 p.m. at Symphony Hall, which is located at 301 Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. Tickets are $24-$94 and a 20 percent Berklee discount is available at bostonpops.org/berklee

Sarah Walk is a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota and a Berklee College of Music alumna. A singer, pianist, and songwriter, she is currently writing and recording new music in Los Angeles and London. With a distinct voice and rhythmic playing style, her music has been described as "cynically optimistic and in-your-face, every bit as raw and passionate as one could hope" (St. Paul Pioneer Press). Watch: Sarah Walk, "Still Frames"

Sarah McKenzie is a pianist, vocalist, and composer from Melbourne, Australia. She was a backup vocalist for Michael Bublé on his Call Me Irresponsible tour, and was the opening act for Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti in 2011. Her second album, Close Your Eyes, won the 2012 ARIA award for Best Jazz Album. Prior to enrolling at Berklee, she studied composition with Johnny Mandel ("The Shadow of Your Smile," theme from MASH) as well as with Berklee voice professor Donna McElroy at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. Watch Sarah McKenzie, "That's It, I Quit!"

Deni Hlavinka is a singer, pianist, and songwriter from Stephens City, Virginia. She is currently studying professional music at Berklee with Grammy-winning artist Paula Cole. In 2013, her band, the Western Den, released its debut EP and toured as the opening act for Melissa Ferrick, Berklee songwriting assistant professor. Later that year, the band released a self-produced Christmas EP to raise funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Watch The Western Den, "Carter Hall"

Ahmad El Haggar is a vocalist and oud player from Cairo, Egypt. He recently joined music legend Carole King on stage at the MusiCares Person of the Year ceremony to perform a Middle Eastern-style version of her song, "Home Again," that he arranged specifically for the event. It wasn't the first time El Haggar put his stamp on a pop favorite. His Egyptian rendition of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" has almost 120,000 views on YouTube. Before coming to Berklee, he attended the Higher Institute of Arabic Music. Watch: Ahmad El Haggar, "Fi Kol Fengan Ahwa"