City Guide Boston: Cellist Gwen Krosnick on Chamber Music and Trudging Through a Blizzard

By Gwen Krosnick

Gwen Krosnick
Gwen Krosnick

There I was: sitting in the driver’s seat of my minivan, 20 minutes after my trio’s sound check should have begun. Head resting on the steering wheel, tears pouring down my face, my fingers and toes completely frozen, my cello slowly coming open at the seams in the back seat. Though a few pieces overwhelm me with pressure to the point of tears before a concert (I’m looking at you, Schubert B-flat), I’m not generally one for crying before a performance. But this day was just getting to be too much.

It was February 10, 2015. That month’s Trio Cleonice & Friends concert—rather cheekily a romantic pre-Valentine’s Day program of Johannes Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann—was supposed to start in less than two hours. But logistics were going to be an issue. Boston had endured what felt like its hundredth snowstorm, with only intermittent stops for residents to breathe and get more canned food.

Finally the city had given up. The mayor called for a halt to all transit: no subways, no buses, no parking, no driving. In our area, Brookline, where the concert series takes place, there was an unspoken local understanding that nobody was going anywhere.

We begged United Parish, our venue, to open up that evening anyway. We knew nobody would come—nobody even could, as far as we could tell—but we were too heartbroken at the idea of canceling, and with the relentless snow, postponing was futile. We had been rehearsing like mad, shoveling our way around Brookline to rehearse for the past two weeks; we had hours’ worth of Schumann and Brahms we wanted to play, even if only one or two people showed up (and, well, even if they didn’t). The church gave us a green light: They were willing, in an extraordinary act of generosity and madness, to trudge out and let us in.

Boston loves chamber music like no place I know: Cultural life here seems to celebrate and even revolve around it.

So I couldn’t give up, just because of a little ice. In one final hurrah, I toggled my foot on and off the gas pedal just so, and felt my ungainly Odyssey lunge forward, begrudgingly, up the hill. The tears switched to tears of relief.

A couple of hours later, we were all backstage—Trio Cleonice and our devoted violinist and violist pals—warming up, laughing, putting on makeup, nibbling on cheese and grapes, and bemoaning the fact that we wouldn’t get to share all this great music with almost anyone. We’d sheepishly set up a few chairs, and printed only 20 or 30 copies of the program, knowing we’d probably take them all home ourselves.

As we walked up the stairs to the hall, I was surprised to hear the murmurs of an audience. My friends, who were to begin with some violin and piano pieces by Clara Schumann, waited while I went in to welcome the few people who, against all odds, had come to hear us (I suspected they must live across the street).

I opened the door, grinning a little shyly, and turned to face a packed room of about 100 people. They were standing in the corners, filling the couches, sharing programs, and looking very cozy. As I walked in, stunned, they cheered loudly.

“I thought I’d apologize for making you come out tonight!” I said. We all laughed together. “But, wow. After all this ice and cold, it means so much to us to get to share a night of music we love with all of you.” I thanked them with all my heart, walked back out to my friends, and shook my head in smiling disbelief.

We played our hearts out all evening—it was a good two hours’ worth of music, and these wonderful people listening with great intensity and love, reveling in the warmth of that February night.

This is what Boston means to me.


Trio Cleonice and Friends
Trio Cleonice and Friends

Even from afar, I knew that Boston’s love affair with chamber music was an exuberant, soulful, profound one. My group, Trio Cleonice, moved here in 2011 for a graduate residency—the only one of its kind for piano trios—at New England Conservatory. I kicked and screamed as we moved from New York: I’d been so happy having my parents close by, I loved my yoga studio, and to willingly live in a city without bagels seemed ridiculous. (I adore you, Boston—I do—but I will never eat the “bagels” in this town. Ever.)

Yet as soon as we set foot in our new city and walked into NEC, we felt palpably that we were now part of a community that celebrated chamber music. I remember having coffee with a wonderful cellist friend who—unusually for NEC—was not having a great time in her quartet that semester. “Why isn’t it going well?” I asked her. She rolled her eyes: “They only want to rehearse three or four times a week!” I couldn’t help but laugh (of course I agreed), and realize again that this place—NEC and Boston—felt like home to me for a reason.

Indeed, Boston loves chamber music like no place I know: Cultural life here seems to celebrate and even revolve around it. NEC is a home base in that regard, but when I think of other historical, intellectual, and artistic centerpieces of the city—the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party began; the ancient and beautiful Boston Athenæum or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—it is with a loving familiarity that comes from having played concerts inside their walls. Every one of these institutions—each vibrating with its own particular history—has established a chamber-music series that supports musicians and integrates chamber music into the fabric of the city’s daily life, for audiences that want to listen.

Even from afar, I knew that Boston’s love affair with chamber music was an exuberant, soulful, profound one.

After Trio Cleonice’s NEC residency came to an end, we got the chance to contribute to that fabric. United Parish, a church in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner neighborhood, offered up its space: Would we like to start a chamber-music series there? We couldn’t believe it. We let our dreams for the series run far beyond piano trios, and invited friends from Boston and beyond to join us. Trio Cleonice & Friends (TC&F) was born.

TC&F, now in its third season, has been a trip: Who could have imagined all the bookkeeping, the details, the careful crafting of publicity and programs, the scheduling impossibilities? But in 16 concerts so far, with dozens of wonderful colleagues joining us, I have felt that this amazing city, full of people drunk on their love for chamber music, has happily made room for us in its joyous, intellectual, constantly expanding music community. We have been stunned, every time we walk onstage, at the generosity of our friends and of the audience, whose trust and love we have gained simply by laughing with them and sharing the music we adore.

And so, as we move beyond the coldest of nights—our romantic blizzard triumph—it makes me smile to watch our little series grow into a monthly celebration: a love-fest for people who can’t play enough chamber music and people who can’t hear enough of it. It is really, as I have come to understand and cherish, a Boston affair.

What Gwen Krosnick plays:

Instrument: 1978 Marten Cornelissen cello. “It is my absolute love—the greatest cello I could dream of, with a C-string that almost kills me it is so great.”

Bow: William Halsey bow ( “A modern American wonder.”

Strings: Jargar Forte A, Jargar Medium D, Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore Tungsten G and C.

Boston Shop: “My Boston shop is the amazing Coppiardi Violin Studios. I have been coming to Marco ever since I first moved to Boston in 2011, and he is a magician. I have found him to have enormous respect and love for my instrument, and his ability to set it up in a way I love is unparalleled.”


Gwen’s Locals’ Tips: Where to Eat

Myers+Chang:     (1145 Washington St., Boston)


Chefs Joanne Chang and Karen Akunowicz are magicians of Asian flavors, textures, and nuances, and the menu reflects their love and excitement for all Asian cuisines. Superlative pork dumplings, wildly spicy cold noodles, lunchtime banh mi, Korean-inflected fish tacos, an herby mignonette for the oysters ($1 on Sunday nights!) will make you swoon. If I had this whole magazine to tell you just how much I love Myers+Chang, it wouldn’t be nearly enough. It’s the best.

Life Alive Urban Oasis & Organic Café:     (765 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

Life Alive Urban Oasis & Organic Café

Underneath the foodie exterior, I’m an Oberlin hippie. Think brown rice, kale, steamed veggies, nutritional yeast, tofu, gorgeous sauces; plus creative, zippy juices and smoothies (my favorite is juiced kale, ginger, maple syrup, and lemon juice). The hot sauce is fierce and wonderful.

Clear Flour Bread:     (178 Thorndike St., Brookline)


Clear Flour Bread

If I had to name one reason I’m happy to live in Brookline, it would be—aside from my yoga studio, Coolidge Corner Yoga—Clear Flour. It is pure magic. Everything is blissful: phenomenal classically influenced pastries and breads, including some of the greatest croissants, cannellés, baguettes, and whole-grain breads I’ve ever had. (Buckwheat-walnut pan loaf, I love you.)

J.P. Licks:     (311 Harvard St., Brookline, with 12 other locations in/around Boston)

J.P. Licks

When it comes to Boston pride, I think Red Sox first, and J.P. Licks a close second. There are locations throughout the city and beyond: Our local Coolidge Corner location is open until midnight, which means post-concert sundaes featuring gorgeously creamy vanilla ice cream, chopped walnuts, and their perfect bittersweet hot fudge.

Lineage:     (242 Harvard St., Brookline)


Lineage is a glowing example of what food in Boston can be: Every bite is joyous, delicate, seasonal, vibrant. The seafood is to die for—as proud as I was bringing my dad [cellist Joel Krosnick] up to Brookline to play in our series last year, I was equally proud to bring him to Lineage for dinner the night before. The first thing they brought out was a plate of shatteringly crispy, perfectly acidic fried Rhode Island calamari. One bite in, he beckoned the lovely server over to order a second plate.