A Winning Season for Rivers Music Students

Rivers has long had outstanding music programs that attract talented students, thanks in part to its association with the Rivers School Conservatory. But even by Rivers standards, this winter has been an extraordinary season for the school’s student musicians.
In early February, two of the three winners of RSC’s prestigious Concerto Competition were Rivers students who are members of the Conservatory Program. Adalia Wen ’25 was a winner in the senior division, and Zoe Weng ’28 took top honors in the junior division. Their win will be celebrated with solo turns at a Rivers Symphony Orchestra concert on March 20. (Click here to purchase tickets.)
“To perform as a soloist with a symphony orchestra is one of the greatest accomplishments for a musician,” said RSC director Gabriella Sanna. “And to have two of the winners come out of the Conservatory Program at Rivers is unprecedented.”
Just days later, the Massachusetts Music Educators Association announced its roster of students accepted for spots in its Junior District and All-State Ensembles. Some half a dozen Rivers students made it to Junior Districts, and nine students were tapped for All-States.
And right on the heels of that announcement came the news that two Rivers jazz ensembles—the Select 1 Combo and the Honors Big Band—had been selected as finalists in this year’s Mingus Festival. Philippe Crettien, the director of the jazz program at Rivers, shared the news in an email that featured no fewer than 20 exclamation points, reflecting his excitement over being chosen.
“We have a long history with the festival, starting in 2009,” he explained later. That year, Rivers ensembles were also selected, and they traveled to New York City to take part in the live festival. A long run of success followed, with Rivers tapped to participate as finalists seven times. But recent years have proved more challenging, and this is the first time in six years that a Rivers group—let alone two groups—have made it into the festival.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for the kids,” said Crettien. The national competition attracts some 200 entries, and only six are chosen in each category, combos and big bands. To land top honors in both categories is impressive indeed, said Crettien.
The festival took place the weekend of February 19 and 20, and Crettien said the only disappointment was that, due to COVID restrictions, it was a virtual event. But students gathered in a jazz classroom on campus for the online workshops and performances, allowing them to take the greatest possible advantage of the offerings.
Days later, Crettien was still basking in the glow of the groups’ triumph. “We celebrated like royalty—it was really excellent,” he said. “Last year, we were struggling in the tent, but this year, the kids are on fire.”
And the results of the very next event on the roster bore him out. Last week, the Honors Big Band earned a gold medal at the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators District Festival. Three students—Ian Behrstock ’22, Jack Benson ’24, and Jon Snow ’23—were also singled out for MVP recognition. The band’s win means that it will go on to compete at the MAJE State Finals on March 26 at Norwood High School.
Coming off of a long period of Covid restrictions, all the winning performances seemed especially sweet. Music is in the air at Rivers, and the whole community is celebrating.