Hailed by The New York Times as “imaginative and eloquent” and dubbed “a local hero” with “silken tone and subtle attention to each note” by the Boston Globe, cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer maintains a vibrant and diverse career as one of Boston’s most celebrated artists. He is principal cellist of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Emmanuel Music, and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and a core member of many notable chamber music organizations throughout New England, including the Chameleon Arts Ensemble and Winsor Music. His 2003 performance with the Boston Philharmonic of the Saint-Saëns Concerto in A minor was praised by the Globe for “melodic phrasing of melting tenderness” and “dazzling dispatch of every bravura challenge;” more recent solo appearances include Strauss' Don Quixote with the Boston Philharmonic, Beethoven's Triple Concerto with Emmanuel Music; and the North American premiere of Roger Reynolds' Thoughts, Places, Dreams with sound/icon.
Mr. Popper-Keizer is a member of nationally acclaimed conductorless string ensemble A Far Cry, which has won recognition for both artistic excellence and its democratic model of collective decision-making at every level. In 2017, A Far Cry commissioned, premiered, and recorded a new piano concerto by Philip Glass, with soloist Simone Dinnerstein. The release of this recording was followed up a few months later by the group’s album Visions and Variations, which received two Grammy nominations. A Far Cry’s recent and upcoming performance schedule includes tours of California and Colorado, regular appearances at the Rockport Music Festival and Central Park in NYC, and a concert at the Kennedy Center in DC featuring the Tchaikovsky Serenade played from memory.
In 2019, Mr. Popper-Keizer was appointed Artistic Director of Monadnock Music, where he has been in residence every summer since 2002. Based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, the central mission of Monadnock Music is to bring free concerts featuring world-class artists to the villages and towns of the region. Over the course of the festival’s more than fifty-year history, Monadnock Music has worked closely with composers including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Roger Sessions, and (in more recent years) Richard Danielpour, Dalit Warshaw, and Jing Wang.
Mr. Popper-Keizer has been featured on over two dozen recordings, including the premieres of Robert Erickson's Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra, Thomas Oboe Lee's cello concerto Eurydice, Yehudi Wyner's De Novo for cello and small chamber ensemble, and Malcolm Peyton's unaccompanied Cello Piece. His most recent solo recording, on Musica Omnia, is a disc pairing two monumental works for unaccompanied cello: Zoltan Kodaly’s notoriously virtuosic Sonata for Solo Cello and Ralf Gawlick’s At the still point of the turning world, a powerful exploration of sonority and silence written for and dedicated to Popper-Keizer.
As an alumnus of the New England Conservatory (A.D. 1999, M.M. with honors 1997), Mr. Popper-Keizer studied with master pedagogue and Piatigorsky protégé Laurence Lesser; at the Tanglewood Music Center he was privileged to work with Mstislav Rostropovich, and was Yo-Yo Ma’s understudy for Strauss’ Don Quixote under the direction of Seiji Ozawa. His prior teachers include Stephen Harrison of Stanford University, and Karen Andrie at the University of California in Santa Cruz. At the age of ten he began undergraduate coursework in mathematics at UCSC, where he was accepted as a full-time student two years later (B.A. 1994).
Mr. Popper-Keizer is currently on faculty at Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and has previously taught at Philips Exeter Academy, Brandeis University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With A Far Cry, he has participated in college and university residencies nationwide, including guest lectures and presentations at Baldwin Wallace University and Connecticut College, and masterclasses at Yale University.
Laina Barakat is an Independent Film Producer, singer-songwriter, and Executive Director of Monadnock Music. Laina moved to the region from Philadelphia in 2007 to work with Either/Or Films on their premier feature, The Sensation of Sight (David Strathairn, Ian Sommerhalder, Jane Adams, Ann Cusak) which was filmed in Peterborough. She next founded and ran a non-profit artist collective in Keene, NH, The Starving Artist, where she booked nationally touring bands for four years. Further integrating herself into the community, she co-founded and was Executive Director for the Monadnock International Film Festival during its first three years. In early 2016, she created her own film company, Wayward Ark Productions, where she has written, directed and produced seven short films and one feature length film. The latter was shot half in Iceland and half in New Hampshire and is set to premiere later this year. Her films have picked up awards including Best Performance at Orlando Film Festival, NH Film of the Year and Best NH Performance at NH Film Festival, the Judges Award at Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Screening, Audience Choice Award at MONIFF, and Best Shorter Comedy at London Worldwide Short Comedy Film Festival.
As a songwriter, Laina has been a songwriter in residence at the Glen Workshops in Santa Fe New Mexico, a Songwriting Captain for Soul Kitchen, workshopped her songs with the band Over The Rhine, and had several of her compositions covered by internationally touring bands. Her second album, The Wayward Ark, was produced by Vinx (Percussionist for Sting and Stevie Wonder, Songwriter for Cheryl Crowe, Seal, and the Broadway Musical The Lion King). She self-released an album in 2015 called Iron Lungs. She continues co-writing with several artists across the country.
Barakat joined Monadnock Music just before their 2016 season and has enjoyed serving first as General Manager and now as Executive Director. She currently lives in Marlborough, New Hampshire and is proud to now call the Monadnock Region her home.