Neely releases CD 'Boston Circa 1900'

David Neely and his new CD "Boston Circa 1900."
David Neely and his new CD "Boston Circa 1900."

David Neely's journey through the archives of the New England Conservatory has ended with the release of the new CD, "Boston Circa 1900."

The project started in 2010 as the professor of violin went to several libraries in Boston. Neely ended up at the New England Conservatory and spent four days going through their old, antiquated archive system looking for the perfect pieces of music for a CD.

“You literally had to go through card files and find things in their vault,” Neely said. “They call it 'the vault.' So you would take the number to them and then they would get them and bring them out one or two at a time — these really old, relics of pieces of music that weren’t out on the shelves. I would look at them and then if I decided I really wanted them or wanted to take it and examine it more closely I would ask them to copy it.”

Neely eventually found just the right pieces that became "Boston Circa 1900," released by Albany Records on July 1.

“I came home with a dozen pieces,” Neely said. “I started going through them and I had these (Harry Newton) Redman pieces and I really liked them so I performed them at a recital. I decided they were so unknown, if you look up Redman you will find nothing. Even if you go to Wikipedia they have like one sentence on him. So I thought, that’s it. I’m going to try and record these.”

Neely sent a copy of the Redman recitals to Albany Records and asked if they would be interested in producing a CD.

“They said it was a great project,” Neely said. “I got a call from one of their head people who said this is an incredible project on so many levels.”

The next step for Neely was to get funding and then to get it produced through Albany Records. He got a grant through the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts to do the recordings. Neely recorded the music through Studio B in Omaha with Cletus Baker.

Through discussions with Baker, it was decided that the album should be recorded in an old Victorian living room — the same place the recitals would have been played in Boston in the late 1880s and early 1900s.

Baker contacted Jackson Berkey, the pianist from Manheim Steamroller who lives in Omaha in a Victorian mansion. Berkey agreed to the request.

"We did the recording in (Berkey's) glorious living room, in this space that is wooden everywhere," Neely said. "The floors are oak. The doorways are oak. The mantle and fireplace are beautiful. It was incredible."

The recording was completed in three days. Neely then needed another grant to get the CD produced so he wrote a second grant request and received funding from the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

“This is really exciting for me because they are a world premiere recording of pieces written in 1903 and 1905,” Neely said. “I’ve always been very interested in early American works. They’ve never gotten their just reward. A lot of people will say it’s just a copying of European styles. I truly don’t believe that. It’s its own style.

"These creations have been shuffled under the carpets and put away and lost in file cabinets and haven’t been given their just due and there are some tremendous pieces out there. It’s not going to replace Brahms and Beethoven — those that have established themselves — but these pieces deserve their own spot.”

Neely believes there are a lot of great American composers who fill the great void that when people start looking and digging they are going to find those sounds and fill in those places that are missing.

“I’m still digging and Albany Records is very interested in my next project,” Neely said, who will be an artist/teacher at the Orfeo International Summer Music Festival in Italy. “I found another American composer by the name of Brockway that I’m still in the process of getting pieces."

— Brian Reetz, School of Music