Nenad Ivovic is an old soul in a 26-year-old body who channels the music of centuries to a 21st century audience. Much like the European instrumentalists of old, who switched from one instrument to another, the recent Yale graduate in piano performance took on a job as church organist at First Church of Christ, where he enriches their Sunday worship by accompanying their traditional hymns on the organ, but occasionally turning to the piano to set the tone.
Music allows him to share emotions and connect with people he didn’t even know, he said in a conversation with this reporter, taking in the warm rays of the fall sun in the picnic grove across the street from the church. “I really like it here. I could see myself living here,” he says of the Greater New Haven area.
The connection he has found through the church helped him put down roots. During the summer, when he was traveling for music classes, he returned every Sunday to play in church. “It felt like I was coming home,” he said.
On Saturday, October 19, starting at 4 p.m., the greater Woodbridge community will have a chance to hear Ivovic play, but it won’t be on the organ. He will be performing a program of his favorite romantic pieces on the church’s upright piano. The concert is part of the Woodbridge Arts and Music Festival running that weekend, Friday, October 18 through Sunday, October 20.
The program focuses on music by Johannes Brahms, starting with four piano pieces, Opus 119, and the Piano Sonata in C major, Opus 1. Ivovic points out that the four piano pieces were among the last of Brahms’ compositions, while the sonata was the first. It is a good way to explore the development the 19th century composer took from his early works, he said.
It is the music that brought Ivovic to this area. Born and raised in Belgrade, he learned to play the piano as a four-year-old, in the same music school that his older brother had taken his first lessons. In fact, it is in that music school that he took his first steps as a toddler, he said. It was his mother who recognized his talent and encouraged him to follow his heart.
Ivovic was born in a country at war — what had once been cobbled together as one Yugoslavia, was falling apart, with religious, social and ethnic unrest and ultimately, the founding of a new Serbia. But the country and its residents were building a life from ruins, and there were not many openings for a young pianist to grow. He had to look abroad to link into the world of classical music.
Having taken master classes in Tel Aviv during the summers, he applied to and was accepted at the Buchman-Mehta School of Music, where he graduated with an MA. Two years later, he was accepted into the Yale School of Music, as a student of Prof. Boris Berman.
He is currently a collaborative piano fellow at Yale. As part of his job, he teaches and coaches, but he also plays with students of other instruments — which requires not only an understanding of those instruments, but a vast musical repertoire. “I practice 10-12 hours every day,” he said. His goal is to get his doctorate in piano.
The life as a professional pianist is all-consuming. He travels to attend master classes and competitions; he practices, he accompanies; “it’s tough,” he said, “but also beautiful.” He feels that he still has ways to grow as a musician. “From age four I knew I wanted to be a pianist, I was born for that,” he said. “And now I am sure of it.”
The concert is part of the Woodbridge Arts and Music Festival, which celebrates all things Woodbridge as part of the Fallapalooza. The festival starts on Friday, October 18 with an art exhibit opening at the church and its Parish House, followed by a performance of the St. Luke’s Steel Drum Band.
Saturday activities start off with two hikes, either a five-mile hike led by the Conservation Commission; or a 1.5-mile family hike led by the Recreation Commission. Stick around on the Green between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., for entertainment, including Sound Affect singing group, Bennen Lucey Irish dancers and later a klezmer band; Musical Folk will give a demonstration of its music classes for the youngest ones; Massaro Farm and the Beecher Road School Green Team will have tables for demonstrations.
Following the classical concert there will be reception in the Parish House. Later, on Saturday there will be square dancing in the Center Building gym.
The festival closes with a church service on Sunday morning, October 20 at 10 a.m., with an all-out musical program featuring a piano and organ duet by Nenad Ivovic and Faye Chen, as well as the church’s bell choir and choir.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Tow News Correspondent