Rayna Yun Chou gives a sense of what’s expected in her September “Concert for One” event. (Photo: Robert Torres)

Sitting in a dark concert hall or performance space, it’s easy to feel distant from the musicians on stage. New England Conservatory alumni Rayna Yun Chou is teaming up with Celebrity Series of Boston to change that with her project “Concert for One.”

In the part public concert series, part social experiment taking place Sept. 20-29 in Cambridge and Boston, a single musician will be paired with one listener for an intimate, one-minute recital. The genre, instrument and identity of the performer will be unknown until the concert begins. Recycled shipping containers will serve as the venue. There will be a door and window to avoid making the space feel unwelcoming, but the concert space will encompass only 10 by 10 feet, comparable to the size of an office cubicle. 

“When we go to a performance, either to perform or to listen, we think of ourselves – how nervous we are, or what our expectations are. So when I went home at night, an idea came to me: What if we put a really nervous musician and a really nervous listener together in a room?” Chou said.

A rendering of the “Concert for One” installation as it will look at at Harvard University’s Science Center Plaza in September. (Image: Courtesy of the Celebrity Series)

Oftentimes live music, especially genres such as classical, is not easily accessible or affordable, so the concert series also aims to give the public an experience they might not be able to have otherwise. Between both locations, Celebrity Series estimates more than 5,000 concerts will take place over the 10 days. The concerts are free.

An open call for auditions was held to find musicians, and after sifting through more than 150 applicants, around 60 diverse, local performers were selected to participate. Gary Dunning, executive director of the Celebrity Series, said organizers tried to be open about letting musicians do what they wanted, though they wanted performers who were passionate about the theme of the project. 

“Intimacy requires vulnerability on both sides, and I think that vulnerability requires just being open,” Dunning said. “I think that’s a really interesting process that people will go through.”

Cambridge participants include violinist Louise Bichan, flutist and saxophonist Ken Field, violist Deberly Kauffman, pianist Brianni Lee, guitarist Albino Mbie and singer Sophie Michaux.

The idea for this unique concert series came to Chou when she was a student at the New England Conservatory. She conceived the first version of the social experiment in her hometown in Taiwan, but she has made some modifications for the Boston installment. For example, more genres are being added this time, including jazz and world music. Also, in Taiwan the musicians were her friends, and the performance area was only set up in one location.

It’s unlike anything the Celebrity Series has done, Chou and Dunning said. “I think Bostonians are generally caring and supportive of arts in general. I’m really looking forward to the reaction that we get,” Chou said.

“Concert for One” will take place from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 20-29 at Harvard University’s Science Center Plaza in Cambridge and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Chin Park in Chinatown.


This post was updated Aug. 8, 2019, to add the names of Cambridge participants in the series.