A Whole New Viola!

Since I started preparing for my junior recital a few months ago, I have become increasingly interested in contemporary music for viola. It’s an awkward instrument, or at least that’s what society says. You’re far more likely to recognize the name of a famous violinist or cellist than a famous violist. They aren’t considered solo instruments, and I think in many ways that has shaped the way I view myself as a musician. I have always seen myself as a supporting musician rather than at the forefront of a performance, but that’s not a very helpful thing to envision for myself. Why shouldn’t I be a soloist? Why shouldn’t I be a leader? At the very least, why shouldn’t I strive for that level?

I enjoy contemporary music– I feel like it represents my beliefs about music and I believe in its future. It gives me the opportunity to play music by people who are living now. It gives me the opportunity to commission pieces from composers.  It’s different and weird, but to me, those are good things.

In my quest for contemporary viola music, I came across Nadia Sirota. She’s a violist who commissions new works, plays on recordings for people like Sufjan Stevens, and works as a Creative Partner for the New York Philharmonic. For the past few years, Nadia has hosted a few podcasts based on contemporary music. Finding her website was a revelation for me. A female violist, not violinist, making waves in the music world in more than just one way. She has a solid performing and recording career, but she is also active in the arts leadership community. If she can do it, I can too.

What’s most attractive to me about this solo-viola-contemporary-world is that I might be able to achieve a sense of individuality with my career. In music school they tend to produce the same type of players with the same values and skills. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you’re playing the same pieces of classical music over and over again. Contemporary music puts value in classical skills as well as more out-of-the-box skills, and there’s more room to do things that have never been done before. There’s more room for inclusivity: of players, composers, and audiences. Not to say that we shouldn’t preserve the music of the past, but it’s about time that we pay attention to the music that is happening now.

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