October 9, 2013
By Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
Dallas — Called “a one-woman contemporary-classical commissioning machine” by Pitchfork, violist Nadia Sirota is shaking up the new music world.
She is in Dallas for a residency that came as part of her winning the 2013 Meadows Prize at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts. On Thursday, in conjunction with SYZYGY, the Meadows new music ensemble, she will present the world premieres of six works that were commissioned from current music composition students and recent graduates.
Sirota's entire career has been dedicated to commissioning new music and bringing her usually disparaged instrument to the forefront. Indeed, the viola gets a bad rap. Viola jokes abound. Also, the instrument is sadly lacking in repertoire, something Sirota is singlehandedly correcting.
“The viola is harder to play than the violin,” Sirota says. “It is harder to make a decent sound on it and harder to play fast passages because of its increased size. Add to that the fact that it is usually recommended for less accomplished players because viola orchestral parts are usually easier than what is written for the violin. It is like the awkward kid in high school that everyone laughs at.”
No one is laughing now. Sirota and her viola are what is happening with new music.
As you would expect, she plays on a modern instrument. “My viola was made in 2002 by Gregg Alf, who works in Ann Arbor,” she says. “But it is based on the models that were perfected in Cremona [by Stradivarius and his contemporaries]. What is so exciting about a new instrument is that it grows every day as you play on it and it begins to meld with your own playing style. I am still looking for a good bow.”
But new music is her passion and, if she can help develop an expanded repertoire for her instrument along the way, so much the better.
“My father is a composer so the idea of music being fresh was always around me,” she says. “I took a composition class while I was in high school at the Peabody Conservatory’s preparatory division. I was part of a small group that would play everyone's pieces as part of the class. At the time, I had no idea that this would have a resonance with my future. At Juilliard, I immediately volunteered for all of the composer workshops.”
“Composers have so much to offer us, we have nothing without them, and it is up to us as performers to get it out there,” she says.
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