Conservatory Spotlight: Adam Millstein

This interview has been edited for length, style, and clarity.

How did you start playing the violin?
When I started, I was actually living in Florida at the time. I was there for a couple years because of my dad’s work. One of my earliest memories is a music class when I was four years old. I was super drawn to the violin in particular; I don’t really know why. And I remember being seven, I was like, yeah, I would love to do this. My school offered it and it just developed from there.

As you started playing, what did you love about the violin?
I was so obsessed with the repertoire of the instrument in particular. From a very young age, I would listen to CDs on end of all the great violin masters. We became so obsessed with the different concerti and the sonatas in the repertoire. I always had this goal of being able to play the violin well enough to play some of the things that I loved listening to so much and loved seeing on stage. So falling in love with the repertoire in particular was something that kept fueling the fire, wanting to learn how to play better and better so I could actually conquer some of this music eventually or at least attempt to in my life.

When did you realize that you wanted to do it professionally?
When I was 12 years old, I went to Interlochen. That was a very formative experience for me, going there for three weeks, my first sleepaway camp, and then being exposed to all these other amazing young, talented musicians. I was just so inspired by that environment and playing with an orchestra for the first time. I think I played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture. It was my first time playing with a full string section, full winds and brass, full percussion. I remember going home being like, “I really want to do this. I really want to go for it.” So that’s what started it, and I was very fortunate to have parents who to this day support my musical pursuits.

Is that around when you started studying at the Community School?
I started Colburn a year after that. My parents and I started looking into, okay, where could we go to foster a potential professional development? And we found the Community School.

What was your Community School experience like?
I had an amazing Community School experience. It was really inspiring—not only my lessons with my teacher Danielle Belen, who I ended up studying with in Michigan as well, but also my orchestral experience there. I still have friends today that I met when I was in ninth grade and that I hang out with to this day. It’s pretty cool because of the way classical music works too, especially if you stay in the field, you just keep running into people that you met years and years ago through all these different music festivals and schools and stuff like that.

I also worked with Maxim Eshkenazy a lot. He was my conductor back then. He made a very profound impression on me when I was younger and concertmaster of those orchestras. And then later in life, we went on tour in Bulgaria together multiple times.

Another big thing for me was working with Ida Levin when she was alive. She was just such an intelligent and sensitive and wonderful musician and teacher. I worked with her for three years as part of the Honors Quartet in the Community School.

So between private lessons and orchestra and chamber, it was a really cool experience to have in between my pretty rigorous, academic high school experience. So yeah, it was very formative actually, now that I look back on it with 20/20 hindsight.

What brought you back to Colburn after undergrad?
It was always a goal of mine to come to Colburn for graduate school. I always had the idea that I would do a university for my undergraduate and then go to a conservatory for graduate school, preferably Colburn. My teacher in high school and then at Michigan, Danielle Belen, was a former student of Mr. Lipsett and was his assistant. So there was always this idea I had in mind that it’d be really great to work with him in particular and go to Colburn with the environment which I had been exposed to at the Community School, and just the intensity and the high level of performance that exists uniquely at Colburn.

What are some of the things that led into your professional development as a Conservatory student?
Well first and foremost, my studies with Mr. Lipsett were really important, especially the studio class experience and the environment that he fosters amongst the studio. There’s this expectation of excellence which is just felt by everyone, not in a top-down enforced way, but everyone intrinsically wants to play their best and are palpably inspired by Mr. Lipsett’s incredible teaching. My studio mates are all amazing and it’s super inspiring to see how they perform and to observe their world-class technical and musical abilities. It inspires me a lot being there and then also playing for them. The high intensity of Studio Class in particular has been a really integral part of my development that supplements of course my one-on-one lessons with Mr. Lipsett.

And then, the chamber music at Colburn has been outstanding. I’ve had wonderful groups and wonderful coaches and the [Colburn Chamber Music Society] experience of playing with [Conservatory faculty] Martin Beaver doing a late Beethoven quartet. And then over the pandemic, I played the remarkable Weinberg piano trio with [Conservatory faculty] Clive Greensmith and Dominic Cheli, alumnus of Colburn.

Of course, orchestra has been incredible at Colburn too. Working with Yehuda Gilad, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and many other renowned conductors that are brought in—it’s just an amazing environment. Being exposed to all of these different elements of world-class performance prepares you for the professional world. Having all those performance elements in a place like Colburn definitely helps you propel to the next level.

Recently, you’ve been working on the Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and More project. What has that been like?
The Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices is a fascinating program I want to bring attention to that I believe is integral in creating the whole Colburn environment. It’s been a really life-changing and career shifting thing for me actually. I was exposed to the Recovered Voices Initiative when I played on a concert with the former director of chamber music, Scott St. John, and another student at the Thomas Mann House. We played a concert there and I remember James Conlon spoke and he really unpacked what the mission of the Recovered Voices Initiative is, which is to perform and promote the music of composers who were suppressed as a result of Nazi policies from 1933 to 1945.

I was so inspired by that particular event that it just wedged into my mind. And when the pandemic hit, I found myself with more time to actually explore this body of work and this area of musical history. I got really deep into the Recovered Voices composers, and as a result I was connected with Bob Elias, who is a fountain of knowledge. He has become a profoundly important person in my life also and has assumed a wonderful role as a mentor in exploring these composers and helping me with different ideas that I have of performing this music. In this past year, we worked on a lot of the music of Erwin Schulhoff and recorded eight of his works, which is all coming out this year, and that’s been amazing.

It’s been wonderful too because not only have I been working so much with Bob Elias, but I’ve also been put into direct contact with James Conlon which has been truly life-changing for me. I’ve been learning so much from him about this body of work. We’ve been collaborating on repertoire and artistic choices for programming with Recovered Voices this upcoming year and we recorded multiple pieces together last year. It’s been a very important thing for me working with James Conlon who has inspired me so much, just being able to experience his tremendous artistry and intellect first hand.

What’s the personal significance of the project for you?
These composers deserve to be heard and they deserve to be known because I think there is so much amazing music that they wrote. It’s a lost treasure trove of music from the 20th century. It feels like you are uncovering works by your favorite composers that you never found before. So it’s like playing new music but it’s in the style of the greatest composers of the 20th century. They act as this missing link and this conduit between all these different aesthetic styles in Western art music.

It’s so unbelievable to me that we don’t know who they are, but this is because of the actions of the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s. They tried to wipe these composers off the face of the earth and also their legacies, and they destroyed the cultural gardens in which they flourished in Europe at the time. And so we now don’t know who a lot of them are, like Schulhoff or Weinberg or Schreker or Zemlinsky, and they aren’t part of the canon. That’s something that I feel very strongly about undoing because I think it’s necessary when there’s injustice for it to be corrected, of course.

And then also fundamentally, I aesthetically believe in this music very, very strongly after going through it and listening to it and playing it so much. I really believe in these composers and I want to get them onto the concert stage and accepted as part of the canon as much as possible. So it’s held that kind of significance for me as an artist and also as someone who’s so passionate about music.

You mentioned that the project has been career shifting. What has that shift been?
Recovered Voices has shown me how much I want to pursue a deeper study of these composers and to become truly an expert as much as I can in this area. And potentially in my dream of dreams, I’m thinking about maybe pursuing a DMA or a doctorate with a performance focus in these composers.

I could see myself hopefully in the future incorporating a multifaceted career, not only with the traditional kind of performance avenues which I need to have in my life, but also doing more things like I’m doing right now with Recovered Voices, which is more curatorial. I would also love to get into academic research and potentially even teaching in this field of the Recovered Voices composers.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve felt a lot of support at Colburn from all levels of the School which I think is really unique. So I love all my colleagues at the School, my teacher, all the other teachers at the School too. There’s a very nurturing environment too, of musicianship.

I’ve also found, especially with my passion for Recovered Voices, it’s been amazing to see how much the teachers and my colleagues at the School have been so receptive to it. Working with Bob Elias and James Conlon has just been amazing, and Annie Wickert, [Vice President of Advancement], has been an incredible person to get to know and to work with as well. It’s been a really exciting thing to experience this kind of support as I continue to develop as a professional.

Special appreciation goes to the Colburn Society members whose support makes the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices possible. To learn more, contact

Grand Conversations

Hear in-depth perspectives directly from Colburn School guest artists, faculty, students, and alumni.

Latest Episode

  • Grand Conversations: Episode 02

    Grand Conversations

    This month, we’ll hear from Community School and Conservatory alumnus Hao Zhou on his preparation for Shostakovich’s Violin Concert No. 1 with the Colburn Orchestra on November 13. Colburn cello faculty Clive Greensmith will speak about his Chamber Music Society performance on November 21. And finally, we’ll hear from Salonen Conducting Fellow Ross Jamie Collins on the lessons and challenges of Concerto Forum on December 5, which will feature multiple soloists alongside members of the Colburn Orchestra.

    Further Listening from Hao Zhou

    Shostakovich Violin Concert No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77

    David Oistrakh, Violin

    Hilary Hahn, Violin

    Further Viewing from Ross Jamie Collins

    Concerto Forum 2020


All Episodes

Grand Conversations: Episode 02

Grand Conversations

This month, we’ll hear from Community School and Conservatory alumnus Hao Zhou on his preparation for Shostakovich’s Violin Concert No. 1 with the Colburn Orchestra on November 13. Colburn cello faculty Clive Greensmith will speak about his Chamber Music Society performance on November 21. And finally, we’ll hear from Salonen Conducting Fellow Ross Jamie Collins on the lessons and challenges of Concerto Forum on December 5, which will feature multiple soloists alongside members of the Colburn Orchestra.

Further Listening from Hao Zhou

Shostakovich Violin Concert No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77

David Oistrakh, Violin

Hilary Hahn, Violin

Further Viewing from Ross Jamie Collins

Concerto Forum 2020

Meet the New Director of Bands: Elizabeth Stoyanovich

The Community School is excited to welcome Elizabeth Stoyanovich to the Colburn community. With ensembles rehearsing and performing in-person once again, we recently spoke with Ms. Stoyanovich to discuss her musical family, her teaching philosophy, and her plans for the coming year.

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

What attracted you to Colburn?
As a musician, I knew of the reputation of the Colburn School for many years and admired it from afar. I have known many high school students who studied at the Community School and thought highly of their experiences performing and the teachers they had worked with. When I saw the advertisement for the Director of Bands position, I jumped at the opportunity to become “part of the team.”

Outside of the Community School you work with high school and college students as well as professional orchestras. How does your approach change as you work with ensembles at different levels?
My job as a “Maestra” (the Italian word for “female teacher”) is literally to teach, so my approach always begins by building a deep understanding of the repertoire so that I can interpret and then convey the composer’s wishes to the ensemble. With young students especially, I like to meet them where they are—be it technically or musically—and inspire them to go further.

Our bands are made up of students from all over southern California—how do you connect with students from so many backgrounds and experiences?
The draw of performing live music together solidifies our collective goal to work together. In my experience, the variety of cultural experiences that students bring to the ensemble only enhances our relationships. This semester, the bands are performing music from the Western repertoire—some standard, others newly composed. While the language of Western music may differ from that of other parts of the world, all music shares the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, structure, and instrumentation. Ultimately, it is the energy and passion that music excites in us that allows music to communicate with everyone.

Our students have been learning remotely for over a year now. How does it feel to be able to rehearse in-person again?
We are so excited to be back in person and making music together. The ability to listen to someone sitting in the same room as you—to check balance, intonation, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, notes, rhythm—these are all things that can’t be done over Zoom or spliced together in a video. We currently rehearse in a large tent that is set up on the plaza. This gives us the space to socially distance “outdoors” while still having the luxury of good acoustics, lighting, shielding from the wind and cold, and a standard band set-up. The Community School staff have been fantastic with keeping everything set up correctly, taking attendance, and helping out with coaching the students.

What are you most excited for in the coming school year? Any upcoming concerts that you’re looking forward to?
I am very grateful to be rehearsing and performing in person! Having spent the entirety of my life in music, spending the last 18 months in virtual rehearsals has been difficult. There really is no substitute for in-person music-making. We are currently rehearsing outside in a tent, but I am looking forward to using more of Colburn’s outstanding facilities for rehearsals and performances. Our Concert Band and Wind Ensemble are currently preparing for their first concert of the year, which will take place on Saturday, December 4, in Grand Park! We are covering a range of band repertoire, from standards like Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture to sea shanties and folk songs.

I am also looking forward to promoting the ensembles and watching them grow and develop musically. I have worked with so many young people in the past who have gone on to join world-renowned ensemble, become professors and teachers, and start families of their own. It’s always fun to meet and work with new musicians because I see it as expanding my “musical family” who I will cherish for a lifetime!

Your career has taken you around the world and put you in touch with incredible artists and teachers! What lessons from them do you carry with you in your work today?
I remember the first time I played under Leonard Bernstein as an oboist—we were playing Sibelius’s Second Symphony at Tanglewood. It was an incredible orchestra, and in those days, Tanglewood rehearsals took place in an old wooden shed. Bernstein walked in, and he was wearing a baby blue hoodie and sweatpants. He went on to conduct us using really unusual hand gestures that I hadn’t seen before, but when I watched his eyes and his expressions, I understood exactly what he was conveying musically and emotionally. Later, when I studied conducting under him at Fontainebleau in France, he said “…when you perform, if you’re not feeling nervous or excited, you won’t be able to focus that energy into the music.” I’ve always liked that because it shows that even at the highest levels of performing, you need passion and excitement. We are lucky because performing music is never a boring job; it takes emotional commitment and energy!

Anything else you would like to share with our community?
When I was a kid, I played in my local youth orchestra, the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony, and by the time I was a senior I had been playing first oboe for a couple of years. All of a sudden, the conductor randomly promoted a new member to first chair without an audition, just because he was a friend of the student’s father! I was furious, but I stayed in the group playing second, still loving the music. My friends saw how upset I was and told me that on Sundays they would drive to Ann Arbor to play in the Wind Ensemble there under Carl St. Clair (who later hired me as an Assistant Conductor of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra) and encouraged me to try out for that high school group. I took their advice, and not only was it a great time, it also helped me get a full scholarship to Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. This paved the way for my studies at the University of Michigan, where I received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Oboe Performance and Conducting. Now I can look back and appreciate how being demoted to second oboe really set my musical life in motion. Some of the repertoire that the Bands are playing this semester brings back memories from my time in those youth orchestras and in the U of M Wind Ensemble. Like I said before, music is family to me!

Learn More

Learn more about the Band Program.

Interested in auditioning for the spring semester? Submit an inquiry today!

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Elizabeth Stoyanovich

Hailed as a charismatic and outstanding conductor, Elizabeth Stoyanovich was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times as “… extremely impressive…clean, emotional and translucent in performance [she] conducted an overplayed war-horse as a newly-played symphony full of vibrancy and originality…” during a Pacific Symphony Orchestra subscription concert in front of a 8,000 member audience at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Southern California. The Orange County Register noted, “Stoyanovich showed that she is a splendid talent, musical and with rock-solid technique…[she] made the New World Symphony sound new again…her musical passion [is] unfailingly strong.”

Stoyanovich served for 12 seasons as Music/Artistic Director of the Orchestra of Saint Cecilia and has held many significant posts as a Music Director, Associate, Assistant, and Professor in the US. In fall of 2007, she had her English premiere guest conducting at the University of London, Kingston College Orchestra. In spring 2009 she premiered “Seven Last Words” by Patrick Stoyanovich at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

With many years of teaching in the public schools, colleges and arts magnet schools, Ms. Stoyanovich serves as Music Department Chair at Palisades Charter High School teaching symphony orchestra, concert orchestra, jazz band, AP Music Theory and Business of Music. In the summer of 2019, she was hired as an adjunct faculty at Santa Monica College directing the symphony orchestra.

She completed successful tenures as Assistant Conductor of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Assistant Conductor of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Associate Conductor of the Spokane Symphony, Education Conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic and Music Director of the Champlain Valley Symphony Orchestra and Bremerton Symphony Association. In addition, she served as Music Director of a number of outstanding ensembles for youths including the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, Pacific Symphony Institute Orchestra, Pacific Symphony Orchestra Youth Orchestra and Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra.

Guest conducting appearances include: Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Women’s Philharmonic, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Chicago Civic Orchestra, L’Orchestra des Junes du Quebec, Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Newport Symphony Orchestra, Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra, the Tulare County Symphony and a variety of events for young musicians. Elizabeth is also known for her appealing dialogue from stage “…Stoyanovich presented a splendid introduction to the complications of this work [Brahms Symphony #3] in her pre-concert talk-few people are better at this than she.” She was honored to present the pre-concert lecture in Orange County for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In addition, she served as Music Director of a number of outstanding ensembles for youths including the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, Pacific Symphony Institute Orchestra, Pacific Symphony Orchestra Youth Orchestra and Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra. Her teaching career has covered over 20 years working with the very young to seniors. She had a number of teaching posts including those with public schools in California (Saddleback Unified School District, Capistrano School District), Vermont, Connecticut and Michigan. She also has taught at the college level at California State University: Fullerton, State University of New York: Plattsburgh and as a guest at University of California: Los Angeles and University of California: Irvine.

Stoyanovich’s musical appeal makes strong impact on audiences of all ages, especially noted are her education concerts for their creative and dynamic approach. The PSO garnered special recognition from the American Symphony Orchestra League as one of three top education programs in this country along with the Boston Symphony and New York Philharmonic. She served as a board member of the American Symphony Orchestra League and in 1991 was chosen as the only woman from the U.S. to compete in the Min-On International Conducting Competition in Vienna, Austria. In 2006 she recognized as a significant emerging Music Director in the United States by being nominated for the ASOL Helen M. Thompson Award exhibiting excellence and dedication through exceptional musical leadership and commitment to organizational vitality.

Ms. Stoyanovich’s formal education was at The University of Michigan with further studies at Academie des Americaines de Musique in Fontainbleau, France under Leonard Bernstein and as an Augustus-Thorndike Fellow at The Tanglewood Music Center. She was born in Wisconsin has a home on Bainbridge Island, WA with her husband, Patrick, though she works in Pacific Palisades. Their two daughters artists: Antonia Stoyanovich is a visual artist and Sophia Stoyanovich is a violinist. Ms. Stoyanovich is also the CEO of Metrocitymusic.

2022 Celebrate Colburn Gala

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Summer Programs [2022]

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American Viola Society Mini-Fest Schedule

Get Tickets

Friday, December 17, 2021

9 am–5 pm
Exhibits open

10–11 am
Panel discussion on efficient practicing (Victoria Chang, Paul Coletti, Ames Asbell)
Mayman Hall

11:15 am–12:15 pm
Combining a career as a university professor and professional conductor (Andrés Cárdenes)
Mayman Hall

11:15 am–12:15 pm
Four Step Spiccato (Hillary Herndon)
Thayer Hall

1:30–4:30 pm
Southern California Viola Society Youth Competition Final Round
Thayer Hall

1:45–2:45 pm
Emotional Projection in Performance (Daniel Heifetz)
Mayman Hall

3–4 pm
Pre-College Master Class (Minor Wetzel)
Mayman Hall

Saturday, December 18, 2021

9 am–5 pm
Exhibits open

8:30–9:30 am
Starting and Running a Successful ViolaFest in Your Community (Gina Coletti and Mary Kelly)
Mayman Hall

8:30–9:30 am
Collegiate Master Class (Daphne Gerling)
Thayer Hall

1:30–3 pm
Southern California Viola Society Youth Competition Winners’ Recital
Thayer Hall

4–5 pm
Developing a Career in a Professional String Quartet (Barry Shiffman)
Mayman Hall

5–6 pm
Body Mapping (Christina Ebersohl)
Thayer Hall

Colburn School Presents Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and More, An Original Multimedia Series

Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and More, is an original multimedia series featuring James Conlon, which premiered this past Tuesday, November 2. Presented by the Colburn School’s Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices, the online series delves into the life and music of Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), a fascinating, prolific, and multi-faceted composer who embraced a full panoply of styles and influences from his era.

The ‘Recovered Voices’ series at Colburn is designed to communicate the importance of continuing to bring attention to the volumes of music that were banned by the Nazi regime. Their voices still need to be heard. James Conlon

Inspired by LA Opera’s groundbreaking Recovered Voices project, and with the support of Los Angeles philanthropist Marilyn Ziering, the Colburn School and James Conlon established the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices in 2013, with the purpose of championing composers such as Schulhoff whose lives were disrupted—or even ended—during the years of the Nazi regime in Europe. In collaboration with Robert Elias and with the critical support of individual philanthropists, the Initiative continues to bring this important repertory back to life for generations to come through performances, classes, competitions, symposia, recordings, and more.

For the past seven years, the Ziering-Conlon Initiative offered an annual semester-long course, “Recovered Voices: An Examination of Lesser-Known Composers and Works of the Early Twentieth Century,” with weekly lectures by Mr. Conlon, Mr. Elias, and other experts. Due to COVID, the annual in-person course was reimagined for digital platforms. This free series will consist of four 45-minute multimedia presentations by Mr. Conlon exploring the life and legacy of composer Erwin Schulhoff, including musical examples—most performed and recorded by Colburn musicians—in each installment.

“The ‘Recovered Voices’ series at Colburn is designed to communicate the importance of continuing to bring attention to the volumes of music that were banned by the Nazi regime. Their voices still need to be heard,” said Mr. Conlon. “I am thrilled that we have found a way to push through the pandemic-related challenges and continue our mission through the streaming of our discussions. Reviving and nurturing the music of the victims of totalitarianism, like that of the extraordinarily innovative Erwin Schulhoff, is of vital importance. These efforts deny those regimes any posthumous victory, while also serving as a reminder to resist any contemporary or future impulse to define artistic standards on the basis of racist or exclusionary ideologies. My hope is that with the expanded, now-virtual reach of this year’s series, we can reach an even larger audience to draw attention to the composers like Erwin Schulhoff, whose lives were shortened but whose music can live on through all of us.”

“Since 2014, Recovered Voices has been an essential part of the Colburn School experience for students and public audiences alike,” said Sel Kardan, President and CEO. “It is a special privilege to not only continue James Conlon’s mission to illuminate the works of composers suppressed by the Nazi regime, but also to bring this important initiative into the digital sphere, further lifting the voices of those who were silenced.”

Erwin Schulhoff’s life and career are emblematic of the vitality not only of his own work, but that of two generations of composers whose lives, careers, and legacies were profoundly disrupted during—and following—the years 1933–1945 as a result of Nazi repression. Schulhoff (1894–1942), like all Jewish composers and many non-Jewish composers, was branded by the regime as “degenerate.”

Like Kafka and Mahler, a German Jew in a Czech cultural milieu, Schulhoff used his “outsider looking in” status to forge a compelling musical personality. One of the earliest and most successful exponents of art music drawing on jazz, Schulhoff refracts multiple approaches of his time, from Dada to Expressionism, and from a distanced self-mockery to the stolid seriousness of Socialist Realism. Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and More tracks these influences through the course of Schulhoff’s life.
Colburn Conservatory graduate student Adam Millstein has assumed a leadership role as student curator for this project, assembling Colburn artist-colleagues to perform and video-record many of the works heard in the course of the series.

The Recovered Voices online series will continue with episodes featuring Mr. Elias (“What and Why ‘Degenerate’ Music”) and Dr. Lily E. Hirsch (“Jewish Women Composers During the Nazi Regime: Twice Censored”) to be released later this season.

Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and More
Presented by James Conlon

All episodes premiere at 12 pm PT and will be available at

November 2, 2021
Recovered Voices 101

November 16, 2021
Erwin Schulhoff’s Early Life and Music: Tradition Meets Dada

November 30, 2021
Erwin Schulhoff: A Classical Music Jazz Prophet

December 14, 2021
Erwin Schulhoff: The Twenties and a Turn Toward Socialist Realism

Geraldine Walther Joins Colburn as Interim Director of Chamber Music

This fall, violist Geraldine Walther joined the Colburn faculty as Interim Director of Chamber Music for the Conservatory. She oversees strings and piano chamber music, and she was also featured in October on the Colburn Chamber Music Society series. We sat down with Geraldine to discuss the Colburn Chamber Music Society concert, her work at Colburn, and how her career is helping her work with Conservatory students.

This interview has been lightly edited for style, length, and clarity.

How has it been going at Colburn so far?
Oh, it’s just been great. This last week has been especially great working with the [ten students on the Colburn Chamber Music Society concert]. They’re practically not students anymore, because they are such mature young adults and musicians. But we are all life-long students.

There was a wonderful back and forth. Sometimes I would insist on some things or point out things, but lots of times I was listening to their suggestions and their ideas on how to play a certain phrase. And that is what it is all about: getting everybody thinking and contributing and trying people’s ideas. It makes us all feel ownership if everyone can contribute and we are not just doing something that somebody is telling us. And it makes it much more gratifying if you are all invested in the same way. So, they were all wonderful.

Tell us about the program for your Colburn Chamber Music Society concert.
We did the Debussy Sonata for Flute, Harp, and Viola. And I had the pleasure of working with Anya [Garipoli, Harp] and Austin [Brown, Flute]. They were so aware of each part and very astute and demanding. We were real colleagues, but I felt that way about each group. Austin said it was his first time playing it, but I would not have known because it sounded to me as if he had played it 20 previous times. I have played that piece a few times in my life, and this was a fun performance because when you are playing with someone who has not played the piece a lot, you look at it with their new eyes and new ears, and I enjoy that experience.

And then we played the Amy Beach Piano Quintet, which she wrote in 1907. She was a wonderful pianist and an entirely American trained composer, and she wrote the first symphony ever published by an American woman, “The Gaelic.” The Piano Quintet is a real homage to Brahms, but also very uniquely Mrs. Beach. She composed quite a bit of chamber music, which we all should try to investigate. This is a wonderful piece, and it is deeply passionate. She admired Brahms, so she refers to the Brahms Piano Quintet quite a bit.

I only learned this piece in the last few years, and I am so glad that I did. It’s wonderful that women composers are getting exposure now, because there are some very imaginative and original pieces written by women that really deserve to be heard, performed, and enjoyed. We had an all-ladies group, and they were fantastic: Tiffany [Kang, Violin I], Yu Kai [Sun, Violin II], Emma [Lee, Cello], and HyeJin [Park, Piano].

After intermission, we played the Mozart G Minor Viola Quintet with entirely new personnel: Julia [Angelov, Violin I], Hanna [Zhdan, Violin II], Abby [Smith, Viola I], Yejin [Hong, Cello]. We had a wonderful time working on that too. It is one of the greatest works of chamber music that exists, and again it was the first time out for some of our terrific musicians, so now they have this performance to refer to. Everyone in the group was thrilled to be involved, as I know I was.

It was a wonderful week for me because I got to meet and work with all the different young artists and their different temperaments and different personalities. I wish we could do it every week! Each and every one played superbly, and I was so pleased and proud to have been onstage with them all.

It is also a wonderful feeling to know that these musicians are the musicians of the future. They are just tremendous, just on the cusp of going out and being our new performing artists. You suggest something and right away; they just get it. They embrace it and run with it, which is so wonderful to experience as a teacher.

What is involved in your role as Interim Director of Chamber Music?
My job is to put together chamber groups. I have help from Chris Cho, who is the Interim Manager of Ensemble Activities. He is helping me put together the right personnel for groups and pieces. It is like a big puzzle at first. There are usually 13-15 groups that we organize, and we try to involve all the pianists because they want to learn the quintet literature for piano and strings. It is a backbone of chamber music for piano and strings, and they need to learn those works because they get programmed often. I am talking about the quintets of Brahms, Dvořák, Franck, and Schumann. They come up at every chamber music festival, so if you can learn them at school with a group, it is to one’s advantage. And so, we want to provide that opportunity.

I also get a lot of help from the other faculty: from Martin Beaver, Paul Coletti, Clive Greensmith, and Fabio Bidini. They each help us at every step in which pieces should be played and with whom. But I have to say this first time putting things together was hard, because I had never done it before. I have taught, of course, chamber music. I was in the Takács Quartet, and I taught viola and chamber music for 15 years at the University of Colorado. But I had not organized it. And until you do that, you don’t really have the experience. I think it will be a whole lot easier this next time. I know I will get great support from the other faculty.

I also coach chamber groups. I had around 10, and the other teachers—Mr. Beaver, Mr. Greensmith, Mr. Coletti—had two or three, besides their full studio classes, which was great for me, because I needed some help. I coached my groups, and I tried to get them to play for the other wonderful faculty who would have different ears to gain the experience of playing for other people, as well as their insight. I sent many groups with piano to Mr. Bidini, I am afraid!

How has your previous experience performing and teaching helped in this role?
Every way. Especially having been in the Takács Quartet for 15 years. I don’t think I would be as valuable a teacher without that experience. And then the orchestral playing I’ve done and the solo playing I have done just adds to one’s vocabulary. I remember John [Fawcett] and Rachel [Call], who were working on the Prokofiev Sonata for Two Violins, definitely were thinking of orchestral and emotional colors in their brilliant playing on the Showcase Concert last week. One gains so much from orchestral experience.

I certainly never regret having been in the San Francisco Symphony. Orchestral repertoire is great, and if you are lucky enough to get one of those jobs, enjoy it. I never ever thought that was any less of a career than being a soloist or chamber musician. It is simply different, and you can do them all. I hope the students at Colburn can do them all and enjoy putting together their special careers in music.

How do you see the role of chamber music in students’ education?
They learn to listen, and that is the most important skill of all. Learning to listen to others besides yourself and relating to it. Then you can be very flexible, and you can change what you are doing. If someone else takes time or sings in a different color or dynamic, then you adjust too, because you are listening, responding, and reacting. And if you become more sensitive and aware, that is just going to serve you whether you are in an orchestra or in chamber music.

I always thought of orchestra as big chamber music, frankly, I really did. I thought this was just big chamber music, and you want to play with the cellists here, and the violins here. And even if you are playing a concerto, as soloist, there are times when you are accompanying the orchestra, and you should know that so you can play in a different way.

Is it true that you are the first ever Primrose Competition winner?
Yes, that was a long time ago. It was 1979, in Snowbird, Utah, and Mr. Primrose was there. That really helped me a lot and gave me a lot of confidence. I really appreciated the opportunity, and it was just a wonderful experience. It is terrific that the Competition is coming to Colburn in December. We have some talented players in this class of violas that I hope will compete.

What is the significance of the Primrose Competition for violists?
It was the very first one when I competed and won, so there are many more opportunities now. It has become much more renowned and accepted as one of the big competitions for violists. You get opportunities, and that is always good. You receive chances to play with other people and just to grow and get better.

The Primrose Competition is coming up in December, and then there’s another round of Chamber Forum in the spring.
Yes, Chamber Forum is in the spring. We have two chunks of time where everything gets intense, and we put all the groups together again. I hope we finish some of these pieces we have begun this semester, because I would love to hear the whole works played. We had some fabulous sounding groups who really worked well together and seemed to really enjoy themselves. And I would like to get more input from the students who are going to be playing. The more everybody thinks about what they want to play and with whom, the better.

Are you just at Colburn for this year?
I’m just here for a year, and it’s been great. I came out of retirement to do this, and yes, I am having a wonderful time. It is a tremendous experience for me.