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Introducing Professor Misha Amory!

What’s your name?

My real name is Michael Kiljan Amory.  I grew up thinking I was named Misha, thanks to my mother’s being a big Tolstoy lover.  By now the discrepancy is more a pain in the neck than anything else, especially when it comes to getting the bank to cash checks made out to “Misha”.

Where are you from?

I was born right across Central Park, at Mount Sinai Hospital.  But I grew up in Boston, in the shadow of Fenway Park, with the result that I suffer from a debilitating love of the Red Sox (and have passed it on to my son Lucas).

How did you come to the viola?

I came to the viola as a teenager, partly because all the cool people were in the viola section, partly because I composed a lot back then and had a keen interest in the inner voices.  Very quickly I realized that, for whatever reason, my natural chemistry with the viola was much better than it was with the violin.  My violin teacher effectively kicked me out of her studio and sent me to find a viola teacher.  And no, I never accidentally tuned my violin down a fifth, but as a viola noob I did try to tune a new viola D up to an A when I wasn’t thinking, with…predictable results.

Are you a Juilliard student?  Were you?  Or do you now work as part of the studio?

I have had the honor and joy of being a professor in the studio since its inception 17 years ago.  Some time before that, I was also a graduate student at Juilliard, studying with Samuel Rhodes.

Tell us about one of your favorite performances?

Actually, a recording…Kathleen Ferrier sings Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, Bruno Walter conducting.  Her voice is so rich and flexible in this performance, and she sounds completely overcome with the sorrow of what she is singing about; every note is on the verge of tears.

If you could play any non-viola piece, what would it be?

I have always had a quartet violist’s envy of the piano trio repertoire, and it would be a thrill to perform the slow movement from Mendelssohn’s C minor Trio.  On the other hand, my love for this music is unalloyed by my never having had to sweat over it…so maybe I should remain a happy listener!

Who made your viola and how did you get to be the one playing it?

I am lucky to play a great old viola, made by the Brothers Amati in 1616.  Probably originally a tenore viol, it was cut back by the Hill shop in London in the late 19th century and made into a modern viola.  The viola was auctioned on Tarisio in 2000, and bid for successfully by some very generous people who purchased it for me to play on.  It is rather cello-istic by nature, with according strengths and weaknesses; the most challenging thing for me is to get brighter, more fiddly sounds and characters.

Do you have any secret skills?

Being just old enough and geeky enough when the Rubik’s Cube first appeared, I can solve one in about 60 seconds.

You are forced by the United States Government to not practice for a day.  What do you do with yourself?

Just for the record, I have not missed a day of practice for 175 years.  But if forced, I would sleep late and drink good coffee, take my kids out biking, go to a baseball game, and enjoy dinner at a good Korean restaurant with my wife Hsin-Yun.


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