Introducing Victoria Voronyansky!


What’s your name?

My name is Victoria Voronyansky. Vica is my nickname, since I am originally from USSR, where Vica is short for Victoria. My family, my Russian friends, and a few American ones as well call me by that name.

Where are you from?

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine.  When I was 13 years old, my parents and I came to the US, where I have lived ever since. This became my new country, and I think of myself as an American who happened to born in USSR.  Granted, when I had just arrived, USA was a major culture shock, plus I didn’t speak English. On my first trip to the supermarket I almost bought non-dairy powdered coffee creamer, thinking it was salt; even seeing an image on top of the box of a spoon’s contents being dropped into a coffee mug didn’t faze me, I just figured Americans know better 🙂  Eventually I learned to speak English, adapted to this new country, and it became my home.  So now when I go abroad and anyone asks me where I am from, I simply say “I’m from the US”.

How did you come to the viola?

I actually started out on the violin. A few months after I came to the US, I was accepted at Manhattan School of Music pre-college division as a violinist, but I was told that if I would play viola in a chamber group, I could get a scholarship. Of course I agreed, but not without some misunderstandings along the way. Again, because of my severely limited knowledge of English at that time, I was initially under the impression that I would be playing cello: in Russian the word for viola is “Al’t”, cello is “Violonchel’”, so over the phone it sounded to me like the person calling with this information from office of admissions was talking about a cello. At my first chamber music coaching I was handed a viola. Scrambling to read the alto clef, the whole first coaching was pretty comical between my inability to read the clef and the realization that I would be playing a viola.

However by the time I turned 15, I had fallen in love with the viola’s tone, and was especially inspired by its role in string quartets. It was when I performed Lillian Fuchs’ “Sonata Pastorale” that I became convinced that I wanted to focus on the viola more than on the violin.

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

I was part of the studio as a Master’s program student in the late 1990s, working with Heidi Castleman and Misha Amory.  After that, I stayed on as a TA for a few more years, learning a great deal in the process!

Tell us about one of your favorite performances?

I adore the recording of Isaac Stern playing Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole” with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I got the LP on my 9th birthday and it completely changed my view of what constituted a good performance.  Up until that point my focus was largely centered on tone quality. Somehow I thought that producing a beautiful sound, combined with paying attention to dynamics, and carefully following markings on the page was all that was needed for a good rendition of a piece. Isaac Stern’s Lalo was a revelation: he was communicating. There were no words, but he managed to speak through the music in a way that I had never thought possible. Yes, it was beautiful, but there was something in his rendition that transcended notes and tapped into its listener’s heart.

If you could perform any viola piece, what would it be?

The viola part in Beethoven’s Op. 132, especially the 3rd movement Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit and the 5th Movement.  I just love this quartet, but especially these two movements. I have a recording of Vermeer Quartet playing it, and I absolutely adore their rendition. Always inspiring!

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

I am pretty comfortable with the idea of taking pieces from other instruments and playing them on the viola. Not long ago I performed Debussy’s cello sonata, and on my solo album I am playing Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes (originally for flute), Debussy’s Syrinx (also for flute), Michael Fernandez’ amazing transcription of “Asturias” by Albeniz (which was originally written for piano), and my own transcription of Debussy’s “Little Shepherd” (also originally a piano piece). Plus, of course, there are the transcriptions of the Bach cello suites and violin sonatas and partitas.  However there is one piece that for years I’ve been obsessed with: Ysaÿe’s Violin Solo Sonata No.3. I am convinced that it will sound fantastic on the viola, but have not had the time to work on its transcription. Playing this piece on the viola would be a dream come true for me.

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

The story of my viola could probably fill an entire book, and actually inspired my CD “”Anabasis Red Viola””. I will try to put together a concise version of the events, so here is the abridged story:

I didn’t have my own instrument in the USA until I was a senior in high school. Thanks to eagerness of the customs agents in the former USSR, I was forced to leave my violin behind, and since we didn’t have any money when we got to the US, I ended up borrowing violins and later violas from other kids’ parents, teachers, instrument dealers and makers. One of these makers was Robert Isley, a gifted young luthier, who lent me his viola during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, when I was at the Interlochen Arts Camp. The viola had a beautiful tone, and an unusual varnish: red bordering on orange, somewhat similar to my own hair color 🙂 I liked this viola very much, and wanted to keep it. However purchasing it was another story. My family was still new to the US, and struggling financially, so Robert agreed to an installment payment plan, which would be spread of a course of four years, but just days after we made the down payment, and on the day I finally got my new case, the viola was stolen. Since we just got it, the instrument was not insured yet, and my family continued to make payments for years on an instrument I did not have.
After its theft, I borrowed another instrument from Robert, and then with the help of Laurie Carney from the American String Quartet, collector Herbert Axelrod lent me a viola, on which I played for a while.

I never expected to see the stolen viola again. However, after a 7 year separation, the instrument came into possession of Ava Lindberg, a wonderful person who managed to find me and return the instrument to me. For the past 13 years I have been playing this viola, and am very happy with it. I like its tone, and the feel of the instrument itself. With every day it becomes more and more an extension of me, my emotional outlet, and my affection for it continues to grow.

Do you have any secret skills?

According to those who’ve tasted them: I make very good chocolate truffles. Love the process of working with chocolate, and inventing new flavors for truffles is a blast! My favorites at the moment are blueberry-thyme and lavender-lemoncello.

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

If the weather isn’t great, I would spend a day hanging out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, armed with a notebook and 2 chocolate croissants to nibble on. In good weather I would spend a day with my dog on a beach, with a nice picnic basket and dog treats.

Do you have a website?


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