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Introducing Rachel Li

Where are you from?

I was born in Los Gatos, CA, but grew up in Thousand Oaks, CA, hence my fear of cold weather!

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I am a current Rice student and am in my last and 2nd year of the M.M. program.

Why did you choose to play viola?

Initially, I began on the violin at the age of 7 because my older brother was learning the violin, and of course I wanted to follow in his footsteps. At the age of 10, my teacher at that time, who is primarily a violist, nudged me to try the viola for fun. At first it was difficult because it felt like starting all over again from learning a new clef to becoming accustomed to the larger size of the instrument. Though the transition was frustrating, I slowly began to love the deep, rich tones that the viola could produce and simply fell in love! And many years later, I am still loving and playing the viola!

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

I got a B.M. at Juilliard and had the honor of studying with Heidi Castleman and Misha Amory.  I currently study with James Dunham.

Rachel LiWhat are your favorite viola pieces and why?

I would have to say that my favorite viola piece is Paul Hindemith’s Sonata, op. 11, no. 4. There is something so ethereal in the atmosphere of the piece, beginning from the very first note. Within the piece, Hindemith illustrates to the audience all the different kinds of colors that can be produced from the viola. This piece is very significant to me because it was the first piece I played that opened my mind to the limitless ways we as musicians can create colors and, therefore, create very personal music from within.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

What I love about the Shepherd School is that we have a phenomenal orchestra program. The sound we produce always blows my mind, and we all work very hard. It proves that hard work and dedication from all the players really are the key ingredients to a fantastic orchestra. Because Rice is located in Houston, the weather (albeit not always ideal) is often warm and sunny, thereby infectiously creating a cheerful environment for all the students here.

Best awkward stand-partner/ orchestra/ audition experience?

My undergraduate audition for New England Conservatory was on Valentine’s Day. It was a rough audition in my mind, and yet, as I headed toward the door in full defeat, Kim Kashkashian handed me a heart-shaped chocolate and said cheerfully, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” I now associate heart-shaped chocolates with my NEC audition.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

If I didn’t play the viola, I would probably play either the clarinet or the piano. There is nothing more satisfying than the pure tone of a clarinet. On the other hand, if I were a pianist, I could effortlessly produce harmonies of all kinds and play Bach fugues and intricate counterpoint passages. There is also the absence of the issue of intonation, which is a string player’s dream come true!


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