Introducing Joan Der Hovsepian


Joan Der Hovsepian

Where are you from?

A suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  And still a Midwest girl at heart.

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

I have enjoyed teaching the Viola Orchestral Repertoire classes at the Shepherd School since 2001 and also work with students individually on their excerpts and audition preparation.  My full time job is Associate Principal Viola of the Houston Symphony.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

My viola teachers, James Dunham and Kim Kashkashian, have had the most direct influence.  Their words and artistry resonate with me continually. Essentially everything I know about orchestral playing I’ve learned from conductor Victor Yampolsky over the 20-plus summers I have played for him.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

I adore the Walton Concerto. It’s a great showcase for the viola and well written for both the solo and orchestral parts with thrilling tutti passages. I also have a real soft spot for the great string orchestra pieces, including both the Tchaikovsky and Dvorak serenades for strings and the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. I used to listen to these pieces as a very young kid and cry my eyes out because I thought the lush, sensuous string quality was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. What a viola nerd!

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

The Shepherd School is a wonderfully supportive, harmonious environment in which the students are able to thrive. The orchestra under the guidance of Larry Rachleff is out of this world; I am wowed by the level they are able to achieve in performance.

What was one of your best musical experiences?

One of my favorite musical experiences would have to be playing Harold in Italy with the Peninsula Music Festival in Door County, Wisconsin. People seem to either love or be unimpressed by this quirky piece, but I am in the first camp. In addition to the joy I felt from playing a piece so well-written for the viola, I relished all the time on stage when Harold is not involved and the violist is able to be in the center of the stage, just listening to this work of rich orchestral color and brilliant ingenuity.

Who is the maker of your instrument and bow?

My viola is most likely a Louis Guersan, probably made in Paris around 1750. When the luthier first handed it to me, he told me the classic story of how it had been brought into the shop by someone who had found it in a family closet. He also said it had been in pieces, something I have since asked about and have always gotten a somewhat sketchy answer. My bows are a Eugene Sartory, a Douglas Raguse, and a distinctive transitional bow of John Dodd.

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

In my alternate fantasy life I would love to be a drummer with a great jazz band. I am fascinated by the complexity of meter and subdivision these players are able to grasp, their refinement of rhythm, and their incredible physical coordination. There is such a natural freedom of movement when they play.

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