Introducing Leah Gastler


My name is Leah and I am from Durham, Connecticut.

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

I have just started my studies at Rice this year in the Artist Diploma program.

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

I earned my Masters degree from the Juilliard School last year, and prior to that I was at Bard College Conservatory, where I received a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts degrees. Right now I am studying with James Dunham and enjoying the Shepherd School very much!

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

My teachers have always been some of my most immediate musical influences, but I also draw a lot of inspiration from my colleagues, both in playing music with them and watching them play from an audience perspective. I also listen to a very wide range of musical styles. I find that energy, passion, and conviction can be so powerfully conveyed in rock music. I like to embrace that influence as well.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

My favorite viola pieces right now are the Shostakovich Sonata, because it’s so dark, spacial, meditative, lyrical, and abruptly not so; Joan Tower’s Wild Purple, because its wild! It explores all areas of the viola’s sound palette and creates a truly enrapturing fantasy.

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Ideally I’ll be in the kitchen cooking eggs for breakfast with some good crusty whole wheat bread that perhaps I had the time to bake myself. Right now there’s just peanut butter.

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

The campus is beautiful—there’s lots of space and gardens to wander through, and the buildings are intricately and coherently designed. As a university there is a lot going on: very active student organizations and dialogues. There’s lots of energy at Rice, and students and faculty are genuinely happy to be here doing what they’re doing. That is actually one of the most striking things about this school.

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

I would probably play the cello, because I love that grounding role in chamber music but also their versatility and range. If I had to go outside of the string world it would be for the clarinet—it just has the most beautiful sound.

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