Introducing Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt

Milena Pajaro-van de StadtWhere are you from?

That’s a tricky question, I moved a lot as a kid—I was born in NYC, lived in Baltimore until I was ten (with the exception of two and a half years living in England), and finished high school in Jacksonville, Florida. Now I live in Philadelphia, but my family lives in Arizona!

Are you a current Rice student?

Not anymore; I just graduated from the Master’s of Music program this past May (2013)

Why did you choose to play viola?

I had played violin all my life, since I was almost five years old but was always curious and drawn to the lower, darker, more human sounds of the viola. Finally, when I was a junior in high school, I decided to experiment with playing viola in a string quartet, and I fell in love!

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

In high school I studied viola with Michael Klotz of the Amernet Quartet (my very first viola teacher!), then I did my Bachelor’s degree at the Curtis Institute of Music, where I studied privately with Michael Tree and Roberto Díaz and also with Misha Amory and Joseph de Pasquale. After that my quartet (The Dover Quartet) came to Rice’s Shepherd School of Music to be the Graduate Quartet-in-Residence, and I studied for those two years with James Dunham. I like to think that all of my past teachers are my current teachers, as I hear their voices in my conscience whenever I practice 😉

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

My favorite viola piece is Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata. I have yet to find a more gratifying piece to perform. Not only is it so well-written for the instrument, but it is a powerful journey that leaves me mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted (in the most fulfilling way) every time. In general I find the human connection in Shostakovich’s music extremely vivid and palpable, but the Viola Sonata takes it all to an even higher level.

Who is the maker of your instrument and bow?

My instrument is a fantastic copy of the Primrose Amati, made by Gabrielle Kundert, who is based in Maryland. She originally made my viola for one of my teachers, Roberto Díaz (who plays on the actual Amati after which mine was made), and his name is written inside of it. I have three bows, all quite different from one another, but each means a lot to me. One is a bow by Malcolm Taylor, one is by David Samuels (who is based in Israel, but I was fortunate enough to meet him when he came to Rice last spring to show some bows—I found my bow there!), and the third is a bow I won with my quartet as a part of the Banff International String Quartet Competition. We won a matched set of bows by French-Canadian maker Francois Malo.

Best awkward stand-partner/ performance/ audition experience?

It always has to be a wardrobe malfunction, don’t you think? I was once performing in a church with a fancy, flowing top. I had some rests and put my viola down, and then when it was time to play again, the bottom of my shirt got caught onto my shoulder rest, and as I lifted my instrument I lifted my entire shirt up to my face. It wasn’t until I saw a huge flash of white in front of my eyes that I realized I had just shown the audience my belly!

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

Why, the trombone of course!! (This is not a joke—I grew up playing trombone in jazz band and youth symphony. It’s a gorgeous instrument and in many ways comparable to the viola! Violists and trombonists unite!)

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