Introducing Stephanie Mientka

Stephanie Mientka

Where are you from?

It’s actually a difficult question for me! I was born in Germany, but my parents are U.S. citizens, and we moved back to the states when I was three years old. The place I call home is Colorado, because that’s where I spent the majority of my life, in several different cities, from age five to twenty-one.

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

Yes, I’m currently finishing up my final semester of my master’s in Music Performance.

Why did you choose to play viola?

Well, if you think I’m going to say it’s because I really loved the deep, beautiful sound quality of the viola, unfortunately you will be disappointed. It was much simpler than that. Since I grew up in small towns, there really weren’t that many private string teachers. I tried violin for a while, but it just wasn’t working for me. (I really wanted to play the harp, but sadly the nearest harp teacher was 250 miles away) So oddly enough, the teacher I felt the best with in town was a violist, so I switched in order to study with her. Of course since then I’ve come to realize viola was probably the only instrument for me after all, as much as I wished I could have been a harpist.

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

In high school I studied with Michelle Berry in my hometown: Grand Junction, Colorado. For undergrad I studied at CU Boulder with Erika Eckert and Geraldine Walther. I currently study with Prof. Ivo-Jan van der Werff at the Shepherd School of Music.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

There is so much good viola repertoire that it’s very difficult for me to pick only a few, but what comes to mind are shorter viola works, such as the Vaughn Williams Romance, Stravinsky Elegy, and the Penderecki Cadenza. I recently had the opportunity to perform the Martinu Three Madrigals for Viola and Violin, which I also really enjoyed learning.

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

A difficult question in a way, because I believe that in the current job market for classical musicians the most important thing is to be flexible and willing to do just about anything related to music. However, ideally I would like to be playing in some sort of ensemble or orchestra, and hopefully teaching some as well. I have always loved chamber music, and since coming to Rice have also developed a great love for orchestra. I see one or both of these in my future plans.

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

I came to Rice as a master’s student, and after two years at the Shepherd School I do not regret at all my decision to come here. It has been a wonderful environment as a master’s student. I have really enjoyed working with my teacher, Ivo van der Werff, in particular. His technique book was really perfect for me, and I would recommend it for anyone who is looking to expand on his or her technique, at any level.

Also, it’s impossible not to mention the wonderful orchestral program at Rice. The Shepherd School orchestras have an amazingly high standard of playing, and the atmosphere within the orchestra is very positive and committed. I can only hope that I will have the same experience again in the future! Also I’ve had a wonderful experience with the weekly orchestral repertoire class, taught by Houston Symphony’s Associate Principal violist, Joan DerHovsepian.

Best awkward stand-partner/ orchestra/ audition experience?

I was at a summer festival, and we were rehearsing for our first concert, on which we were playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. There were many international students who had traveled far to attend the festival, and that first week was rough for them because of the jet-lag. There was one violist who was particularly sleepy, and this violist was falling asleep not only during the rehearsal, but while we were playing . . . an incredible feat in itself, but during Rite of Spring? Incredible.

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

As stated earlier, the harp! How sad that my dreams were never fulfilled, but viola is okay, I guess;-)

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