Viola virtuoso returns home to perform

Of all the places Geraldine Walther has performed, Tampa holds a special place in her heart. The world-renowned violist born in Seminole Heights will soon return home for a USF performance.

With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Walther has served as the assistant principal violist for the Pittsburgh Symphony, Miami Philharmonic and Baltimore Symphony, and spent 29 years with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1995, Walther was selected as a member of the Musicians of the World to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

On Friday, Walther will perform as a guest artist at the USF School of Music in the Music Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for general admission if purchased in advance, and $10 for students and $15 for general admission the day of the performance.

The Oracle spoke with Walther about her local upbringing, love of the viola and touring the country to perform.

The Oracle:Are you excited to return to Tampa to perform?

Geraldine Walther:Oh yes, very much I was born there in 1950. My father and brothers still live in Clearwater. I left in 1967 to go to the Manhattan School of Music in New York and I spent another year in Florida in 1969 in Miami playing in the Miami Philharmonic. I was assistant principal (violist) for a year.

O:What made you pick up the viola? Do you play any other instruments?

GW:I began to play in the public school system when I was 7 years old. I played the violin for three years before I played the viola. We rented it from Broward Elementary School for $9 a year. There were 30 of us with our little violins and our music stands. Mrs. Hardaway, our music teacher, was lovely and very patient. I looked forward to it very much.

My father picked up the viola in a pawnshop, and I got it when I was 10. In 1962 or 63, I played in the Tampa Philharmonic. I havent really been back since.

O: You mentioned the impact your music teacher had on you, and now you teach at the University of Colorado. Why do you think music education is particularly important?

GW:I think its really great for everybody to have art in their life, because it gives you a perspective on your life and the lives of people who came before you, and your place in the scheme of things. Without art, were poorer in our spirits, souls and hearts.

I think thats whats lacking in todays culture theres not an emphasis on our inner lives. That inner richness gives you a perspective on all kinds of things. It encourages us all to dig deeper and look for more treasure inside ourselves.

I think weve lost some things about being quiet, listening and tuning into our thoughts and feelings, and Id like to see more importance given to that. Were all very different, and I dont think were encouraged to be as creative and imaginative as we might be. I hope that people can listen to their feelings and heart. Theres not enough of that in our culture.

Music education is really important for us in that regard. Its not easy making a living doing music. If theres nothing that makes you as happy, you need to do it. Just playing well enough to play for yourself for your own fulfillment is a real treasure. Nothing can compare to that. I would encourage everyone to play something.

O:What is it like to be in a career that allows you to live and travel all over the country?

GW:I feel very lucky to be doing what Im doing right now. With the (Takcs) quartet, we travel everywhere. We go to France, England, Australia, New Zealand and all over the U.S. It is a traveling life, and I couldnt have done it when my kids were little. The orchestra that I was in was wonderful, and I could live in one place. It is possible to have a family and have a full-time playing career when youre doing orchestral work.

O:What is the best thing about your job?

GW:I love everything that Im playing. When Im playing (Gustav) Mahler symphonies or concertos, its all great. Its really when Im performing in the moment. Its all so different every piece we play is so different. Playing the viola is a challenge. Playing it well every day, with a good sound and in tune, is a challenge in itself, even as I feel like Im getting better.

As I get older, Im starting to feel like I probably wont get to do this forever. So, Im just enjoying trying to play as well as I can every day and being able to do it for as long as I can.

O:Do you think you continue to evolve as a musician every time you play?

GW: Yeah. Beethoven said, An artist must never stand still, and I think thats very true. If you are creating art, you are constantly evolving, as you do anyway every day. You are never the same person you were yesterday. You have to have the courage to let go of the old and embrace the new. Its not easy, but its wonderful and a challenge. And thank goodness for that.