5 Questions: Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt

Violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt will be among the performers at the second annual Boscobel Chamber Music Festival, which starts today (Sept. 1) in Garrison.

Milena Pajaro-van de StadtDo you guard your arms or your instrument more assiduously?
After a performance, I nearly tripped down some stairs, and my instinct was to lift the instrument high, like you would a child. So that must mean something. 

Once you become a professional, do you still study with a teacher?
It’s rare to get a lesson. Your time is taken up, though colleagues and peers give us feedback. Luckily for me, I had 14 years playing in the Dover String Quartet, so I got input from three other musicians whom I highly respected. It was like having three free lessons every day.

Was there a moment when you realized the viola was your instrument?
I grew up playing violin, piano and trombone — each was a hobby. But I fell in love with chamber music and the viola. I gravitated to it. It wasn’t until I played viola that I wanted to become a professional musician. I loved its deeper, more mellow and human tones. The viola has the range that is the average range of a human voice. The instruments vary in sound and personality. When a composer writes a viola solo, it means there’s something behind it, because when a composer chooses to write for not the top voice, it’s meaningful.

It’s easy for me to make friends with other violists; there’s an unspoken bond. Violists are a little more laid back. You have the tough skin, a purity of heart and soul, a good ego-check. It’s easy to make friends with violists. 

You’ll be performing indoors and outdoors at the festival. Does the sound and emotion carry differently?
The sound in a performance venue is like another player. If you’re playing in a church — resonant and boomy — it affects how you draw out the instruments. Your performance is always affected by the people who are there, which is satisfying, because it shows that when you have good music, you can experience it in so many ways. We were as excited to be there [last year] playing in that gorgeous setting as the people attending were in welcoming us. And the village nearby is so cute!

What’s the most blissful part of being a violist, and what’s the most frustrating?
What’s blissful is the sound of it and its role inside a chamber group. It’s so tasty. They always say a string quartet is like a bottle of wine. The cello is the bottle itself, holding everything together, the foundation. The first violin is the label, and the second violin and the viola are the wine itself — the flavor. It’s a fun thing, to make music on it.

What’s frustrating? It’s an awkward instrument to play. And it’s one of the hardest instruments to play. It sounds easier than it is, and if you mess up, it just sounds bad. 

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