[ Artist Spotlight ]
GRAMMY®-nominated violist MELISSA REARDON (Norfolk ’97) is a versatile performer whose playing has been described as “elegant” and “virtuosic” (Classical Voice). Solo engagements have included performances at the Kennedy Center, Symphony Hall, and Jordan Hall, and as soloist with Camerata Notturna, the Boston Symphony, and the East Carolina Symphony. She has presented recitals in North Carolina, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, and maintains an international performing schedule as a member of the Enso String Quartet. Reardon is also a founding member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) and has performed with the Miami, Miró, Daedalus, and Borromeo Quartets, and with members of the Guarneri, Mendelssohn, Brentano, St. Lawrence and Shanghai Quartets as well as the Beaux Arts Trio. In addition to numerous festival appearances, Reardon has toured with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and Musicians from Marlboro. Assistant Professor of Viola at East Carolina University from 2006-2013, Reardon began as the Portland Chamber Music Festival’s Artistic Director following the conclusion of the Festival’s 25th anniversary season in August 2018. She is married to the cellist Raman Ramakrishnan.
When you are away touring, do you bring anything special with you to remind you of home?
When I was younger I used to have a small toy good luck pig that I kept in my case — but it’s been years since I’ve brought anything special with to remind me of home.
When you fly, what do you like to read? How do you pass the time?
I like to read fiction or cheesy magazines when I fly. I just finished reading Atonementby Ian McEwan. And of course, if there are good movies playing I’ll happily watch them on the plane. I loved seeing Phantom Threadon a trip not too long ago — I really enjoyed the soundtrack to that film.
What is a favorite non-musical pastime? What do you do to recharge?
I love traveling and trying new foods. When I was in a quartet we made a point to search for all the most interesting restaurants we could find while we were on the road. I also love to cook; I find it relaxing.
What is your favorite concert hall (aside from the Music Shed of course) to perform in and why? And it doesn’t have to be for a musical reason.
I spent a lot of time playing in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory in Boston as a youngster and it was always thrilling to be on that stage. When I’ve been back to play there a few times I have that same sense of excitement and thrill. It’s a beautiful hall with a legendary sound.
What does it feel like right before you walk onto the stage? What runs through your mind?
The feeling I have right before I walk onstage is generally one of excitement — but the degree to which I feel nervous really depends on the situation. Sometimes the thing that’s in my head right before I walk onstage is really mundane, like ‘try not to move too much’, or ‘don’t step on your dress!’
Do you have any pre-concert traditions?
I like to warm up before concerts, and I always have to have gum in my mouth when I play. When I was a student a teacher once told me to chew gum to relax my jaw and it became a habit. Now I always perform with it, although I really try to make sure no one knows it’s there! I am also very particular about the kind and flavor of the gum.
Is there a work that brings to mind a particularly happy memory? For instance, is there a piece that made you want to play your chosen instrument, or one that always reminds you of home or a favorite place? Would you share the work and the memory?
I fell in love with my husband playing the Fauré g minor Piano Quartet together, so that piece always has a strong connection for me.
Everyone dislikes at least one thing about their profession. Aside from being away from loved ones and home, what is your least favorite part about being a musician?
I love traveling, but it can be drag. I really wish I didn’t have to bring a suitcase on the road — it’s really annoying to be carrying my instrument and pulling a suitcase!
Do you find that your training and skills as a musician are helpful in non-musical areas of your life? Would you share an example?
I think working in chamber music really helps you to be a better communicator and to read people well. I find that you learn very quickly that the way you speak, the specific words you choose, can have a profound impact on the quality of your interaction. I think this makes us even more sensitive to how we communicate with people in general, whether they are in music or not.
What is one of your favorite pieces of music and why?
I really love Britten’s Second String Quartet. It’s a piece that I played quite a bit with my quartet and found that it always felt emotionally fulfilling and moving no matter how many times we played it. It’s one of the very best works for string quartet.
Is there anything about the way classical music is presented to the world that you would like to see change or evolve?
I think sometimes classical music has a PR problem. The fact the it is called “classical music” already sets it apart and makes it feel rarified and stuffy. I really want people to feel like this music is approachable and that it can be pretty powerful given the opportunity. I think finding more ways to present classical / chamber music in settings that are intimate and comfortable so that people can have that up-close experience of music-making is key. Chamber music is visceral and can be life-changing. I think when people are comfortable they are also more willing to be emotionally open to the music.
Is there a particular piece of advice or insight that you share with your students about being a musician?
I think if we get to the point where we can make a living as musician we are really, really lucky and it is a precious, hard-earned thing. It is not easy to be a musician. But it can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things one can do. You have to fight for it, sweat for it, and protect the love that you have for it when things get tough. But, if you can do anything else besides music and be truly happy, then you should probably do that other thing because music is so all-encompassing.
Often we hear people say that they don’t listen to classical music or go to classical music concerts for fear of not “knowing anything about it” or “understanding it.” How would you respond to them?
I’d say, why not try it? You might like it! And then I would recommend a specific kind of concert or concert setting depending on the person.
And finally, for the all the Fantasy Football players out there, if you could play in an ensemble with anyone from the past, no matter what the instrument, whom would you choose and why?
I think I would want to play with all the members of the Guarneri String Quartet. They were my quartet heroes and to play with them would be dream come true!