Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Performer Profiles: Violist Katie Miller (audio)

7:49 PM
Katie Miller is an intriguing lady--she's lived in North Carolina, California, Colombia, and Taiwan, and her diverse musical interests include Bach, new music, and a dream of someday contributing to the libretto of an opera. She's well-traveled, but we can't talk about her career as a professional violist without tipping a hat to the quality of music education in North Carolina. The Sanderson HighUNCG, and ECU alumna gigs with NCO, the NCS, and and the newly-formed Triangle String Quartet. Way back before the best surprise ever forced me to take the summer off from blogging (more on that next post!), Katie and I sat down at Café de los Muertos and she shared her insights on Raleigh's expanding classical culture, music's power to cure all awkward teenage ills, and what's weird about wedding gigs. 

How did you choose the viola as your instrument?

When I was a kid, my dad was a college music professor, first in South America, then in Taiwan. When we left Taiwan and moved to Raleigh, I was feeling a lot of culture shock. I’d never lived in the United States before, and so all of a sudden to be in a public middle school, it’s kind of crazy, just having to find who you are and what your place is.
I wanted something that I could identify myself as, and I just knew it had to be something with music, an instrument. My mom had an old viola that she had had in high school. She got it fixed and said, “here, play this.” I started taking lessons and playing in my school orchestra and I just fell in love with the viola. Even though I hadn’t quite chosen viola out of all the possible instruments, it had just sort of fallen into place; that’s the only instrument I could ever play, I think. Just the voice—mellow, deep, rich--that's what I like the most.

Nothing else you would pick if you had to?

Maybe bassoon or cello. I like instruments [whose] personality is hidden and underneath and supportive, rather than the prominent one. So I like viola, because we're often in a supporting position. But I love the sound of the bassoon and the cello, and those could have been my other paths.

What kind of opportunities did you find, coming out of North Carolina schools of music like those at UNCG and ECU?
After ECU, [my husband, composer/arranger Scott Miller, and I] moved to California. I was a freelance violist there for five years. I was a substitute with the Modesto Symphony and Sacramento Philharmonic, and also Sacramento Opera. And then, when we moved here to Raleigh, I started subbing with the North Carolina Symphony and playing in the orchestra whenever the NC Master Chorale or Choral Society of Durham would hire orchestras. I’d play a lot of those, and then also the North Carolina Opera, which I just love, it’s so much fun. I definitely do think it is a growing music scene here in Raleigh; there’s a lot that’s happening--a lot more than in California. There, I kind of had the sense that it was dying.

What's been your favorite performance experience in Raleigh?

I think it was Cosi fan Tutte with North Carolina Opera. I had so much fun with that one. That was just the best opera experience I've had, as far as my own playing and how it all worked together. The singers were amazing--they were really, really good! I don't know, the whole thing, the orchestra, the cast--there was this feeling of energy and excitement and enthusiasm, it just came together and worked really well. 

I'm becoming more and more interested in voice and working with singers. I fell in love with music all over again when I started doing operas. Verdi is one of my favorite composers to play. I love the drama and the passion of his music, I've played Aida [with NCO] and Otello [with Sacramento Opera], and I just love listening for how the music interacts with and supports the story.

In my other sort of secret life right now, for a long time actually, I've been wanting to be a writer. For about three years now I've been working on these stories, and my short term goal is to finish one of these stories and get it published by a science fiction magazine. And then sort of in the back of my mind, long term, far future, I would love to write a story and have a composer set it to be an opera.

And what else is coming up for you?
In the Fall I formed a quartet with some other friends, Triangle String Quartet--that’s my main thing that I’m excited about right now. David Prudon and Jane Seymour and Arianna Macmillan, they are the best people to work with. They're good people and it's fun playing with them. Our first violinist, David, does really excellent arrangements. So anytime a bride at a wedding gig requests anything, he can write an arrangement for it, and he’s very good at that!

What’s the funniest request that you’ve had?

When I was in California I was part of a quartet there that would play for wedding gigs—what was the name of that song? La Vida Loca or something like that?

Ricky Martin?
Yeah! We had a lot of brides request that, and so the violinist of that quartet wrote an arrangement and we played it at almost every wedding.

I’m also doing a chamber music concert this summer . . . viola, cello, clarinet, piano, and soprano. We're doing a whole recital program with various combinations of the instruments. So I’m gonna be doing the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio and a set of songs by Bolcom for soprano, viola, and piano. [NB: This concert was on August 2nd and it was FABULOUS. Treat your ears to this track, also featuring pianist Katharine Boyes Gilliland and clarinetist Marianne Breneman:

I would like to do more chamber music. With my quartet right now, we’re mainly focused on just wedding gigs. And that’s fun, but I really also would love to find more opportunities for chamber music. And also, with my newfound love of opera, I just really selfishly hope that NC Opera keeps expanding and growing, doing more opera performances every year. Also, when I was in grad school at ECU, there was quite a large composition studio there, so I had about three or four different composers write pieces for me. I definitely love playing anything that’s written by a living composer and modern--I love it.

You can check Katie out on the Triangle String Quartet's website, support her performances by patronizing NCO's upcoming season, and keep your eyes peeled for her at any NCS concerts you attend. If you want to collaborate with a violist on any chamber music, particularly Bach & early music, new music, or vocal works, get in touch.

About the author

I'm Andrea. Everything you need to know is here.


  1. Many thanks to Marianne Leitch Breneman (clarinet) and Katharine Boyes Gilleland (piano) who played with me on this recording of the Mozart.

  2. Thanks, Katie--can't believe I forgot to credit them! Edited post; they're in there now