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Michael Hall

Michael Hall (2014)

Viola, Principal

What are your most important educational and musical moments?
Musically: Performing solo recitals in Vienna, Reykjavik, Bali, Bangkok; Giving the world premieres of viola concertos by famous composers like Chen Yi, Kim Diehnelt, and Stacy Garrop; Performing a concerto in Chicago’s Symphony Center; Performing with Earth Wind and Fire, as well as chamber music with legendary pianists Arthur Balsam and Andre Previn.

Educationally: Creating musical outreach programs for Chicago’s Southside Public Schools; Witnessing my students teaching in positions in over 30 countries; Helping to found and guide the Bandung Philharmonic Orchestra in Indonesia.  

Tell us about your family.
My wife, Kristine, is an AMAZING 1st grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools.  Our oldest daughter, Madeleine, has composed music and had public world premieres, but her passion is baking items like her famed chocolate cake with espresso and infused basil oil.  Our youngest daughter, Sophia, is on her high-school soccer team, has the most loyal friends, and despite all the craziness in the world still manages to get straight A’s. I am so incredibly fortunate my family gives me permission to travel the world to perform as often as I do. It’s also a joy when I get to take them around the world.  Family memories and shared experiences are the best. 

Why did you choose music?
Growing up there was always music in the house.  Neither of my parents were musicians, but the radio’s omnipresence created a soundtrack for our life.  Dad loved Elvis, Roy Orbison and Ella Fitzgerald. Mom loved Connie Francis, the soundtrack to Hello Dolly, and anything recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.  They would take our family out to free concerts by the Buddy Rich Band, Count Basie’s Orchestra, and the Chicago Jazz Festival – where I became enamored with artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, and Dave Brubeck.  I was further inspired by my love of recordings by famed violist Kim Kashkashian, as well as Miles Davis’s album Kind of Blue. Both were introduced to me by my college viola professors Linda Geidel and Michelle LaCourse at Ball State university. My teachers instilled in me the need to live a life of maximum physical efficiency in my playing, so I could more readily exude the emotional content and wide timbral palette of the music being performed.  Without all these ingredients, it’s hard to imagine my engaging in music at my current artistic and emotional level. 

Why did you choose your instrument?
My first instrument was the piano. Having spent a great deal of my childhood in hospital for reconstructive orthopedic leg surgery, my time playing piano was limited to playing by ear – imitating melodies I heard from the radio, or television.  One day walking past a resale store my parents saw a sign in the window reading, “Violin for sale – $60.” I was about to enter a stage of post-surgery where I would need to be immobilized and in traction. For some reason my parents thought learning to play violin would be easier in this condition than learning piano. Not knowing how to tune, hold, or play the instrument, I “played” it for weeks until the nurses suggested I start private lessons (it’s not clear whether their suggestion was due to signs of promise or because I was terrorizing the entire floor of the hospital). My parents arranged to have a graduate student give me lessons in hospital. The first thing the teacher said was, “That’s not a violin. It’s a viola.”  I didn’t care what it was called. It was mine, and I loved its sound. I was six at the time, and I’ve been playing ever since. 

What else are you currently doing?
Commission composers to write new pieces of music (over 100 and counting); Perform concertos and recital tours in the EU and Asia where I present world premieres at each concert; Recently recorded an album with colleagues of works written for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano for the PARMA label, along with a solo album of works written for me; Am Co-Artistic Director and Director of Education for the Bandung Philharmonic Orchestra in Indonesia; Curated the book New Music Anthology: Viola Vol. 1 (2022); Presented and performed “Sweet Streams”, an online concert series pairing chocolate and wine with each piece of music on the program. We send chocolate and wine to all the ticket holding viewers (IT’S A BLAST!); Teach private viola lessons both in-person and via Zoom to students in Jakarta, Bangkok, Paris, New York City, and Chicago; Present masterclasses to university students, orchestras, and chamber music programs; Consult with arts organizations about developing educational outreach programs; Present seminars to composition studios on new string techniques, writing for viola, and collaboration; Composing. 

Any non-musical interests or hobbies?
I love hiking with my family in Yellowstone National Park, as well as the Wind River Mountains.  I also love talking to people at coffee shops, parks, and festivals; meeting people and hearing about their lives is exhilarating!  Growing up in Chicago, it is impossible to not fall in love with architecture. I almost chose it as my profession. I find every excuse possible to explore the neighborhoods and buildings of Chicago, or any location my travels take me.  And chocolate – lots of chocolate.

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