Artist Spotlight: Katherine Murdock, Violist

Meet Katherine Murdock, violist. Katherine will lead our Master Class on August 7, and be our Guest Artist on August 11 & 13

How did you first come to Kneisel Hall?

In the fall of 1995, I got a call from Seymour Lipkin who asked me over to play some music with him. We played Brahms and Schumann together; he then invited me to have lunch. We sat down at his tiny little table in his tiny little kitchen. He opened a can of tuna and put some wheat thins on a little plate, and we feasted on lunch. 🙂

Because of other obligations, I couldn’t come for the entire summer season as he first asked, and so began 25 years of coming for the second session!

What is your favorite memory about being in Maine or Kneisel Hall?

 That’s a hard question, there are so many! 

  • Lobster bakes on the campus. Climbing Blue Hill right before sunset, or early in the morning. Kayaking on the calm bay off Brooklin with a fellow faculty member near sundown (and narrowly averting what could have been a disaster…)
  • Clearing the concert hall of chairs and having dances with the faculty and students when Saul Cohen was chair of the board.
  • The beauty of the Blue Hill Peninsula and certain spots I love to revisit. 
  • Strolling back into the Kneisel campus listening to people practice and rehearse – hearing strains of Dvořák, Bartók, Schoenberg, Brahms, and everything coming from cabins in the woods.
  • I think what I’ve loved most of all is getting to work with the phenomenal young artists and hearing the YA concerts at the culmination of their work.

As a musician, what inspires you?

I have always been very inspired by nature and by being outdoors. I am often rejuvenated by listening to Bach as well as to recordings of early and pre-Baroque composers. I would say that since Covid I have also learned the beauty of having less noise and less mental congestion. It was a bit of a revelation to have more space in my life for that year and to realize how life-affirming it is to hear live music in person when suddenly it was no longer gratuitously available. Silence is a precious commodity, so important for the creative imagination. With so much over-stimulation in our lives, I find that music framed by silence is a powerful force.

Who were your most influential teachers?

 I started playing viola a bit late (I never played the violin), and my teachers have all been very influential. Perhaps most of all Karen Tuttle, who has been influential for so many people, and William Primrose, her teacher, with whom I worked in the summers at the same time I was studying with Karen. I left Yale to work with Karen in Philly; for six months I had long lessons in her home twice a week. She was the teacher who took an interest in me as a whole person, who challenged me to tune in to my feelings – she encouraged me ask myself who I was, what I believed, what I had to say and why, and pushed me to bring that into my music making. She even loaned me one of her skirts for an audition because she didn’t like my limited wardrobe at the time! 

I have also been deeply influenced by so many wonderful mentors, many of whom I collaborated with – notably Felix Galimir, Bobby Mann, Sandor Vegh, the Guarneri Quartet. I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with Seymour Lipkin for 20 years at Kneisel –his honesty, commitment, and unshakable integrity – musical and otherwise, made an indelible impression. I want to add that I continue to learn from every colleague with whom I’ve played, as we all do, and every student I teach.

Have you ever had something unexpected happen during a performance?

 Oh my goodness, absolutely. When I was in Mendelssohn Quartet, we were out in San Francisco for a concert at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Our initial travel date was the day of the big earthquake in 1989, so the trip was postponed a week and the feeling was already unsettled. We were performing the Berg Lyric Suite and were well into the fourth movement, at a devastatingly lonely moment. Suddenly two young men right near the front let loose at the top of their lungs on plastic vuvuzelas, the raucous stadium horns they use at European soccer games. I never knew the saying “jumped out of their seats” was a completely literal description, but that’s exactly what we did. There was a rather prolonged scuffle with ushers, and somehow we managed to recover and finish the piece, with our hearts now beating much faster.

What do you do in your free time?

In the last 45 years I haven’t had an excess of free time, but I am constantly learning the value of balance. I was born in Vermont and grew up hiking, camping, and skiing with my family, and I still love to do these things. We have a dog, and my husband and I enjoy taking her exploring and hiking. We’ve recently discovered many trails in West Virginia where our dog can be off the leash; there is a real feeling of wilderness at times, very beautiful. We also love to travel and are planning to spend a few weeks of vacation walking the Camino along the coast of Portugal next spring.

What is your favorite restaurant in Maine?

 I’ll redirect this question, as there’s been so much change in the restaurants over the years! 

I think my favorite memory of a meal at Kneisel was something I arranged at the house we were renting on Eggemoggin Reach, quite a few years back. It was an old very elongated farmhouse, creaky and full of ghosts, with a long wooden table in the dining room. One of the Young Artist violinists that summer was a fabulous cook; I asked him if he might like to find a few helpers and plan a meal for the faculty. He jumped on it. We had a spectacular evening with a delicious multicourse candlelit meal in this creaky old farmhouse on the Reach. (We gave the leftovers to the ghosts …!)

Get to know more about Katherine Murdock.