Q and A with Kathryn Brunhaver

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Do you have an upcoming musical project you are excited about?

On Sunday, November 10th I have a concert at the Shedd with Mike Anderson’s microphilharmonic playing some repertoire that I am very excited about. We are doing an all-Beethoven program with his septet for strings and winds, as well as his trio in B-flat major for piano, clarinet and cello. I feel very at home with Beethoven’s music and have never had the chance to actually perform either of these works, so I can’t wait to dig in.

Describe a typical day in your life.

Every day is different! Generally though, I usually spend my mornings practicing and doing any individual work that needs to get done (sending emails, etc), while most of my teaching and rehearsing happens in the afternoons and evenings. On weekends I often have concerts and other freelance gigs such as weddings and church services. The irregularity in my schedule is one of the things about being a musician that I find both fulfilling and challenging. I love being my own boss and having a lot of variety in the projects that I do, but it can be difficult finding work/life balance. Fortunately, I have a wonderful partner who is also a career creative, so he “gets it.”

When did you start playing chamber music and why is it important to you?

I grew up in the Seattle area and at the time there were some fabulous chamber music programs run by former members of the Philadelphia string quartet—Karen Iglizen and Irv Eisenberg. I attended their intensive string quartet camp the summer after my freshman year of high school and it was an incredibly formative experience for me. In fact it was a big part of why I started getting serious about the cello as a teenager, and I think many other professional musicians would say something similar about their early chamber music experiences. The camaraderie and connection that is formed while playing chamber music with other musicians is almost addictive; there is truly nothing else like it!

What are your non-musical hobbies?

I often balk at this question because many of the things that I would consider my hobbies are also musical. For example, I love to sing and write songs. But I am working on cultivating (or re-cultivating) some hobbies that are totally unrelated to music, which I think is part of my search for work/life balance that I mentioned earlier. Now that I am two years out of my doctorate, I have finally started to read for pure enjoyment again. I recently finished Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson and am definitely planning on reading more of his novels. Watercolor painting is another hobby I am starting to explore, although I am not very good at it yet!

Can you tell us something about your best teachers and put in a nutshell what you learned from them?

I have been very lucky to have studied with excellent teachers from the time I started playing the cello, but for the purposes of the post I would like to talk about Steve Pologe. I came to Steve in the fall of 2013 feeling a bit lost both personally and professionally. As a 24-year-old incoming DMA student, I was already a strong player, but at some point earlier in my studies I had withdrawn emotionally a bit from what I was doing. Music conservatory life can be harsh and it was easier to focus on my technique rather than put myself out there so much. Above all, Steve encouraged me to get in touch with my own unique musical voice and to convey that voice with directness and conviction. He helped me rebuild my connection between my heart and my playing, and never allowed me to lose sight of this in spite of any professional ups and downs. Steve is also incredibly generous with his time with former students, and I am grateful for his continued mentorship and friendship.

What was your first really nice cello as a young person and what do you listen for and feel when trying a cello? What qualities of sound and touch are important to you?

While I was an undergraduate at Peabody, I auditioned for and was loaned an instrument from the Carlsen Cello Foundation in Seattle. They allowed me to pick between three different cellos and I settled on a late 19th century French cello of unknown maker that had a lovely, dark and rich sound. When I started studying with Steve, he thought that this cello didn’t have enough power, so I sent in another audition video and ended up with a cello made by Joseph Puskas in 1979. This instrument had all the power I wanted and then some, but was perhaps a little bit too bright on the A string and could sound brash if I wasn’t careful. Overall, I was very happy with it though, and when I had to give it back to the Carlsen Cello Foundation upon graduating (they only loan instruments to students), I was worried about finding a professional-level instrument in my price range. After a year of searching, I finally found my current instrument at Duane Lasley’s shop in Seattle. It was made by Hubert Clark in 1989, the same year I was born, and I like to think that this is a sign that we were meant to be. It has a beautiful balance of both power and complexity of tone color, and I couldn’t be happier. I fall more and more in love with it every day.