Backstage Pass: Joan DerHovsepian, associate principal viola

Backstage Pass: Joan DerHovsepian, associate principal viola

Joan DerHovsepian became a member of the Houston Symphony in 1999 and has been associate principal viola since 2010. She is an artist teacher of viola at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and a faculty guest at the New World Symphony. This summer, she joins the faculty of the National Orchestral Institute. Annually, Joan performs at the Peninsula Music Festival as principal viola and at the Mimir Chamber Music and Grand Teton Music Festivals. She won prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition as a soloist and at the Banff and Fischoff chamber music competitions as a member of the Everest Quartet. She served as principal viola of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 1999.

With my husband, Erik Gronfor (bass player with the Houston Grand Opera), and our
14-year-old daughter, Clara

How did you decide the viola was your instrument?

Most violists begin by playing the violin and switching at some later point, but I chose viola from the start. The soulful, enveloping timbre of the instrument was appealing. I’ve always liked that violas serve as the connective tissue in an orchestra; we support, connect, and bind the other  parts. You may not always be able to pick out our individual line within the whole, but we’ve got the juiciest harmonies, most interesting inner rhythms and are switching roles at every turn.

Would you like to share a memorable moment or highlight from your career?

My 6th grade Halloween costume, a sandwich board viola and bow, handmade
by Dad

When I first joined the orchestra, I imagined some sort of eventual musical “arrival” after years on the job, a time when the performances would become routine. Now, nearing 20 years with the Houston Symphony, I still feel just as nervous, as exhilarated, and as challenged sitting in my chair as I did back then. Memorable moments are not rare. They happen often, and I am continually wowed by my colleagues’ performances. I am thankful every day to be around this group of funny, smart, and highly motivated people.

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of music?

I love traveling and would be happy living out of a suitcase most of the time. My trusty viola is the vehicle that takes me to all kinds of places I would not see otherwise, from quaint Fish Creek, Wisconsin to the outback of Tasmania.

What does music mean to you?

Making friends with kangaroos in the Tasmanian outback

A live musical performance is a fascinating combination of two opposites; a public setting where we are gathered to have an intimate experience. I enjoy this juxtaposition when I am audience member or performer. When I’m on stage surrounded by 90 others, I can be brought back to a personal childhood memory, share an intimate musical moment with my beloved stand partner, or feel moved by the vision of a dead composer genius. Together, with the fellowship of my colleagues on stage AND intent listeners in the audience, all with their own individual thought bubbles, there is a fulfilling sense of community.

Joan DerHovsepian is sponsored by Cora Sue & Harry Mach.

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