As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concerts, festivals, and other large gatherings remain largely restricted.
Grammy award–winning violist and educator Masumi Per Rostad, an associate professor of viola at Eastman School of Music, is a soloist and former member of the Pacifica Quartet. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School and former student of legendary pedagogue Karen Tuttle. He is in quarantine at his family home in Rochester, New York.
Tell me about your daily routine while quarantined.
It’s possible that I haven’t practiced this consistently ever! I am treasuring this new unstructured schedule and have savored this gift of time that I would not ever have taken for myself. I hadn’t stayed in one place longer than about three or four weeks since 1999. I’ve suddenly been granted the time I’ve fantasized about for 20 years while frantically touring. I practice in the morning before the household has woken up, marveling as the light of the day begins and taking slow sips of coffee as I allow myself grand pauses to think and reflect. Seriously, you can’t make this up.
What projects are you working on?
I’ve just recorded my first solo album. It was canceled four times. First, for scheduling conflicts and then, because of COVID restrictions. After nearly a year of suspense, hard work, and disappointment, the project finally came to a resolution. It was the most difficult musical mountain I have climbed. Planned well before the pandemic began, it was, fittingly, completely unaccompanied. I spent three days in a room alone facing microphones and the incisive ears of producer Judy Sherman recording the hardest music I’ve ever played. Only when the edits start will I begin to see if I’ve actually survived.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
I really love practicing. Being deprived of serious time to practice for such a long time made me covet it. It is an incredible gift to be able to decide what sits open on my music stand. I have been enabled to freely explore my mind and musical interests.
What are you thoughts about how the pandemic has changed the string world?
We’re survivors! No concerts allowed? Move them online! Musicians are highly adaptable and resilient. We have something to share and will always endeavor to find the right way to say it well. I look at my viola, crafted by Girolamo Amati in 1619, and I think about how Girolamo’s son, Nicolo, was pretty much the sole violin-making survivor of the Black Plague that decimated much of northern Italy in the 1630s. Nicolo carried on the torch of violin making, which was lit by his grandfather, Andrea, the inventor of the violin, and the rest is history! Music will persevere.
How are you staying connected with your audience and students during the quarantine?
I had 14 festival appearances canceled this summer! I ended up staying home to teach online and self-produced a wide range of videos. These are mostly available on my eponymous YouTube channel. I’ve made tutorials, performance videos, and a video series called Eastman vs. the Pandemic, which is about how a higher-education institution has been impacted by COVID.
How have you selected your internet programming?
Mostly by whim. I have been doing whatever interests me and have been granted the time to see my projects through to fruition.
What is the response like?
I’m not entirely sure. I’ve had fun making them and I’ve really learned a lot. It is a bit like concertizing. You put yourself out there in a performance and you can’t ever really know what everyone is experiencing. You do it because you have to do it.
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
It may or may not be. We’re all different. I do it because I’m curious about what everyone is going through and to see how we can learn from each other.
What have you learned about your audience?
People are eager to have a shared experience. For the time being, it has to be through technology. Ideally, we can be in the same room together again soon. There is nothing quite like feeling a roomful of people breathe together.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
I have had to consciously change my performance considerations under the scrutiny of a microphone and lens. We study and learn how to project our ideas, sound, and feelings across a stage. Suddenly, everyone’s eyes and ears are much closer than we are used to. It is a totally different style of playing and sound production.
Is this something you will continue even as venues reopen?
Absolutely. I have learned a lot and even had some fun, too.
What are your goals going forward as performance venues reopen?
My relationship with my viola and music has deepened in this time away from the stage. I suppose my aim would be to maintain a real balance of concert touring and personal work in my musical life. This has proven to be a pivotal time for me. I love music more than ever. I don’t know what the future holds, but I have reaffirmed what is important to me.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?