Interview with Marka Gustavsson

How did you come to be playing with Sarasa?
I had done a lot of playing with Jennifer Morsches, several years ago when we were both in NYC, and doing similar summer festivals. We actually played together as students at Mannes, and Tanglewood, and pursued launching a serious quartet in our early professional lives. I had also met Jenny Stirling during that time, and I am so thrilled to be able to play with these colleagues again now!

Was the viola always your first instrument?
I started playing the violin when I was 4, and completed most of my formal training on the violin. I played the viola in chamber music from the time I was in high school, and always felt drawn to the role of that instrument in chamber music/quartet playing.

Have you performed the Arensky or Tchaikovsky works before? If so, what is something that stands out in these pieces for you?
I have performed both the Arensky and the Tchaikovsky. I love the expressive, modal quality of Russian Romantic music. The fusion of their folk culture with concert music is effortless, and natural.

You seem to be deeply involved in new music performances. Can you contrast these experiences with playing standard repertoire?
Playing new music can be a liberating process of discovery, on many levels. Working on a new piece of music both with and without the composer, forces an examination of the performer's tools of musicianship, and usually makes that box bigger, in a good way.

Outside of music, what are your other interests?
I have a dog, a guinea pig, a husband, an 86 year old mom, and an 11 year old boy. Not necessarily in that order! We live in the Hudson Valley, where we can hike and garden. I love to be outside, without the sounds of traffic. My husband loves to garden—last summer we made 10 gallons of kimchee with his napa cabbages.

Do you teach all levels of students? What are some of your memorable experiences with them?
I teach at Bard College and Conservatory. The Conservatory students are very focused on honing their performances skills to a professional level, and the College students are more interested in learning many kinds of approaches to the music. Best is when they are able to learn from each other about how essential the musical experience is to being human.

Thank you for your time! Anything else to share?
I'm delighted to be able to join Sarasa for this concert—playing chamber music with friends is the best part of being a musician.