Interview: Meredith Crawford, principal viola
By ERICA SHARP
Meredith Crawford, principal viola of Pacific Symphony, cheerfully picked up the phone to talk to an interviewer at the appointed time. She said she had just come back from a walk on the beach. She currently resides in Belmont Shore, a neighborhood in Long Beach, commuting to Costa Mesa to play in the orchestra.
Crawford found Pacific Symphony while finishing up her studies as a college student, wanting to find orchestras just so she could gain audition experience for her professional career, which she thought would come much later.
But during her research of this orchestra, she said the image of the musicians photographed on the beach began to change her mind to take the audition more seriously. The idea of moving to California to become part of what she perceived to be a well-loved and innovative group was her dream.
Crawford was born in Massachusetts in 1986 but her family moved to Maine shortly thereafter. Although she grew up in a musical family, in which both of her grandparents were musicians, she jokes that the music “skipped a generation,” since her parents were not.
At four years old, Crawford told her mom, “I want to be a “violiner” after watching the famous Itzhak Perlman on television. She continued to play the violin in addition to the viola in middle school, where later the love of the viola developed more deeply for her.
What made her prefer the viola over the violin, she said, was the larger size and deeper sound. She also enjoyed the inner voices of the pieces she played while on this instrument.
In fact, the Debussy String Quartet in G minor and the Ravel String Quartet in F, pieces Crawford discovered in high school, remain some of her favorites to this day.
While deciding where to attend college, she factored in the possibility that she might not play music, although she said she loved it. Oberlin College and Conservatory, situated in Ohio, became Crawford’s choice where she pursued a double major and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature along with her Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance.
One of her favorite memories while attending Oberlin was being able to study with the esteemed viola professor, Peter Slowik, she said.
In addition to basing his instruction on the individual needs of his students, Slowik had a distinctive teaching style in which he encouraged them to paint pictures in their imaginations inspired by the musical phrases, Crawford said.
After studying at Oberlin for four and a half years, Slowik suggested to Crawford that she should begin to learn excerpts for professional orchestra auditions, including for Pacific Symphony.
Pacific Symphony would become her first ever professional orchestral audition. She worked hard to learn the excerpts for the audition — all from scratch. But out of all the excerpts, Don Juan by Strauss took up most of her time due to the “acrobatic shifts” contained within the piece, Crawford said.
Eventually she learned the piece. Crawford won the audition in 2009. At only 22 years old at the time, it became a major highlight in her burgeoning career.
She remembered screaming for joy on the phone with her mom after one of the personnel managers from Pacific Symphony told her the results. Crawford went on to become the assistant principal in 2012 and since 2016 has served as the principal.
Crawford was privileged to have Bob Becker, the former principal viola, as her stand partner before his retirement. She said he is her inspiration. Besides living up to his virtuoso playing, she also seeks to emulate his kindness to everyone and trustworthiness that all could turn to in times of need.
She loved playing with Becker. She recalls them always smiling and looking at each other when they played fun harmonies. But most of all she enjoyed playing with Becker the music of Richard Strauss, who often would divide the violas as if it was chamber music, which would require more communication within the section.
As a musician Crawford strives to communicate something special in the music to the audience. In performing her solo part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola on the “Rach 3 and Boléro” program on September 27-29 with Dennis Kim, the new concertmaster, Crawford said she wants to convey the layers that Mozart creates in the piece, contrary to the neat and clean image many believe his music to have.
It is the connection she described, an “electric force field” that has the ability to connect everyone with what music means to her.