So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
The punchline to the old tourist-lost-in-New York joke is, “practice, practice, practice,” but Susan Gulkis Assadi doesn’t need any such directions or admonitions.
The Seattle Symphony principal violist celebrates her 21st anniversary with the orchestra this year and is looking forward to the Symphony’s appearance at Carnegie Hall in May of next year.
Gulkis Assadi is also distinguished by her long-standing commitment to Music of Remembrance, now in its 15th year. The chamber series directed by Mina Miller features music composed by Holocaust victims and survivors, as well as pieces composed in their honor. The violist has been “involved since the very first concert,” she recalls, “for two reasons: One, I love playing chamber music. And two, I feel that the message to honor the musicians who continued to create even in the face of tragedy is very important.”
She is still amazed “that composers in the camps could write and play such beautiful music in spite of what was happening around them,” she says.
Gulkis Assadi calls herself “so lucky” to play the viola with its “consistently and constantly changing role,” she says. “Sometimes it plays melodies, sometimes it acts as a second voice; other times it is the bass!”
Growing up in Southern California, she started playing the violin under the Suzuki method when she was 3-and-a-half years old. She switched to the viola at the age of 16 because she liked the deep sound of the instrument.
“My parents were not musicians, but always encouraged and supported me,” she says.
Her family has been members of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center for 45 years. Susan and her family belong to Temple Beth Am in Seattle.
Before moving to Seattle, Gulkis Assadi worked on the East Coast and in Europe. She returned to California and played in the Los Angeles area before winning the position of principal viola of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. It was there, 21 years ago, former Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwartz heard her play and “asked if I was interested in auditioning for the principal viola position in the Seattle Symphony,” she says.
For the past 17 summers, Susan has played with the Grand Teton Music Festival, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Susan’s husband commutes back and forth between Jackson and Seattle while their 8- and 10-year-old daughters enjoy the outdoors and the music.
“My family is very important to me” she says, “I love spending time with them!”
Professing passions for travel, cooking, hiking, kayaking and her dog, Susan is looking forward to taking her children with her to New York on that aforementioned trip.
Both daughters play violin and piano, notes Gulkis Assadi, who is a strong proponent for early music education. She serves on the Seattle Symphony’s education committee and is delighted that the symphony has started “Family Connections” which provides a free ticket for children ages 8 to 18 for each adult ticket holder attending a Masterworks concert. (See www.seattlesymphony.org for information.)
Asked to single out a highlight in her upcoming schedule, Gulkis Assadi says the “highlight of my career is never doing the same thing over and over,” adding, “I hope to encourage people to come to Seattle Symphony concerts and MOR concerts.”