Kimia Ghaderi and Adam Liebert
This photo of Kimia Ghaderi was taken at the Old Port of Marseille, the oldest town in France, during her honeymoon.
Adam Liebert took a selfie, backstage at DeVos Hall, before a GRS Masterworks series concert in January 2024.
What would an orchestra be without violinists? In the case of many orchestras, the violin section makes up nearly 30% of the entire ensemble! Get to know Kimia Ghaderi and Adam Liebert through this feature of two of GRSMA's violinists.
GRSMA: Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?
Kimia Ghaderi: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a beautiful small city called Morgan Hill in the south bay area. When I was born, my two older brothers were already taking Suzuki violin lessons, so I began right along with them when I was about four years old as a natural step. Music was an important part of my mom’s life when she was growing up, and she was a music therapy major in college, so she encouraged all of us to study music from a young age.
Adam Liebert: Actually I grew up here in Grand Rapids listening to the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS) play and learning from many of the musicians in the orchestra. My mother was a fine pianist but she did not make her living as a musician. She loved classical music! When I was very young, I remember especially listening to records of "Pictures at an Exhibition" and "1812 Overture." She started to teach me the piano, and then I had lessons from her cousin who was a local church pianist and organist.
GRSMA: Was the violin your instrument of choice? Do you play any other instruments?
AL: Beginning in the first grade, I wanted to play violin. My best friend and his sister both played, but I was unable to start until 6th grade when orchestra was offered at my school. My older sister chose viola as her instrument, so I’ve also been familiar with playing that instrument and reading their special alto clef as well. Every year I try to find an opportunity to play viola somewhere. Last spring I joined the Holland Symphony’s viola section for Stravinsky’s "The Rite of Spring." This year, who knows?
KG: I loved the violin from the very beginning, and I don’t recall ever wanting to stop. Its vocal quality is something that feels very close to the heart and natural for me to communicate with. My elementary school had a band program, but no strings. Since I wanted to be able to play music in school too, I chose the flute. Gradually I added private lessons for flute, then joined a flute choir. For a few years in high school, I played in two youth orchestras simultaneously: one for violin, and one for flute and piccolo. As I got closer to preparing for college auditions, I had to focus my efforts more fully on violin. But I still take out my piccolo from time to time, just for fun!
GRSMA: Do you recall when you decided to make music your profession?
KG: My earliest memory of thinking about music as a career came from a children’s book "The Philharmonic Gets Dressed" by Karla Kuskin. She paints an exciting and magical picture of the life of an orchestra musician that was so captivating to me as a kid. After that, the biggest influences were my amazing teachers and my experiences playing in youth orchestras, including the San Jose Youth Symphony, California Youth Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. Once I got involved in orchestral playing, I couldn’t get enough! I had the opportunity to travel to China and Europe on youth orchestra tours, and I was able to experience playing in venues such as Davies Symphony Hall with world-class soloists. Hearing San Francisco Symphony concerts was also a huge inspiration to me.
AL: When I was 14, I was accepted to go on a month-long tour of Germany and some neighboring countries with the Blue Lake International program. I had only been playing for three years and had a long way to go, but I knew If I could make playing in an orchestra my main job that it would be a great thing.
GRSMA: How would you describe the musical differences between a first violin and a second violin part for orchestral music, and how each part fits into the whole?
KG: To me, the second violins are like the butter that binds together the high and low ends of the string section. We have interesting harmonies and intricate rhythms that help create the mood of the music and give direction. Our parts also help give depth to the melody when playing in octaves with the first violins. Since our parts are usually focused on inner harmony and texture, the moments where we have an exposed soli line are also very satisfying!
AL: Playing the first violin part usually means playing the highest line in the orchestra, the most satisfying melodies, and yes a fair amount of difficult showy passage work. The second violin part is tasked to play a more supportive role, but make no mistake this is very often far from easier. Second violins are required to play odd and difficult accompanying parts with strange and intricate rhythms. Sometimes it is hard to even recognize a very familiar piece of music because the beautiful melody line is obscured by very rapid notes or some form of syncopated rhythm that seems to have little to do with the melody. The second violin part on its own often just doesn’t make a lot of sense until you add the other parts. Sometimes the second violins seem to have multiple personalities and suddenly come out of the accompanying texture and play the melody themselves or in unison with the first violins. Occasionally composers write the first statement of a fugue or introduce a new melody in the second violin part. These are some of the most exposed and even musically treacherous passages in all of the violin repertoire and are used as required pieces for auditions. The first violin section may get more glory, but both sections require total musicianship.
GRSMA: Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?
AL: I think my violin heroes (from Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh to Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern, and then on to Augustin Hadelich and Hilary Hahn today) are probably nearly the same as pretty much any other violinist. Honestly, the list of enviable fiddlers is endless. As a mentor, I think it was my lessons with Shmuel Ashkenasi of the Vermeer Quartet that most evolved my concept of music/phrasing and approach to playing in a group, as opposed to just playing the violin line. I remember playing the Beethoven's Opus 20 Septet for him (it’s very difficult for the violinist - practically a concerto), and he would say how this or that solo passage sounded "very well," but when the violin was accompanying another instrument he would say I sounded "quite poooooooor." Then he would just say, "no matter, you haven’t learned this yet, let me show you" and proceeded to demonstrate it for me.
KG: I feel fortunate to have so many incredible mentors, and one who has been a very important part of my musical journey is Kathleen Winkler, who was formerly GRS concertmaster and a founding member of the DeVos Quartet. I studied with her at Rice University for my bachelors degree, which is also where I worked with the late Larry Rachleff, who was a huge inspiration to me and impacted many at the GRS when he was the Music Advisor here. Another mentor who has been a big influence and resource for me in recent years is Peter Otto, who was First Associate Concertmaster of The Cleveland Orchestra and was recently appointed Concertmaster of the Nashville Symphony.
GRSMA: Do you have favorite composers or orchestral pieces?
KG: For their chamber and orchestral music, I always love Brahms and Dvorak. Other favorites include Mahler, Mozart, and Strauss. All of these composers wrote creative and inspired second violin parts that are very rewarding to play.
AL: Well, I suppose a short answer would be whatever we’re playing this week is my favorite! I don’t think I can point to many composers and say I dislike them. I had a friend recently tell me, they don’t like Mahler, which was a real surprise to me. I could follow their reasoning and understand the conclusion and respect that a wide variety of opinions exist. However, as a performer, I’m required to search and bring out the best in every piece that is put in front of me. That means listening to various recordings, studying the score, each of us trying our best to understand the individual role as well as how others support your part and always looking deeper. It’s hard to flat-out dislike after that kind of investment, in my opinion.
GRSMA: If you weren't an orchestral musician, what career path would you have taken?
AL: Wow, I never really thought about this. I don’t know, maybe I would have been a dentist?
KG: If I weren’t an orchestral musician, I’d like to stay within the music sphere in administration to serve a mission that is important to me. I’ve had some unique opportunities to work in fundraising, most significantly as the development manager of the Akron Symphony where I was also previously an orchestra member. Having the intimate experience and knowledge that comes from being a musician is very helpful when working in music fundraising, and it’s rewarding to work for a cause you believe is powerfully beneficial to your community and the world as a whole.
GRSMA: What are your hobbies or interests?
AL: I enjoy 1000+ piece puzzles, researching history of the Grand Rapids Symphony, genealogy, and kayaking whenever I can in the summer. (Note from GRSMA: Check out this article from our spring 2021 newsletter that Adam wrote a few years ago about the archival work of the GRS that he has done!)
KG: My main hobby is horseback riding. I rode when I was growing up, and a couple of years ago I started taking lessons again after years of dreaming about returning to it. I take English Riding lessons at Meadowview Farm and have made some great new friends from my classes there. I also love to cook, and I paint watercolor greeting cards for family and friends on holidays. My husband is a pianist and also a pilot, so I have the joy of sharing concerts with him and also seeing the beauty of Michigan and other states by air!
GRSMA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony?
KG: Two things come to mind: the fact that the GRS always has its eyes set on the future and continues to grow, and the amazing friendships I’ve made with people I met through our work here.
AL: I think it’s very special to be part of my hometown orchestra. Also to be part of a world class orchestra that punches far above its weight considering its budget and the size of the city it serves.
GRSMA: Is there a GRS concert that you will always remember fondly?
AL: The first time that I subbed in the orchestra as a college senior was in 1997, with then Music Director Catherine Comet conducting. The way she started Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was so dramatic, astounding, and above all… clear to all.
KG: One that will always stand out in my memory is when the GRS performed and recorded "Ein Heldenleben" by Richard Strauss. It was my first time performing the piece in concert, and the energy of over 100 musicians on stage was electric.
GRSMA: For the remainder of the 2023-24 season, is there an upcoming GRS performance that you would recommend as a “must see” concert this spring?
KG: It’s hard to pick one concert, but I have a few favorite pieces that I’m really looking forward to, including Strauss "Der Rosenkavalier" Suite (https://www.grsymphony.org/mendelssohn) and Colin Matthews’ arrangement of Debussy’s "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair." (https://www.grsymphony.org/mozarts-haffner-symphony)
AL: I honestly think each of the remaining Classical MasterWorks series has a very compelling reason to be excited. But if I had to really choose, I’d say I’m most looking forward to performing Beethoven's Symphony No 3 "Eroica." It's just absolutely one of the most fantastic, heroic pieces there is! I feel Beethoven outdoes himself with this symphony, as nothing on this scale had ever been written before. Even though there’s not explicitly a narrative, I feel that playing this symphony is like going on a long exciting journey much in the same way as in a Mahler symphony or Strauss tone poem. It's hard to pick the best movement, and I suppose it might change on any given day, but the second movement Funeral March is almost like its own mini symphony with variations, a section that moves to major key, recaps, and coda. https://www.grsymphony.org/eroica
Also, the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus will join us on stage this spring to perform "Song of Destiny" by Johannes Brahms. This is a piece I’ve been waiting to play since my college days. I think it always is eclipsed by "A German Requiem," so it just doesn’t get programmed very often. Brahms’ music is always so epic, and our symphony chorus always is expertly prepared. (Pearl Shangkuan's 20th Season Interview). Not many cities have a chorus to match ours! https://www.grsymphony.org/chorus-celebration