Student Musician: Yoni Battat

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Jan. 24, 2012

Brandeis Music majors are required to perform a recital their junior year. Violist Yoni Battat ’13 explained to justArts how he came to learn the viola, what went into creating his recital, and what other musical projects he’s involved with on campus. The concert will take place on Sunday, Feb. 12 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Slosberg Recital Hall.

 JustArts: How did this concert where you’re doing your own performance with a few people come to happen?

Yoni Battat: I’m a performance major in the Music department. … I’m a viola performance major, and one of the requirements is that you have to give a junior and senior recital. It’s kind of a culmination of the work you’ve been doing with your private teacher.

JA: How did you decide which pieces to perform at the recital?

YB: They like the junior recitals to be a little shorter and then the senior recitals are on the longer side, so I had time constraints. But [the pieces are] really just what I was working on with my private teacher, Prof. Mary Ruth Ray (MUS). … She’s the violist of the Lydian [String] Quartet, so I’ve been working with her a lot, and I really just chose pieces that I really like and that we’ve been working on together. I also tried to keep the program really practical, because I’m also playing a concerto with the orchestra in April, so I wanted a lot of time to prepare for that, too.

JA: Did you compose one of the pieces you’re playing?

YB: Yeah, I like to try and program some of my own music, just because I don’t have a lot of motivation to compose a lot, and when I’m the one who’s playing the music it gives me a really good excuse to write something. … I called [the piece] a “Fantasy Sonata for Viola and Marimba.” … I wrote it to play with a good friend of mine, Josh Goldman ’11, who graduated last year. He’s part of the [Masters in Arts and Teaching] program right now, so he’s still around. … He plays marimba, and we’ll do that piece on the program also.

JA: How did you first get into playing viola?

YB: Well, I started violin when I was 4 and I played all throughout elementary school and junior high, and in high school, I switched to a supplemental music program called [Educational Center for the Arts] in New Haven, Conn., and I was kind of put in a position where I needed to play viola, because the violist they had couldn’t make the concert or something like that. So I had to try playing the viola part and I really loved it. … So in about 10th grade I switched to viola, and it’s been working out.

JA: Have you played previously at Brandeis?

YB: Well I’ve been playing in the orchestra since freshman year, and I’ve also been taking … a course that’s offered every semester in Chamber Music. … It’s just small string groups or piano sometimes, wind instruments, just small ensembles and there’s a lot of repertoire written for that kind of small ensembles. Usually it’s run by either Prof. Judy Eissenberg (MUS), who’s also a member of the [LydianString] Quartet, or Evan Hirsch (MUS) who’s a really great pianist … on the faculty. And so I’ve been taking that course pretty much every semester that I’ve been here, and … you get put in with a group. One time I did a trio with a clarinet and stand-up pianist, one time I did a quintet, I did another trio with cello and violin. Every semester it’s been different. So we get to prepare a piece of chamber music at the end of the semester, so that’s been really fun and I’m doing that this semester, too.

JA: Are there other styles of music you are interested in or involved in?

YB: Yeah, I strongly believe that the most talented classical musicians have to be well-rounded and worldly, … especially in the modern day you see performers like Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor orItzhak Perlman, all of whom work with world music genres and other genres, so I think that’s really important and can only add to what you’re doing. So … I am part of the Klezmer ensemble at Brandeis, called ‘DeisKeit, and along with Ethan Goldberg ’12, who’s a senior right now, we’ve kind of been the driving force behind that. We played on campus and professionally in the Boston area the past few years, which has been really fun. I’m also interested in Middle Eastern music. I took a course last semester with the new teaching fellow in the Music department Ann [Elizabeth] Lucas. I took her “Music and Culture in the Middle East” class last semester. She’s also going to be starting a Middle Eastern music ensemble that I’m a part of. I’m going to be playing violin and a Middle Eastern lute called the oud. So that’s going to be a lot of fun. Outside of that, I also sing in an a cappella group and I music direct my a capella group, Company B, and that’s a lot of fun. That’s a totally different kind of thing.

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