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Faculty Recital: Melia Watras: The almond tree duos

Tuesday, February 15, 2022 - 7:30pm
$20 General; $15 UW Affiliate (UW faculty, staff, UW retiree, UWAA member); $10 students/seniors
Violist/Composer Melia Watras (Photo: Michelle Smith-Lewis)
Violist/Composer Melia Watras (Photo: Michelle Smith-Lewis)

Violist/composer Melia Watras, violinists Tekla Cunningham, Rachel Lee Priday and Michael Jinsoo Lim, photographer Michelle Smith-Lewis and narrator Tigran Arakelyan present the world premiere of Watras’s new work, The almond tree duos. The title references the symbol of hope and new beginnings in Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost. Written largely during the recent quarantine, each of the 18 duos for violin and viola is paired with a photograph by Smith-Lewis and a poem by Lim.

Masks are required in all indoor spaces on the UW campus. Patrons must show proof of vaccination or recent negative provider-administered COVID-19 PCR test for entry to live events at Meany Hall. Individuals unable to be fully vaccinated, including children under age five and people with a medical or religious exemption, must have proof of a negative provider-administered COVID-19 PCR test (taken within 72 hours of the performance). UW staff will check for proof of vaccination and negative COVID PCR tests at the doors as a condition of entry. Proof of negative test result must come from a test provider, a laboratory or a health care provider. Home or self-administered tests will not be accepted.  Details of these policies and procedures are at 


Melia Watras: The almond tree duos


Tigran Arakelyan, narrator

Tekla Cunningham, violin

Rachel Lee Priday, violin

Michael Jinsoo Lim, violin

Michelle Smith-Lewis, photography

Melia Watras, composer and viola


The almond tree duos………………………………………………Melia Watras (b. 1969)

            Dear Nightingale (2020)1

            The almond tree (2020)2

            Prism (2020)3

            Dahlia (2019)2

            2.5° south (and a little west) (2021)1

            The almond tree 2 (2020)

            Metro gnome (2021)2

            Nothing to prove (2020)2

            Vex (2020)

            Perlucere (2020)

            The almond tree 3 (2020)3  

            An orca, a nuthatch and a cat walk into a bar… (2019)2

            Ancient memory (2020)1

            The cloud that touched the ground (2021)3

            Cirque à cordes (2019)2

            The almond tree 4 (2020)1  

            Reflection (2021)2

            Amaranth (2019)2


1 Tekla Cunningham, violin; Melia Watras, viola

2 Michael Jinsoo Lim, violin; Melia Watras, viola

3 Rachel Lee Priday, violin; Melia Watras, viola


poems by Michael Jinsoo Lim

photographs by Michelle Smith-Lewis


Program Notes

The almond tree duos is a collection of 18 works for violin and viola, 15 of which have versions for two violas. The title references the symbol of hope and new beginnings in Oscar Wildes The Canterville Ghost.

Each piece is connected to a photograph by Michelle Smith-Lewis. Sometimes I composed based on her art, and other times, she took photos inspired by my music. I then asked Michael Jinsoo Lim to write a short poem for each duo.

The collection houses two cycles: one a trio of songs with the pitch center of Eb (Nothing to prove, Vex, Perlucere), the other a quartet that examines the same material from different perspectives (The almond tree, The almond tree 2-4).

The almond tree duos may be performed as stand alone pieces, or programmed in different combinations with other works from the collection, or as a complete set.

My deepest thanks to Tigran Arakelyan, Tekla Cunningham, Rachel Lee Priday, Michael Jinsoo Lim, Michelle Smith-Lewis, the UW Meany Center crew, and the UW School of Music.

Remembering JoAnn Taricani, Director of the School of Music.

Melia Watras

Artist Bios

Michael Jinsoo Lim

Violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim has been praised for playing with “delicious abandon” by Gramophone and described as “bewitching” and “masterful” by the Seattle Times. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a “conspicuously accomplished champion of contemporary music,” Lim has worked with composers such as Milton Babbitt, John Corigliano, George Crumb, Shulamit Ran and Joan Tower. Known for his versatility with a wide range of styles, he enjoys a dynamic career as a soloist, chamber musician, concertmaster and recording artist. Lim is concertmaster and solo violinist of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra (“surely the best ballet band in America”—New York Times), serves as artistic director and violinist of the Seattle-based ensemble Frequency (“a dream string trio”—King FM-Seattle’s Second Inversion) and is director and co-founder of Planet M Records. His discography can be found on Naxos, Planet M, Sono Luminus, DreamWorks, Albany, Bridge, CRI, Bayer Records, RIAX and New Focus.

Solo appearances with Pacific Northwest Ballet include multiple performances of the Stravinsky Violin Concerto (in New York City and Seattle), Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 (Paris and Seattle), and Richard Einhorn’s rock and roll inspired piece for electric violin, Maxwell’s Demon (Paris and Seattle). Lim has recorded numerous world premieres, including Andrew Waggoner’s Violin Concerto (written for Lim) for Bridge Records, and solo violin works by Melia Watras for Sono Luminus and Planet M Records.

For twenty years, Lim toured and recorded with the Corigliano Quartet, a group he co-founded. With the quartet, he won the Grand Prize at the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition and the ASCAP/CMA Award for Adventurous Programming, and performed in the nation’s leading music centers, including Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall, and the Kennedy Center. The quartet’s Naxos label CD was honored as one of The New Yorker’s Ten Best Classical Recordings of the Year.

As a theater artist, Lim appeared in director Nick Schwartz-Hall’s Tempo of Recollection, a show about composer Erwin Schulhoff, and served as music consultant for Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Opus, directed by Braden Abraham. Lim has performed onstage with Pacific Northwest Ballet in George Balanchine’s Duo Concertante, Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain and Alexander Eckman’s Cacti.

Offstage endeavors include producing three critically acclaimed albums by violist/composer Melia Watras (as well as being co-producer on a fourth), his work as lyricist for a number of compositions by Watras, and an appearance alongside Jinkx Monsoon in a promotional video for the city of Seattle. Lim is the inspiration for a character in Erica Miner’s operatic mystery novel, Death by Opera.  

Lim was among the final pupils of legendary violinist and pedagogue Josef Gingold at Indiana University. He later studied chamber music at the Juilliard School, where he also taught as an assistant to the Juilliard String Quartet. He currently serves on the faculty of Cornish College of the Arts. Lim has given violin and chamber music classes throughout the US and in France, Korea and Mexico. He has served on the faculty of Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and taught at Indiana University as a guest professor.

Melia Watras (Photo: Michelle Smith Lewis)

Melia Watras has been hailed by Gramophone as “an artist of commanding and poetic personality” and by The Strad as “staggeringly virtuosic.” As a violist, composer and collaborative artist, she has sustained a distinguished career as a creator and facilitator of new music and art. The 2023-24 season includes the release of her new album Play/Write, which features her own compositions and works by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and Frances White; the world premiere of Watras’s Fantasies in alto clef for viola ensemble, commissioned by the American Viola Society for their 2024 festival in Los Angeles; and the debut of Watras’s Sarabanda for solo viola, which will be premiered and recorded as part of Atar Arad’s project, Partita Party.

Watras’s discography has received considerable attention from the press and the public. Her album String Masks, a collection of her own compositions including the titular work which utilizes Harry Partch instruments, was praised for “not only the virtuoso’s sensitive playing, but also her innovative and daring spirit,” by the Journal of the American Viola Society. Her compositional debut album, Firefly Songs, was hailed for “distilling rich life experiences into strikingly original musical form” by Textura. Schumann Resonances was described by the American Record Guide as “a rare balance of emotional strength and technical delicacy.” The Strad called 26 “a beautiful celebration of 21st century viola music.” Ispirare made numerous Best of 2015 lists, including the Chicago Reader’s (“Watras knocked the wind out of me with the dramatically dark beauty of this recording”). Short Stories was a Seattle Times Critics’ Pick, with the newspaper marveling at her “velocity that seems beyond the reach of human fingers.” Of her debut solo CD (Viola Solo), Strings praised her “stunning virtuosic talent” and called her second release (Prestidigitation) “astounding and both challenging and addictive to listen to.”

Watras’s compositions have been performed in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Bloomington (IN), Columbus (GA), Denmark, Spain, Switzerland and Wales. She has been commissioned by the Avalon String Quartet, violinists Mark Fewer, Rachel Lee Priday and Michael Jinsoo Lim, cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, pianist Cristina Valdés, accordionist Jeanne Velonis, violist Rose Wollman, and has had works performed by artists such as violist Atar Arad, singer Galia Arad, pianist Winston Choi, Harry Partch Instrumentarium Director Charles Corey, violinists Tekla Cunningham, Manuel Guillén and Yura Lee, vocalist Carrie Henneman Shaw, percussionist Bonnie Whiting and the ensemble Frequency. Her music has been heard on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and can be found on the albums Play/Write; String Masks; 3 Songs for Bellows, Buttons and Keys; Firefly Songs; Schumann Resonances and 26. Watras’s adaptation of John Corigliano’s Fancy on a Bach Air for viola is published by G. Schirmer, Inc. and can be heard on her Viola Solo album.

For twenty years, Watras concertized worldwide and recorded extensively as violist of the renowned Corigliano Quartet, which she co-founded. The quartet appears on 13 albums, including their recording on the Naxos label, which was honored as one of the Ten Best Classical Recordings of the Year by The New Yorker.

Melia Watras studied with Atar Arad at Indiana University, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and the prestigious Performer’s Certificate. While at Indiana, Watras began her teaching career as Professor Arad’s Associate Instructor, and was a member of the faculty as a Visiting Lecturer. She went on to study chamber music at the Juilliard School while serving as a teaching assistant to the Juilliard String Quartet.

Watras is currently Professor of Viola and Chair of Strings at the University of Washington, where she holds the Ruth Sutton Waters Endowed Professorship and was awarded the Adelaide D. Currie Cole Endowed Professorship, the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellowship, the Kreielsheimer and Jones Grant for Research Excellence in the Arts, and the Royalty Research Fund. Watras has given viola and chamber music classes at schools such as Indiana University, Cleveland Institute of Music, Strasbourg Conservatoire (France), and Chosun University (South Korea). She frequently returns to her alma mater, Indiana, to teach as a guest professor. She plays a viola made by Samuel Zygmuntowicz.

Tekla Cunningham

Tekla Cunningham, baroque violin, viola and viola d'amore, enjoys a varied and active musical life. At home in Seattle, she is concertmaster of Stephen Stubbs' Pacific MusicWorks, principal second violin with Seattle Baroque Orchestra & Soloists, and plays regularly as concertmaster and principal player with the American Bach Soloists in California. She directs the Whidbey Island Music Festival, a summer concert series presenting vibrant period-instrument performances of repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Beethoven.

She has appeared as concertmaster/leader or soloist with the American Bach Soloists, Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and Musica Angelica (Los Angeles). She has also played with Apollo’s Fire, Los Angeles Opera, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and at the Carmel Bach Festival, San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, Indianapolis Early Music Festival, Savannah Music Festival and the Bloomington Early Music Festival. She has worked with many leading directors including Rinaldo Alessandrini, Giovanni Antonini, Harry Bicket, Paul Goodwin, Martin Haselböck, Monica Huggett, Nic McGegan, Rachel Podger, Jordi Savall, Stephen Stubbs, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Wallfisch and Bruno Weil.

An avid chamber musician, Tekla enjoys exploring the string quartet repertoire of the 18th and early 19th century with the period-instrument Novello Quartet, whose abiding interest is the music of Haydn. She is also a member of La Monica, an ensemble dedicated to music of the 17th century, whose concerts have been reviewed as “sizzling”, and praised for their “irrepressible energy and pitch-perfect timing”. With Jillon Dupree, harpsichord, and Vicki Boeckman, recorders, she plays in Ensemble Electra, known for its inventive programs and energetic performances.

She can be heard on recordings with the American Bach Soloists, Apollo’s Fire, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Tafelmusik, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, San Francisco Bach Choir, various movie soundtracks including Disney’s Casanova, La Monica’s recent release The Amorous Lyre, a recording of repertoire of Merula and his contemporaries and the Novello Quartet’s recording of Haydn’s Op. 50 string quartets. This summer she recorded Mozart’s Flute Quartets with Janet See, Laurie Wells and Tanya Tomkins.

Tekla received her musical training at Johns Hopkins University and Peabody Conservatory (where she studied History and German Literature in addition to violin), Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, in Vienna, Austria, and at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she completed a Master’s degree with Ian Swenson. She teaches Suzuki violin in both German and English and is on the early music faculty of Cornish College for the Arts.

Rachel Lee Priday, violin

Violinist RACHEL LEE PRIDAY (PRY-day) is a passionate and inquisitive explorer in all her musical ventures, in search of contemporary relevance when performing the standard violin repertoire, and in discovering and commissioning new works. Her wide-ranging repertoire and eclectic programming reflect a deep fascination with literary and cultural narratives.

Rachel Lee Priday has appeared as soloist with major international orchestras, including the Chicago, Saint Louis, Houston, Seattle, and National Symphony Orchestras, the Boston Pops, and the Berlin Staatskapelle. Recital appearances have brought her to eminent venues including the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, Musée du Louvre, Verbier Festival, Ravinia Festival and Dame Myra Hess Memorial Series in Chicago, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival in Germany, and tours of South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Committed to new music, and making enriching community and global connections, Rachel takes a multidisciplinary approach to performing that lends itself to new commissions organically merging poetry, dance, drama, stimulating visuals and music. Recent seasons have seen a new Violin Sonata commissioned from Pulitzer Prize Finalist Christopher Cerrone and the premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s “The Orphic Moment” in an innovative staging that mixed poetry, drama, visuals, and music. Rachel has collaborated several times with Ballet San Jose, and was lead performer in “Tchaikovsky: None But The Lonely Heart” during a week-long theatrical concert with Ensemble for the Romantic Century at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Her work as soloist with the Asia America New Music Institute promoted new music relationships and cultural exchange between Asia and the Americas, combining new music premieres and educational outreach in the US, China, Korea and Vietnam. 

Rachel began her violin studies at the age of four in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York to study with iconic pedagogue Dorothy DeLay, and continued her studies at the Juilliard School Pre-College Division with Itzhak Perlman. Rachel holds a B.A. degree in English from Harvard University and an M.M. from the New England Conservatory, where she studied with Miriam Fried. Since Fall 2019, she serves as Assistant Professor of Violin at the University of Washington School of Music.

Recent and upcoming concerto engagements include the Pacific Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Johannesburg Philharmonic, Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic, Stamford Symphony, and Bangor Symphony. Since making her orchestral debut at the Aspen Music Festival in 1997, she has performed with numerous orchestras across the country, such as the symphony orchestras of Colorado, Alabama, Knoxville, Rockford, and New York Youth Symphony. In Europe and in Asia, she has appeared at the Moritzburg Festival in Germany and with orchestras in Graz, Austria, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea, where she performed with the KBS Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic and Russian State Symphony Orchestra on tour.

Rachel has been profiled in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, and The Strad. Her concerts have been broadcast on major media outlets in the U.S., Germany, Korea, South Africa, and Brazil, including a televised concert in Rio de Janeiro, numerous radio appearances on 98.7 WFMT Chicago radio, and American Public Media’s Performance Today. She been featured on the Disney Channel, “Fiddling for the Future” and “American Masters” on PBS, and the Grammy Awards.

Praised by the Chicago Tribune for her “irresistible panache,” Rachel Lee Priday enthralls audiences with her riveting stage presence and “rich, mellifluous sound.” The Baltimore Sun wrote, “It’s not just her technique, although clearly there’s nothing she can’t do on the fingerboard or with her bow. What’s most impressive is that she is an artist who can make the music sing… And though her tone is voluptuous and sexy where it counts, she concluded the ‘Intermezzo’ with such charm that her listeners responded with a collective chuckle of approval as she finished.”

She performs on a Nicolo Gagliano violin (Naples, 1760), double-purfled with fleurs-de-lis, named Alejandro.

Tigran Arakelyan

Tigran Arakelyan is an Armenian-American conductor, podcaster and radio host. He is the Music Director of Northwest Mahler Festival, ORS of Tacoma, and the Port Townsend Symphony. As the Music Director of Federal Way Youth Symphony and Bainbridge Youth Orchestras, he has helped both organizations grow to their highest enrollment.

In 2019, he made his Walt Disney Concert Hall conducting debut and has played alongside Sir James Galway during his induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. Tigran is a prize winner in The American Prize for Orchestral Programming and the Global Music Awards. He has programmed diverse concerts with works by William Grant Still, Amy Beach, Alma Mahler, Fanny Mendelssohn, Vasily Kalinnikov and conducted regional premieres by renowned composers Paul Hindemith, Keith Jarrett and James Cohn. Since 2009, Tigran has taken orchestras to unconventional venues, from bars and cideries to cafes and ​homeless shelters.

Previously, he held conducting positions with the California Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra. He has initiated and is a founder of three orchestras, a music festival, a young composers competition, a young artist competition and numerous scholarship and funding initiatives. During his tenure, the Port Townsend Symphony saw unprecedented financial and audience growth.

Tigran led the Federal Way Youth Symphony on three tours to South Korea working in collaboration with Korean youth orchestras. He has conducted the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Olympia Chamber Orchestra, and the Armenian Pops Orchestra.

Tigran received the Ludovic Morlot Fellowship at the Pierre Monteux Festival and is a three time awardee of the AGBU Performing Arts Fellowship. Invited by Maestro Morlot, Tigran earned the Doctor of Musical Arts in from the University of Washington where he was the first student in the inaugural class of Morlot and Rahbee.

He has interviewed legendary artists: Evelyn Glennie, George Walker, Mark O'Connor, Christian McBride, David Harrington (Kronos Quartet), JoAnn Falletta, Richard Stoltzman, Sharon Isbin, Vijay Iyer, Christopher Theofanidis and a long list of others. Arakelyan is the host and producer of a radio show on KPTZ (91.9FM) called Exploring Music.