Hailed by Gramophone as “an artist of commanding and poetic personality” and by The Strad as “staggeringly virtuosic,” violist/composer Melia Watras has distinguished herself as one of her instrument’s leading voices. She has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall, and Alice Tully Hall, while achieving acclaim as an established recording artist. Recent highlights include the release of her latest disc from the Sono Luminus label, 26, which features world premiere recordings of her own compositions, and video projects with violist Garth Knox (performing with Knox on his duos, Viola Spaces for Two) and video artist Ha Na Lee.
Watras’s discography has received considerable attention from the press and the public. The Strad called 26 “a beautiful celebration of 21st century viola music.” Soon after its release, the album debuted on the Billboard Classical Music Chart at #15. Ispirare,which features the world premiere recording of Pulitzer Prize-winner Shulamit Ran’s Perfect Storm (written for Watras),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), Denmark and Spain, by artists such as violist Atar Arad, cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir and violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim. Her music appears on her album 26 and has been recorded for another upcoming disc. 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 CD.
Watras is violist of the Seattle-based ensemble, Frequency, for whom she has composed, and a member of Open End, with whom she has performed in France, Denmark and the United States and recorded for Albany Records. For twenty years, Watras concertized worldwide and recorded extensively as violist of the renowned Corigliano Quartet, which she co-founded. The ensemble’s album on the Naxos label was honored as one of the Ten Best Classical Recordings of the Year by The New Yorker. Other chamber music explorations include improvising in concert with jazz innovators Cuong Vu and Ted Poor. She and Vu recently premiered and recorded a work of his for viola and trumpet.
A versatile performer, Watras has enjoyed collaborations with dance and theater. She appeared as violist/dancer in the premiere of Kathryn Sullivan's At Home, at the Merce Cunningham Studio in New York City. Music from her Viola Solo CD was featured in director Sheila Daniels’s production of Crime and Punishment at Intiman Theatre, and she worked as music consultant for Braden Abraham’s production of Opus at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Melia Watras was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and began her musical studies on the piano at age 5. Soon after, she turned to the viola and made her debut at 16, soloing with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Her formal studies took her to Indiana University, where she studied with Atar Arad and Abraham Skernick, 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 serves as Professor of Viola and chair of Strings at the University of Washington, where she currently holds the Adelaide D. Currie Cole Endowed Professorship and was previously awarded the Donald E. Petersen Endowed Fellowship 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. Watras currently resides in Seattle with her husband, Pacific Northwest Ballet concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lim. She plays a viola made by Samuel Zygmuntowicz.