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. Her latest album Schumann Resonances, described by the American Record Guide as “a rare balance of emotional strength and technical delicacy,” features world premiere recordings of her own compositions. Watras has helped expand the viola repertoire, through composing, commissioning and debuting new works, including a recent world premiere of a viola concerto written for her by Richard Karpen, with conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. In 2020, Watras and Ensemble Dal Niente will give the first performance of Joel Durand’s composition for solo viola and ensemble, also written for Watras.
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.” 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, pianist Winston Choi, cellist Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, singer Galia Arad and violinists Manuel Guillén, Yura Lee and Michael Jinsoo Lim. Her music has been heard on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and can be found on the albums 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.
Watras is violist of the Seattle-based ensemble, Frequency, for whom she has composed. 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.
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 album Viola Solo 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, 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 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. She plays a viola made by Samuel Zygmuntowicz.