About

Judith Ablon

Judith Ablon

Viola

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1995

 

What led you to play the viola?
I started playing the viola shortly before I entered graduate school. I made the decision to switch from the violin, and I haven’t looked back. There was something about the rich, chocolatey sound of the viola that made me feel like I’d finally found my voice. The violas, from our spot in the middle of the orchestra, have a way of filling in the cracks, of holding the top and bottom together. It’s a wonderful position to be in. You may not always hear us, but you’d sure miss us if we weren’t there.
 
What’s your earliest musical memory?
My parents had a recorder ensemble, and I can remember them rehearsing at our house when I was a young child. We also went camping a lot, and my dad would bring a guitar and sing songs by Malvina Reynolds, Woody Guthrie and other folksingers.
 
What’s your most memorable experience as a performer?
Copland’s Third Symphony with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in the late 1980s. He wanted us to play the piece in a sexier way, so he made up lyrics for the theme: “I love the way my baby talks, I love the way my baby walks….” Now I can’t hear the piece without hearing him singing that.
 
What makes the Nashville Symphony unique?
Our focus on performing new American music. I loved the “American Encores” initiative we did in the first two concert seasons after the Schermerhorn opened in 2006: every Classical Series concert featured an American work that had already been premiered, but hadn’t received any or many performances since then. In general, I enjoy the breadth of our programming and would love to see us perform even more contemporary American music.
 
What do you like about being in the Nashville Symphony?
The orchestra’s seating configuration was rearranged this season, and now the violas sit at the outside of the stage. I like being closer to the audience. When we take our bows, we have a chance to make eye contact with people, and when they smile at us, I like to smile back.
 
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to do what I do. It’s so close to our hearts, sometimes we forget that it’s work.
 
Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I perform every summer at the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Peninsula Music Festival. When I first joined the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was a young member of the Omaha Symphony. Three orchestras, four cities and many years later, I still find myself drawn to return summer after summer to this very special place of beauty, friendship and glorious music making. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but in a sense, it always feels like a homecoming.
 
Each summer, I leave Nashville a week before the season winds down, and I come home about a week before the new season starts. Some of my colleagues think I’m crazy to do it, because I don’t get much time off, but I grow so much during those summer months. I stay in shape, learn more repertoire, and I’ve formed many personal connections with people from all over the United States.
 
What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you (or near you) onstage?
One summer when I was performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was sitting in front of the percussion section during rehearsals and performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Not only was the sound of the hammer like nothing I’d ever experienced before, but the great wit of the percussion section was on display when I glanced behind me to find a watermelon sitting atop the giant box (in rehearsal, of course), as if ready to be smashed to pieces!
 
Do you teach?
I teach private lessons. I see teaching as an opportunity to think about the mechanics of playing. When you’re teaching something, you’re thinking about how you do it, and that’s really helpful to my own playing.
 
What part of town do you live in?
I live in East Nashville. I like it because I can walk to anything I want — restaurants, the grocery, the post office. I live close enough that I can ride my bike to work, which I do sometimes. I also live close to Shelby Park, and I enjoy riding my bike in Shelby Bottoms.
 
Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
When I’m at home, I welcome the opportunity for silence. When I’m driving, that’s when I listen to music. On Saturday nights after concerts, I love listening to the NPR program American Roots on my way home. Other times, I’ll plug in my iPod and put it on shuffle. I always have something on in the car — frequently it’s a book, but I’ve also got some of my son Josh’s music, along with things I enjoy listening to, like Stephen Sondheim, Diana Krall and k.d. lang, to name just a few.
 
If I hadn’t become a musician, I would’ve been a…
…doctor. I went to a math and science high school in New York, and I went back and forth about whether to go into medicine or whether to pursue music.