Zeneba Bowers

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1999

In addition to playing in the orchestra, you’re also Artistic Director of the chamber ensemble ALIAS, whose recording Hilos, featuring music by Gabriela Lena Frank, has been nominated for a GRAMMY®. Did that catch you by surprise?

We were competing with hundreds of other ensembles, so we certainly were surprised. This CD represents many years of work by many people. I can’t overstate how excited we are about it, in part because we had a direct hand in commissioning one of the pieces on it as well. My husband Matt [Walker, Nashville Symphony cellist] and I both perform on it, and we’re also co-producers — pretty much every way we could have been involved in it, we were. I feel like this CD was my baby. If someone else thinks it’s cute, that’s great!

All but two members of ALIAS are also in the Nashville Symphony. How does your participation in one ensemble influence the other?
It’s good for orchestra musicians to perform chamber music, because it makes you a better orchestra player. I also think it’s important for musicians to participate in groups where they get to make artistic decisions. I’m not aware of any other all-volunteer chamber ensemble formed from an orchestra that has achieved this level of professional success. It’s also worth pointing out that the Nashville Symphony has a long history of playing contemporary American music, and through that experience, ALIAS has discovered some of the composers we’ve been programming. That’s how we became aware of Gabriela Lena Frank.

You’re also one of a number of musicians in the Nashville Symphony whose spouse is a member of the orchestra. Is this common?
It really is, and that’s because orchestra musicians have bizarre working hours. We’re working almost every Friday and Saturday night, and that’s the best time to go on a date and socialize with people. Another reason is that performing onstage is a high-pressure, high-stress job that other musicians can immediately understand, and you’re inclined to be social with people who understand your greatest challenges.

If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
I have had the incredible fortune of getting to meet and work with a lot of composers already, but it would have to be Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, a 17th-century Italian composer about whom almost nothing is known. ALIAS has performed four or five of his sonatas, and only 12 exist. It isn’t even known when they were written, or when he lived and died. I love his music so much, and it’s quite unusual for a 17th century composer. I’d love to know more about him and why he went so against the grain for his time.

If you weren’t a professional musician, what would you be doing?
I’m a politics junkie in a ridiculous way. My dream gig would be working on Meet the Press. I haven’t missed an episode since I was 10 years old, unless I happened to be out of the country.