Thursday, January 2, 2020

Thoughts on A New Year and Trying to Start It Off Right (or Write)

Happy 2020!

I did not realize how much time has passed since I last wrote on this blog. Three and a half years. So much life has transpired since that time-- I don't know where I could even start with that.

In brief, after the American Viola Society Festival of 2016, I started refocusing on my dissertation about Günter Raphael, got married, did a leave replacement for a semester, moved from boroughs, started an album, started a duo, started teaching at an awesome festival in Utah, all while teaching and freelancing throughout the Northeast US (and beyond). I attended another American Viola Society Festival in 2018, and my first International Viola Congress in Poland last year. I can't sum three and a half years in one paragraph, and as much as I wanted to write retrospectively about all that happened in the last decade, I am very excited about grabbing this upcoming decade by the horns, and planting as much as I can. We are going to need a lot more trees to keep this world moving forward (uh oh, Greg is getting proverbial on us!) and I would rather help with the planting and shaping of the future, and don't want to lament about what frustrated me about the last decade.

I think I went mute on the blog at a point when I was getting burned out with writing, and my efforts and concentration had to go into writing the dissertation. And after finishing the dissertation and graduating from the Graduate Center, I needed to do a complete 180 degree turn and dive head on into all things playing-- a lot of gigging, recording The Raphael Project (more about that another day), and getting the Golden Williams Duo off the ground. I have never been known for being a perpetual journaling type, and I don't know if I will start now. However, a few developments have occurred in the last few months that have prompted me to start wanting to write again. One of these is that I was recently asked to take on the role of New Music Editor with the Journal of the American Viola Society, which will have me reviewing and reflecting on new music a lot more. I also ended up getting a new laptop last month (I was getting frustrated with the old laptop as it was sputtering out of control). The new laptop and the new role started to get me journaling and free-writing again, and even composing again!

Perhaps learning the other night that one of my adult viola students has been blogging (about theatre and film mostly) prompted me to think about starting this again. The name will remain the same (even though the Archipelago Quartet which initially inspired the name has long since disbanded) because the community of violists with our own unique quirks, career paths, interests, and styles of playing, are a vital part of the sea of musicians. I am thinking that I will probably do this on a weekly basis, or try to at least. I plan to mostly write about things related to viola, chamber music, orchestral music, new music, but this might change from week to week, depending on what is burning on my mind.

Feel free to reach out if you have a piece of writing, music, recording that you want to share. I am hungry to learn more from the community around me, and would love to hear from you!


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Day 2 of the American Viola Society Festival

I write to you tonight from a comfy couch in Cleveland, calmly collecting my thoughts.

Today has been an extraordinary day by all accounts. It has been the sort of day I have been looking forward to for probably my entire life, where I have had the chance to present my research to a room full of my peers. Not only my peers, but musicians and scholars who I hold in great esteem.

Other than the battery petering out on the overhead remote mid-presentation, the Raphael Lecture-Recital was rather successful. I think I was able to pitch Günter Raphael's music to an audience of appreciative colleagues, which was my intent. If you were in the audience today, thank you! If you were in the audience for one of my test runs over the last couple of weeks, thank you! This project has been a way for me to envision the work that still lies ahead on my Dissertation, and get me to understand Raphael's music more thoroughly.

So far this has been a great American Viola Society Festival. I have been impressed with the turnout, the performances I have seen so far, and the level of the presentations that I have seen so far. This is my third American Viola Society event and probably the one that I have learned the most from. Perhaps I am at a place in life where I am able to be more receptive, and also a little calmer. This is not to dismiss the Viola Congress at Eastman in 2012, or the Viola Festival at Colburn in LA in 2014, but this has been such a great experience so far.

For those of you violists who have yet to attend one of these Festivals, I strongly encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for news of subsequent events. It is definitely worth going, whether you are a student, performer, teacher (at any level). I have attended presentations about practicing with drones, the legacy and teaching style of Karen Tuttle, a Lecture-Recital about pre-1900 German composers for solo viola works (which is relevant to my own work), a panel discussion about DMA research and how it can be transformed, and ended my night with a performance by Robert Vernon, violinist Elmar Oliveira and others.

Tomorrow (Friday) will bring another riveting day. Until then!

 A picture of me demonstrating a passage in today's Lecture-Recital, at the American Viola Society Festival, at the Oberlin Conservatory, Oberlin, OH. (Photo Credit: Edward Klorman)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Violist on the Run, Leaving for the American Viola Society Festival Today

My poor car is going to be pretty fed up with me by the end of this week. Moonlight, my '09 Sonata, just returned from the wedding of dear friends in Ithaca, New York yesterday. I will be leaving in about an hour and a half (or as soon as I am packed and ready to go) for a roughly 8 hour drive (that's not including breaks) to Cleveland, OH. I'll be staying with a fine pianist in Cleveland for a few days, while traveling onward to Oberlin for the American Viola Society Festival.

I'll be leaving updates and pictures over the next few days, as I try to keep friends and family informed about my experiences. I am interested to see who is there, what is being performed and presented, and making new friends along the way! I am also extra excited because I will be giving a Lecture-Recital on Thursday afternoon, at 3:30 pm, presenting excerpts from the unaccompanied viola sonatas of Günter Raphael.

Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

June 2016 Newsletter, Gregory K. Williams, Violist

June 2016 Newsletter
Gregory K. Williams, Violist
Dear Music Lovers, Violaphiles, Family, Friends, and Colleagues,
I thought May was going to be the month to end all months, but it appears that June 2016 is going to be quite extraordinary. Please read on as I clue you in on my exciting plans!

The Red Door Chamber Players had a fantastic first performance last Saturday in Oyster Bay. We will be giving our second performance on Friday, June 3, 2016, 7:30 pm at the Westhampton Presbyterian Church, Westhampton Beach, NY. I will be performing Joaquin Turina's Scene Andalouse, Op. 7 for viola and piano quintet. For more information, please visit

I will be taking my research about Günter Raphael's viola music on the road, in the form of a Lecture-Recital. I will be giving two performances, the first is Tonight, June 1, 2016, 8:00 pm at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens, NY. (Rm. 226). The second performance will on Thursday, June 9, 2016, 3:30 pm at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio. I will be playing excerpts from three of Raphael's unaccompanied viola sonatas. This Lecture-Recital will be part of the American Viola Society's Festival. I am honored to be a part of such an incredible week, where many superb violists from across the globe will be gathering. For more information about the festival please visit,

On Sunday, June 13, 2016, 2:00 pm, I will be returning to Carnegie Hall, performing with the Distinguished Concerts International Orchestra. We will be performing a world premiere by composer Cristian Grases, and a work by Morton Lauridsen.

Saturday, June 18, 2016, 7:30 pm, offers a special treat. I am honored to announce that I will be featured as a guest soloist with the Litha Symphony Orchestra, performing Paul Hindemith's Trauermusik. The performance will be led by conductor Alex Wen. This gala concert will be taking place at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 9th Avenue, New York, NY. Details for this concert can be found at

I will be returning to the Hamptons this summer, performing with the Choral Society of the Hamptons, on Saturday, June 25th, 2016, at the Old Whaler's Church in Sag Harbor, at 7 PM. We will be performing Beethoven's Mass in C, and a new work by composer Victoria Bond. For details, please visit

While I will not be traveling to Los Angeles this summer, a film that I recorded on last summer, My First Kiss and the People Involved, will be released at the LA Film Festival on Saturday, June 5, 2016. The score was composed by the talented composer and flutist, Bonnie McAlvin. For more details, please visit,

In between, I will be traveling to Ithaca, NY and San Francisco, CA, for weddings of a few dear friends, and amidst the flurry of activity, I am also looking forward to a few scattered days of downtime in New York City, on Long Island, and possibly up around Cape Cod. I hope to see YOU at some point in between.

Musically yours,

Gregory K. Williams

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Navigating The World In The Aftermath of A Recital (or Three)

The time spent preparing for a recital can be staggering. In many ways it is like preparing for a half marathon-- where you spend several weeks, months, preparing for one specific event. With a half marathon (I can use this analogy because I survived the San Francisco Marathon last summer), you find yourself "upping your ante" stretching more, extending your runs gradually over several weeks, getting hungrier after runs, craving a lot more protein, needing better sleeping habits. When I did the half marathon, I was able to witness a beautiful sunrise along the San Francisco Bay, trek over the Golden Gate Bridge (twice) and feel a sense of exhilaration that is hard to find in most day to day activities. There really wasn't much of an emotional let down after, since I have been able to continue running (more or less) in the months after. (I have yet to come close to running another half marathon again, but I hope to get back to that point in the months ahead.)

With preparing for a recital, there are some similarities, but there are some stark differences. You try to go over every detail, finding the ideal collaborator(s), workshopping specific pieces, finding a page turner, making sure all paperwork is filled out, giving test runs of your works, and blitzing social media trying to get a handful of friends, family and supporters to turn out to your performance. You have to brace yourself for test run recordings, where you may have had a lousy entrance, a sloppy shift, or a passage that was completely out of tune. Your focus on other activities and projects takes a back seat, and you find yourself more isolated from your family and friends-- the time that might be spent calling them up is being diverted to extra practice time. The sacrifices that you make-- the emotional, the physical, and financial are worth the hour of beauty that you are trying to capture.

The day of the recital comes (in my case there were three, so each recital was building up on the energy from the one before). Your level of preparedness and readiness is at its peak. You have been ignoring phone calls, shirking the completion of your taxes (and paying them), hoping a handful of students, colleagues, friends and family attend (or digitally view) your recital. Little else has mattered, so that you can give your all to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen. You get to channel every last ounce of energy from your soul into each piece you are performing, with the hopes of shattering the expectations of those who are listening to you. 

When my last recital came and went, a little over three weeks ago, that is more or less what happened. I had a pretty good turnout both physically and digitally, and after listening to the recording, I was pretty happy with how the performance turned out. I received a lot of positive feedback from friends, family, mentors and colleagues, and more importantly, I was happy with how things turned out.  (As many of you know, this does not happen after each and every performance.)  Like the half marathon in San Francisco last summer, I was happy with the beauty produced from my viola, and my collaborator, Juliana Han's piano. The combination of efforts from the wood, metal and horse hairs of our instruments, the brain cells from our own brains, and those of our composers produced about 80 minutes of blissful music that transported everyone into our own little worlds for a short while.  But then it stops.  Just stops.

In the first few days after the recital, I was able to ride on the leftover endorphins. I felt an urge to continue at the breakneck speeds that I was working at, for about a day, and then I crashed. Emotionally, physically. I had to face the realities that were building up around me, paying taxes, car maintenance, other seemingly important projects that still had to happen. I still had other performances to prepare for, a Dissertation that still needs to be completed, but for much of the past three weeks, I was tossed back into survival mode, and it has been rough. Depression, anxiety, insecurity and insomnia were replacing the positive forces of recital preparation, practice, drive, focus and energy. Even in my moments of higher quality performance, it felt like the fight was real, and I would have been just as content staying bed for a week doing absolutely nothing.

This past weekend was the first weekend in awhile where I had a chance to recharge. It was a weekend spent with newfound family (complete with fun toddlers), in a new and exhilarating place that included a hot tub, lots of hiking with blissful views, and some fine dining. That opportunity to reset the buttons for just a few days was crucial and essential, and has given me the ability to come back, ready for what reality has to offer.

New projects are approaching on the horizon, and I feel like I am ready to take them all on. None of these projects will bring me eternal sunshine, but will become a new layer of glistening red bricks that will help to bolster my foundation in the months and years to come.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Upcoming Performances of Gregory K. Williams, Violist, April 2016

The DMA Viola Recital Is A Few Days Away

Hello Friends, Family, and Colleagues! April is shaping up to be an incredible month! Please take a look to see what is coming up!

On Monday, April 4th, at 7:30 PM, I will be performing at Elebash Recital Hall, at the Graduate Center (CUNY) with pianist Juliana Han. This is the third in a series of recitals that we have given together. The Graduate Center is located at 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. (For more information: please visit There are two ways to see and hear this performance!  The first is taking a trip to the Graduate Center, a short walk from Penn Station and Grand Central Station in Manhattan. If you live far away, FEAR NOT! We will be live streaming this performance. The live stream link is below:

Our performance will include Günter Raphael's Sonata for Solo Viola, Op. 46, No. 4, along with Hans Gál's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Johannes Brahms' Sonata for Viola and Piano in F minor, Op. 120, No. 1, Alan Hovhannes's Chahagir for Solo Viola, and Miklós Rózsa's Introduction and Allegro for Solo Viola.

After Monday's recital, I have two other performances this month that I am excited to share with you.  The first is a concert with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, at the Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY, on Saturday, April 16, 2016, at 8 PM.  The program includes Meira Warschauer's Like Streams in the Desert,
Ernest Bloch's Schelomo (Hebraic Rhapsody), with Dane Johansen on Cello, and Leonard Bernstein's Symphony #3- Kaddish.  The Bernstein will be narrated by Estelle Parsons, who played the mother of Roseanne on the TV Show Roseanne. For more information about tickets, please visit

Another exciting performance is an upcoming collaboration between members of the Red Door Chamber Players, and the wonderful singer-songwriter, Concetta Abbate. We will be doing a live Album Recording of Concetta's music at the venue Spectrum, 121 Ludlow Street, #2, New York, NY.  For more information, please visit:

Thank you all for your continued help and support. I look forward to hearing from you (and seeing you) soon!

Musically yours,

Gregory K. Williams, Violist
Juliana Han, pianist
Hudson Valley Philharmonic at the Bardavon
Concetta Abbate

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A moment to reflect, and to breathe

A Moment to Reflect, And to Breathe

      March has been a historically hectic month for me, as I sense it is for most people, musicians and non-musicians alike. March is a time for new life springing forth from the earth. For Greeks, there is a celebration for independence, some years this month is marked with rebirth and renewal.  

     For others, it can be seen as a time of chaos, or loss-- the remnants of winter can linger and bring havoc to our lives.  (This winter we were mostly spared.) Too often March has been a painful month for me, where important loved ones in my life have passed on unexpectedly. 
      In music, the onset of spring is marked with tumultuous music. Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring) can depict the thawing of the frozen ground, and the bursts of new energy and life. I remember a conversation I had with the Israeli composer Gilad Hochman in Berlin a few years ago-- as we discussed the nature of bee hives. The collective pitch of the hive would rise as the bees became irate. Tension often lingers in the air as the temperature rises. We find our schedules busier, sleep becomes a rare commodity, expectations around us continually increase. 

      March has been a crazy but beautiful month for me. I am in a position (tonight at least) where I can take a step back and feel gratitude for the joy that I have felt this month. I have had the chance to perform an incredible recital program for family, colleagues and friends, and will get to present this recital program two more times. (Thursday night is the next chance to hear it, at 7:30 pm, in LeFrak Concert Hall, at the Aaron Copland School of Music, at Queens College, CUNY!) I have also had the chance to perform some really incredible music with two different orchestras this past week, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It is the sort of week that my inner twelve year old self would have reveled in.

      As I was running through some of the music I will play tomorrow night, I was thinking to myself how fortunate I am to be part of the musical community. Our time incubating in practice rooms serves as a chrysalis for the papillons embedded within our art. Each time we perform, we share our discoveries, our passions, our pains, our muses for others to share. Little do we know how a particular melody will impact our audience, our friends, our relatives. That little bit of kindness might just help calm them down a bit, or perhaps ease their pain or despair.

       Earlier in the evening, I found myself in just such a position. I just finished rehearsing with my pianist, Juliana Han, an hour earlier at the Graduate Center, and was waiting for the subway at the 34th Street stop. As I walked up the stairs towards the platform, I heard John Lennon's, Imagine, played on steel drums. I stopped in my tracks. In the past, this song had cathartic implications after the passing of my sister, Kara. Today was a bit different. I heard the song on the radio a day earlier, as sung by grieving Belgians, mourning the loss of their countrymen. I would imagine that there may be others who have had this song on their mind after the recent attack in the Ivory Coast, or in Ankara a week ago. The man playing the steel drums seemed to be channeling that pain and sorrow, and I was affected by it.  

      The pain I felt on the subway platform lingered a few hours later, as I was running through Günther Raphael's Sonata for Solo Viola, Op. 46, No. 4. I was thinking of the pain he endured during the Nazi regime, and through World War II. Still, he was able to write music that expressed his emotions, and he was among the lucky ones. He had doctors who were able to protect him from the authorities, and he was able to survive the war. So many millions of people were not so lucky.

As I work to calm my mind over the next day or so, I will continue to dwell on these many emotions as I prepare for tomorrow's recital. I sense that gratitude and calm will prevail, but pain and sorrow will be expressed when the music I perform calls for it.