Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
It wasn’t until I was eight that I picked up a violin. My family was living in Austria at the time, and in second grade we were all offered the opportunity to play in a student chamber orchestra. Mrs. Reinitzer was the do-it-all strings teacher at the school. She had a closet full of pint-sized violins and even a purple cello, and all the kids loved her. After some lessons with her, I began studying with an Irish fiddler who put the focus entirely on making music and having fun. The imprint of six years in Vienna, from the wine-bar fiddler below my bedroom window to the Philharmoniker down the street, survived family moves from Austria to Indiana to New York.
So far, who/what have been the most important influences on your musical career?
Since 2013, the Perlman Music Program has been my second family. Nine to twelve weeks a year, in New York, Florida, and sometimes Israel, forty of us come together to learn about music and life. This community is comprised of my best friends, my most influential teachers, and the people I most admire. During the residencies, we study, practice, perform, compliment and critique, sing, sight-read, toss frisbees, tell stories, and laugh. Year-round we have museum performances, fundraisers, community outreach events, and “Sunday salons” at the Perlmans’ home where we read chamber music (and eat well) late into the night.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The pandemic has been pretty challenging for all of us – concerts cancelled, my management firm reduced to bankruptcy, and the duration of the Juilliard semester experienced over Zoom. The bright side was pretty bright, actually. I spent four months in lockdown with my girlfriend’s family, learning to cook, garden, mulch, and play music asynchronously with colleagues all over the world. And, as with all moments of crisis, it forced us all to evaluate ourselves and the communities in which we live. The later months of this pandemic have consisted of my founding and curating an online concert series called Opus Illuminate, dedicated to programming and performing works by composers of historically underrepresented communities, which is a project that I’m incredibly proud of. So while this has been one of the most challenging moments of my career, it absolutely had a silver lining.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Currently one of my favourite pieces to perform is the Franck Violin Sonata. Its emotional pacing is really unmatched in violin repertoire, and to perform the thirty-minute-long journey is always very special. I have been able to play it a fair amount this past year, and each time it’s been an entirely different experience. I also love to play any Beethoven quartet, but especially the six late quartets.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I try to be mindful of the advice often attributed to Brahms: to be a better musician, read more and practice less, as music should be about life, not the other way around. I love reading and studying philosophy in particular. I also enjoy thinking about the intersection of philosophy and film. Baking is not exactly a musical inspiration, but I learned during the covid lockdown to make some mean sourdough bagels and pancakes.
Also, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve recently started an organization called Opus Illuminate, which aims to throw a spotlight on musicians from underrepresented communities. You can learn more about it on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram by searching for “Opus Illuminate”.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
All venues are wonderful, especially after these last four months in quarantine. One’s first performance in the Berlin or Paris Philharmonie is definitely exciting. But I also love playing in smaller halls where you can feel the energy and see in real time the response of the people up close.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
Classical music is one of the few art forms that values repetition over innovation. People don’t go to the movie theatres to watch The Godfather week after week, yet people will happily listen to a Beethoven symphony on repeat for months on end. This absolutely speaks to the innate, profound beauty of the great works of the classical music canon, that we can listen over and over again and always discover new things to love about these pieces. However, in committing so heavily to the repetition and reverence of the old masterpieces, classical music has kind of fallen into a trap that is inherently culturally narrow, mostly consisting of works by white European males – and this is not due to a lack of more representative material. The Institute for Composer Diversity catalogues over four thousand composers of different races, ethnicities, cultural heritages, gender identities, and sexual orientations. If we work to programme works by a wider selection of representative communities, we will expand the classical music audiences to a wider selection of our society in turn.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Playing the Sibelius Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Windsor Castle, with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, sitting a few feet away.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
In this day and age, success for a musician is very different than what it was even twenty years ago. And that was before the pandemic struck; at this point I’m not sure anyone can truly say what a successful future might hold for any of us. We can only attempt to be as innovative as possible and continue to try to inspire ourselves and each other.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be sure you have the right teachers and people guiding you – especially, the right teacher for YOU. Everyone has different needs, strengths, weaknesses – acknowledge and address them. And finally, decide what you most want to do and make it happen.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Still learning, growing, meeting new people … and enjoying it.
Nathan Meltzer is the current custodian of the Ames Totenberg Stradivarius, which was famously stolen from Totenberg in the 1980s and rediscovered 30 years later by the FBI. It will be heard on recording for the first time in decades on Nathan’s debut recording, To Roman Totenberg, released on the Champs Hill Label on 16 October 2020. More information/sample tracks
Recipient of the 2020 Salon de Virtuosi Career Grant, and youngest ever to win the Windsor Festival International String Competition, Nathan has been a soloist with the Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and the Aalborg, Berlin, Concepción, Evansville, Indianapolis, Medellín, and Pittsburgh orchestras, among others, performing in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, the UK, and across the US.
Photo credit: Jiyang Chen