Humans of the MET: Shmuel Katz

by Katherine Anderson, violist

Recently, violist Katherine Anderson sat down with fellow violist Shmuel Katz, who will start next fall as one of the newest MET Orchestra Musicians, having already performed regularly with us as an associate musician for over a decade.

Katherine Anderson: What were you doing before you joined the MET Orchestra?

Shmuel Katz: I have been playing with practically every orchestra in New York City. I’m principal violist of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and American Ballet Theatre Orchestra, Associate Principal of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and a member of the Orchestra of St Luke’s. I also subbed for a while with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and even the London Philharmonic. Most importantly, I have been subbing with the MET Orchestra for the last 13 years! I love teaching and am on the faculties at the Manhattan School of Music and at SUNY Purchase

Shmuel Katz (Photo by Matt Dine)

Shmuel Katz (Photo by Matt Dine)

KA: Where did you spend the early years of your life?

SK: I was born and raised in Israeli in a city called Ramat Gan, which is a neighboring city of Tel Aviv.

KA: Do you remember the first opera you ever heard?

SK: When I was eight and I had just started studying the violin, my mother took me to the local library, where they were showing Don Giovanni. I remember being completely blown away by the opera. I had never been to a full concert; I had just heard a few kiddy concerts at the Israel Philharmonic. I sat through the whole thing and have been obsessed with Don Giovanni ever since.

KA: Well that’s perfect because we’re playing Don Giovanni next season! When and why did you come to the US?

SK: I came to the States at the age of 21 to study at the Manhattan School of Music with my childhood hero, Pinchas Zukerman. 20 years later, I joined the viola faculty at the Manhattan School, and now we both teach there. 

KA: Can you tell us something about the viola you’re playing?

SK: My viola has a sibling in the section already, so the sound blend is built in! 

KA: Yes, and that sibling is my viola!

SK: The instrument I am playing was made in 1998 by Hiroshi Iizuka, a Japanese-American maker who has his own individual design of the instrument that looks almost like an ancient viola d'amore. I’ve been playing on this viola since 2001, and have actually just commissioned Mr. Iizuka to make me a second instrument, slightly smaller, for those long Ring operas...

KA: Your wife, violinist Sophia Kessinger (who is a sub in the MET Orchestra), recently gave birth to your second child. What has this past month been like for you? 

SK: Yes, she gave birth to our daughter, Sivan, on May 22, 10 days after I won the audition! I was very lucky that Sivan waited in her mommy’s belly until I was finished with the audition. I hope she grows up to be a big opera lover like her older sister, Hanna, who is almost four. 

KA: What will you be doing this summer?

SK: I will be quite busy but I am not traveling outside New York. To start off, I will be playing at the American Ballet Theatre, where I’m looking forward to playing the beautiful viola solos in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Later in July, at the Mostly Mozart Festival, I will be performing the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio on the stage of David Geffen Hall in a pre-concert recital. I will also be playing, for the first time, a late work by Mozart for a few solo instruments and glass harmonica. To finish off the summer, I will be spending a week at the Kaufman Center, right by Lincoln Center, teaching at their Summer String Fest, where I’ll have the opportunity to work with middle school and high school kids, which is a lot of fun. 

KA: When you’re not practicing, performing, and spending time with your family, what do you enjoy doing?

SK: Sleeping is one of my favorite hobbies when I have the chance! However, I love to cook when I have free time, and if there’s a good soccer game on TV, I am quite happy. 

KA: Well, Shmuel, as a member of the viola section, I just want to say how happy we are to have you join us and we hope that in the near future you’ll be able to get a little more sleep!