Arts profile

Violist Julia Bastuschek: Building great chords

Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2000

Tone color: Musician and music teacher Julia Bastuscheck is the principal violist with the Juneau Symphony and also plays with the Nimbus Ensemble.

Bastuscheck, 44, began playing viola when she was 8 years old in Palo Alto, Calif. She fell in love with the instrument, which is like a large violin tuned to a slightly lower register.

"It's a fifth lower. It has a deeper sound, and the tone color is much darker," she said. "I think a lot of violists, it fits their personality. You're playing harmonies, in the middle, supporting the other players. You get to fill in all those great chords."

Nimbus Commission: She performs this Saturday night with the Nimbus Ensemble as part of the CrossSound Music Festival.

"We're real excited about that," she said. "We have a piece that was composed for us."

The group will debut a new piece of music written expressly for Nimbus by Martin Brody of Boston.

Nimbus is unusual -- most chamber music groups and quartets are made of like instruments, all brass or all strings, for example. Nimbus features a mix of brass, wind and string instruments that are not usually found together in small ensembles. It includes her husband, musician Nathan Bastuscheck. He plays the euphonium, a brass instrument that is a cousin of the tuba.

"I love playing with him. He's an excellent musician," she said.

Viola and euphonium duets: Although they both play in the symphony, Nimbus offers them a chance to play more closely together. They also play music at home -- although there is no music written for the unusual combination of viola and euphonium.

"Nathan found a book of coronet duets in a used book store," she said. "We've arranged those so we can play them together. They're opera arias from obscure operas."

The Bastuschecks also play in another group, informally known as Dale's Polka Band, with violinist Steve Tada and accordionist Dale Wygant.

"That's when I get to play dance music," she said.

Why I became a music teacher: Bastuscheck served as the director of the Juneau Youth Symphony for several years, and has taught orchestra, strings, music and choir in Juneau schools since 1988. She currently teaches at Floyd Dryden Middle School and directs two orchestras at Juneau-Douglas High School.

A high school music teacher in Bellingham, Wash., named Nick Bussard had a profound influence on her.

"I had such a good experience when I was young, and that's why I became a music teacher," she said.

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