Retiring violinist Daria Adams discusses creativity in concert programming

By Kyu-Young Kim, Artistic Director

Longtime SPCO violinist Daria Adams retires at the end of this concert season. Throughout her tenure, Daria made countless musical contributions as a violinist, as a valued member of the SPCO’s programming committee, and as a curator of some very memorable programs in recent seasons.  Our audiences also know Daria as one of the most eloquent and engaging speakers from the stage.  Though we’ll have more opportunities to celebrate Daria’s wonderful career before her final concert in June, this weekend is a great opportunity to see her featured as both a concert curator and soloist. I recently posed some questions to Daria about her creative programming prowess.  

Daria, you have brought so many great programming ideas to the SPCO over the years, including this one featuring the Bach Double Violin Concerto and Bach’s widespread influence across many styles of music. Can you share some of your favorite SPCO programs that you have curated? 

As I look back on some of the programs I have curated, two come to mind as my favorites. The first is the first time I ever had the opportunity to create a concert experience on my own at the SPCO. We were playing Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for string quartet. As I watched videos of the piece it seemed ridiculous that the second violinist just sat in their quartet formation and played one note throughout the piece…the all-important drone note. I had the idea to have the player walk around the ensemble and in that way change the experience of the drone for the audience. We did the performance at our space in the Hamm building. I played the drone and started off stage. I walked slowly encircling the players and eventually left the stage on the other side. It was so much fun…and effective! To me, it made sense of the drone, giving it life and really adding to the audience experience.

The other concert I really enjoyed was on a Thanksgiving weekend. We have a tradition of doing American music on that weekend and I programmed a movement by Kevin Puts from his piece for solo violin called Arches and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. I had the Puts piece divided into five parts and spread five violinists throughout the hall. The first part was played from a darkened stage, with subsequent parts traveling to the balconies in an arch formation. As the final note of Arches rang out, the lights came up on stage and the musicians went directly into Copland’s Appalachian Spring…which started on the same note that the Puts ended on. I loved the blending of those two pieces!

Why “Penny Lane” and Bach on this week’s program? Tell us about this program and how you came up with the idea.

Bach is a part of the core repertoire of the SPCO. Our small size lends itself perfectly to perform many pieces by Bach that a large symphony orchestra would not attempt. The program I came up with plays homage to Bach by featuring pieces that were inspired by him. Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras and [Maria Kaneko Millar’s] Bach in Ireland are fairly self-explanatory. But you may wonder why the heck there is a Beatles tune on a program of Bach-inspired works! Paul McCartney was inspired to add the fabulous trumpet solo in Penny Lane after hearing a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 which has a wicked trumpet part. Even the Beatles were inspired by this quiet Lutheran from Leipzig!

We have recently begun featuring our musicians as Creative Leads for certain weeks. Daria, you brought that concept forward at our programming committee meetings a few years ago and it has really taken off. Can you tell us about that idea and why it’s an important part of our SPCO musician-led model?

Musicians, besides being willing to spend hours alone in a practice room perfecting tiny details, are also very creative people. Having an outlet for all that creativity is not always possible. Many musicians spend their lives in a large symphony orchestra, basically following orders… on a very high level! We had an opportunity here at the SPCO to let our musicians spread their creative wings and let their imaginations run a bit wild. Not only does that kind of freedom feed the musician who is doing the programming, but it gives us more insight into each other. And the more we know about how we all click, the better ensemble we have.

It also broadens our understanding of what it takes to make a great program. When you are the Creative Lead, you are responsible for not only the choice of music, but who is playing it, how we set up, if we are standing or sitting as well as introducing the pieces at the concert. It’s a wonderful opportunity and I am thrilled to see so many people coming forward with their ideas, and then getting to see them come to life on the SPCO stage!

Can you tell us about Music in the Vineyards, your festival in Napa Valley?

Thirty years ago my husband, Michael Adams, and I started a small chamber music festival in Napa Valley, California. What started as a very modest festival with just a few friends has turned into a four-week festival with some of the best chamber musicians in the country. We play concerts in wineries throughout the Napa Valley… in tasting rooms, cave theaters and barrel rooms. Every venue is different and beautiful. We serve wine at every intermission… which just makes the experience even more enjoyable. If you are ever in the Napa Valley during the month of August, please look us up and enjoy some fine music and wine!

Do you have a philosophy when it comes to programming your festival each year. How does that compare to the programming ideas you bring to the SPCO?

One of the joys of running your own festival is that you can do whatever you want! Michael and I like to take advantage of the unique spaces of the wineries and have tried to tailor some of our programs to the space. We play at one cave that has some hallways going off the sides of the performance space. It has been fun to use those hidden spaces to have music come from somewhere that the audience can’t see. It has made for some delightful experiences for our audience. We try to bring a surprising mix of familiar and brand-new music and love to play with the juxtaposition of the two. I have taken some ideas from Music in the Vineyards and altered them to fit the SPCO halls… and vice versa. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from both organizations. As far as a philosophy…. great music performed by excellent musicians in stunning venues!

What are some of your plans—musical and otherwise—after you retire from the SPCO at the end of this season?

We are going to move to Napa full time. The whole Music in the Vineyards organization is excited to see what having us in residence full time will mean for the future. We hope to build upon the success of our first 30 years and set up the festival to be resilient enough to go another 30! I plan to keep practicing and hope to have some opportunities to play for many more years. Who knows, maybe I’ll even end up subbing in the SPCO someday!

Daria Adams has been a violinist in the SPCO since 1987. Kyu-Young Kim is the SPCO’s Artistic Director and Principal Violin.

Tickets + info for March 14-17, 2024 concerts