Part one of my four-part series on Millennial classical musicians placed the spotlight on a couple of young and talented virtuosos, who are also inspiring examples of the characteristic charitable nature of the Millennial generation as a whole.  In the second part of this series, I would like to turn your attention to another brilliant duo, pioneering and shaping the new world of classical music.  This journey begins with the Millennial violist, Nadia Sirota.

NadiaSirotaActionNADIA SIROTA – The Urban Violist

Nadia Sirota is 30 years old and on the cutting edge of classical music.  Coming from a family of musicians, she was exposed to classical music and began studying on stringed instruments at a young age.  With an older, violinist brother to compare with, Nadia has always had a strong competitive drive.  They both started on the violin and then switched to the viola in their early teens.  The viola was, in her opinion, way cooler than the violin.  Since the switch, she has done a lot to reinforce this perception among audiences far and wide.  Nadia took to the viola with a fiery passion and never looked back.

For generations, the violin (not the viola) has been considered the rock-star of orchestral instruments.  Although the viola belongs to the violin family, it’s quite a bit larger and tuned lower than the violin.  The violin’s higher and more brilliant tone is often more desirable for orchestral showcases, such as violin concertos and other virtuosic works (i.e. music requiring great artistic skill).  Forced to take the equivalent of the backup-singer role, the larger and deeper sounding viola is often taken for granted and made the butt of musical jokes.  Nadia is changing this unflattering stereotype for the better, proving to the world that the viola is unique and well worth our undivided attention.  Check out her latest album to hear just how amazing the viola and this Millennial classical musician can be!

Nadia has not only been a champion for the viola, she has made it her mission to showcase and promote contemporary classical music.  Her newest album, Baroque, was selected as Q2 Music’s Album of the Week in late March of this year.

The corresponding article, “Violist Nadia Sirota Puts the ‘Rock’ in ‘Baroque,’” points to the edgy, new age character of her classical viola sound:

The injection of the spirit of the 17th and 18th centuries into a recording that is otherwise entrenched in the 21st century is what makes Sirota’s “Baroque” sound otherworldly, bold and new.

NadiaSirotaInterestingly, Nadia discovered her passion for contemporary classical music only after she graduated from Julliard with her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in viola performance.  Friend and colleague, Nico Muhly, had written a 14-min. viola sonata for Nadia called Keep in Touch.  She performed the piece at the 2006 Airwaves Festival in Reykjavík, Iceland, in rather unusual circumstances – “…in a hot, smokey venue in front of hundreds of whisky-soaked standing spectators.”  She had the audience on the edges of their seats and was pleased with the acceptance and appreciation they showed for the viola and concert music outside of the concert hall.  This experience changed Nadia’s approach to classical music altogether.  From that point on, contemporary classical music became her brand and career.

To her credit, Nadia’s accomplishments are already numerous.  In addition to being a solo violist, she performs as a member of yMusic, ACME (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble), and Alarm Will Sound.  She also hosts a show on WQXR’s New Music radio stream.  Here are some of her outstanding achievements:

New Music Initiatives:

  • Co-founder of Julliard’s AXIOM ensemble
  • Initiated the New Music Project with the Castleman/Amory/Huang studio
  • Created the Julliard Plays Julliard program for student composers and performers

Recognition & Awards:

  • Winner of Julliard’s concerto competition (2005)
  • Joined the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music (Fall 2007) – New masters degree program in contemporary music
  • Debut album, First Things First (2009) – Record of the year by The New York Times
  • ASCAP Deems Taylor Award (2010) – Radio and Internet Broadcasting
  • Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Prize (2013) – Pioneering artist with emerging international profile

This trailblazing violist is breaking the mold of classical music performance with her expressive urban sound.  Her entrepreneurial style, combined with new age classical music, is opening doors for herself as a musician, contemporary audiences, and emerging professional musicians and composers all over the world.  Her job is one of translation – conveying the ideas of talented young composers and providing exciting experiences for classical music connoisseurs and newcomers alike in the 21st century.

NadiaSirotaIconNadia Sirota

Age: 30
Nationality: American

Claim to Fame: Violist; New Classical Music & Contemporary Performance


*     *     *

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL – “the dude” Dudamel

In the effort to provide a well-rounded overview of Millennial classical musicians, I turn now to the conductor’s stand and, more specifically, the music director of the LA Philharmonic – Maestro Gustavo Dudamel.

GustavoDudamelActionIf Gustavo’s warm smile and long curly locks haven’t already caught your eye, his incredible energy and skill as a conductor certainly will.  Gustavo Dudamel, aka “the dude” Dudamel, is a vivacious, 32-year-old orchestra conductor who has brought fame and fortune to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  His larger-than-life attitude is a perfect fit with the LA Phil’s home venue- the unparalleled Disney Hall.  This magnificent hall and the talented music director who brings the space to life with music are astounding and unique in so many ways.  Let’s go back to the beginning…

Welcome to Venezuela, Gustavo’s native country.  Despite increasing poverty and dangerous crime, residents harbor an unrelenting passion for life and sense of positivity.  A major catalyst of this aptitude for survival, it seems, is a revolutionary music education system known as El Sistema. The website for El Sistema Venezuela explains:

El Sistema is a tested model of how a music program can both create great musicians and dramatically change the life trajectory of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s neediest kids… Its approach to music education emphasizes intensive ensemble participation from the earliest stages, group learning, peer teaching and a commitment to keeping the joy and fun of musical learning and music making ever-present.

Gustavo is a tremendous advocate for El Sistema and representative of the benefits that come from the program.  As an El Sistema Venezuela graduate, he has since become an internationally renowned musician, composer, and conductor.

Gustavo Dudamel signed as an exclusive artist of Deutsche Grammophon in 2005.  Now in his fifth season at the LA Phil, and fifteenth season as Music Director for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, he continues to widen the depth, breadth, and diversity of classical music programming, audiences reached, and children served.  He is a true musical leader who knows no bounds.

Additional Achievements

  • Inaugural Bamberger Symphoniker Gustav Mahler Competition winner (2004)
  • Grammy winning artist with numerous recordings
  •  ‘Q Prize’ from Harvard University – Extraordinary service to children
  • l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres induction – Chevalier, in Paris (2009)
  • Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people (1990)
  • Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT (2010)
  • Voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame
  • Gramophone Artist of the Year (2011)
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Music induction – ‘Eminent merits in the musical art’
  • Honorable doctorates – Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado in his hometown, Barquisimeto; University of Gothenburg
  • Musical America’s Musician of the Year (2013)

Notable Appearances (TV/Movie):

  • The Inaugural Concert – First concert as Music Dir. at the LA Phil (2009)
  • New Year’s Eve Concert Gala 2011 – Berlin Philharmonic
  • Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI
  • Let the Children Play – Documentary (2011)
  • Dudamel: Conducting a Life (2010) – PBS special with Tavis Smiley
  • Sesame Street with Elmo (Feb 2012)

Gustavo Dudamel’s musical career began on the violin, transitioned to the baton as a conductor in Venezuela, and now he continues to help under-served youth through music and The Dudamel Foundation, which he founded with his wife in 2012.  His interests and actions demonstrate unwavering dedication to advancing music education and social justice for people across the globe.  I can only hope to be half as accomplished by the time I reach my early thirties!

gustavoGustavo Dudamel
Nationality: Venezuelan

Claim to Fame: El Sistema Venezuela; Violinist/Composer/Conductor; Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, LA Philharmonic


*     *     *

Nadia Sirota and Gustavo Dudamel are two, very different Millennial classical musicians, but they align on the international stage as performing artists trying to make a positive difference in the world through the amazing power of music.

Join me soon for Part 3 of this series, where I will explore the backgrounds and accomplishments of an extraordinarily hip pianist and a tremendous violinist with a rather quirky sense of humor.



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Catherine Starek


Colorado Springs, CO

I'm a Millennial who loves classical music, symphony orchestras, and working in the performing arts. MA, Arts Management [American University (Washington, DC)]; BA, Music Education [UNC-Wilmington]; Professional flutist, #ArtsMgtChat host, The League's Orchestra Leadership Academy, class of 2011.

All posts by Catherine Starek

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