Artist Interview: Ayane Kozasa, viola

By Jessica Wolford on April 19, 2017

Violist Ayane Kozasa makes her PCMS recital debut on Friday, May 5 with pianist Amy Yang. The 2011 Primrose International Viola Competition Winner enjoys a unique career that has taken her to festivals around the world. She maintains a busy schedule as a member of the Aizuri Quartet and as a soloist—both which provide opportunities to play chamber music and commission new works. In our interview, Ms. Kozasa talked about transitioning from the violin to viola, the May 5 program, her collaborations with Ms. Yang and composer Paul Wiancko, upcoming projects, and her beloved viola.

Jessica Wolford: You are a violinist turned violist. Can you talk about what drew you to the viola and away from the violin?

Ayane Kozasa: I honestly started out playing the viola because I wanted to play chamber music with my best friends at college, but there were a lot of violinists. When I did my undergrad studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music, they had a program called the "Intensive Quartet Seminar." Each semester, a group of five or six student quartets got a chance to extensively study a series of quartets (i.e. the six Bartók quartets, the six Op. 18 Beethoven quartets, etc). Even though I wasn't a major, the program was kind enough to let me join with my friends. What started out as chamber music "for fun" ended up becoming an in-depth study of the beautiful inner-voice parts of the string quartet. That's when I decided that I would take viola seriously, and during my senior year of college, I switched my major.

JW: Your recital on May 5 is quite special. Could you tell us more about the evening’s program?

AK: It's a recital that encompasses everything I love about the viola. I'm a die-hard Enescu lover and a big fan of the Arnold Bax Sonata. I've always adored Schubert and have been trying to see which of his pieces work well on the viola (some of the Winterreise songs work really well for viola and piano!). I love discovering, unearthing works for the viola as well as creating new ones. I think going through the viola rep is like going on an expedition through a rain forest—some things are beautiful, some things are WILD, and a lot is still yet to be discovered.

JW: The program also features collaborations with pianist Amy Yang and composer Paul Wiancko. Could you describe these and how they came about?

AK: Amy is the best! I got to play with her a few times when I was at the Curtis Institute of Music, and I've always been totally in love with her musicality. We've played a few works for viola/piano, and she also collaborated with my quartet, the Aizuri Quartet. It is pure joy to work together, and I am so glad we can do it again on the PCMS series! The program wouldn't be complete without the artistry of Amy Yang.

I first commissioned a work from Paul three years ago: a viola/cello duo called "American Haiku." I felt that there were not enough viola/cello pieces out there that could stand on their own, and I really hoped that this piece would change that. What Paul wrote was far beyond my expectations. We've taken "American Haiku" to many American cities as well as a few recitals in Japan. What moved me about the piece was that, though it's about Paul's heritage as a half-Japanese, half-American musician, somehow it really resonated with many listeners, no matter what their background. I feel that Paul's voice as a composer is extraordinary, so when this PCMS recital opportunity came up, I immediately knew I wanted to commission him again for a viola sonata. So excited to make this PCMS concert the world premiere of "Buoyant Forces"!

JW: What’s next on the books for you? Any special projects, tours, or collaborations?

AK: In a few weeks, the Aizuri Quartet will go to Japan, and that means a lot to me since my family will get to hear us live for the first time. Then off to summer festivals in California, Washington state, DC, New Jersey, and Germany! I'm also turning a very special age this year, so I hope to plan some epic, non-music-related travel adventures. Other than that, I really want to perfect my skills at making pies and all the different kinds of breads.

Some of Ayane Kozasa's recent baking endeavors

JW: Lastly, our audiences enjoy learning about the instruments our artists play on. Could you tell us about your viola, its history and tendencies, and how you chose that specific instrument?

AK: My viola is a Joseph Hel viola from 1889, made in Lille, France. It was owned by the great violinist Joseph Fuchs. It's on loan to me by a very generous sponsor, for which I am super grateful! It's on the smaller side of violas, something I love, maybe because I'm a violinist turned violist.

Ayane Kozasa appears in recital with pianist Amy Yang on Friday, May 5 at 8pm at Benjamin Franklin Hall. For tickets and information, visit the concert page

For more information on Ms. Kozasa, please visit her website.