Never burn your bridges and always be collegial,” Michael Klotz (M.M. ’02, violin; M.M. ’02, viola) advises. The words may be well worn, but there’s a lot of truth to them, as he has learned over the years.
Klotz is what many Juilliard students aspire to be: a working musician. A member of the Amernet Quartet since 2002, he’s on the viola and chamber music faculties at Florida International University in Miami and is also an artist-in-residence there. With the Amernet he performs, commissions, records, tours, and does outreach work; he also takes private students (one of whom is now at Juilliard); and manages to squeeze in time with his wife and son.
Klotz’s road to becoming a musician began early. “I like to joke that I attended Eastman from age 8 until 22, but it’s actually the truth,” he told The Journal recently. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he started playing the violin at age 7 and entered Eastman’s version of Pre-College the next year, stayed on for college, and took up the viola in his junior year. “I did it purely for fun and to see what it was like to have a C string,” he recalled. But he got more intrigued and decided to audition for both instruments at Juilliard, where he studied violin with Lewis Kaplan (B.S. ’58, M.S. ’60) and viola with Toby Appel. “At Juilliard I was very active on both violin and viola in school and around New York, but I began to feel closer to the viola, most likely because of the rich tone that I could produce,” he added
It’s somewhat unusual to get degrees in both instruments, and while Klotz said his approach to each is similar, he added that “on the viola I tend to play things more in the lower half of the bow. I also articulate notes with a bit more power than on the violin and tend to draw the bow a bit slower.”
Klotz’s path to the Amernet was Juilliard-centric. Shortly before completing his degrees here, he and Misha Vitenson (M.M. ’02, violin) auditioned for and won openings in the quartet. Eight years later, Klotz’s Juilliard roommate Jason Calloway (B.M. ’02, Artist Diploma ’09, cello) joined the ensemble—and violinist Marcia Littley (B.M. ’91) is also an alum. In 2004, after being at Northern Kentucky University for a few years, the quartet took residency at Florida International and they maintain a dizzying performance schedule. In the next seven months, they’ll tour Serbia, Taiwan, Singapore, and Israel along with numerous concerts and master classes around the U.S.
Not surprisingly, Juilliard connections are strong for the Amernet—hence Klotz’s advice about not burning bridges. While concertizing in Jerusalem in October, the ensemble performed the Brahms Piano Quintet with Ron Regev (M.M. ’00, D.M.A. ’05, piano), who was Calloway’s theory teaching fellow; they’ll also perform with Regev in Jerusalem on May 14. On January 12, they’ll give a concert in Miami with faculty member Michael Tree; on February 4, they’ll collaborate with Gary Levinson (B.M. ’88, M.M. ’91, violin) and Edward Arron (B.M. ’98, cello). Earlier this year they performed with Milana Strezeva (B.M. ’00, M.M. ’02, piano) in Palm Beach, Fla., and Toby Appel has also performed with them.
The quartet also commissions and records—most recently new works by Chinary Ung and Jeffrey Briggs. And they also try to give exposure to under-played composers, one recent example being Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a contemporary of Shostakovich. Their outreach concerts often include a stylized music history lesson they’ve created using Peter Heidrich’s Happy Birthday Variations, which progress from a Bach-style chorale setting of “Happy Birthday” to blending the tune with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. The goal is to create an audience for the future, one “Happy Birthday” variation at a time. Because if you want to continuing being a working musician, you always need new audiences.