Artist Spotlight: Kirsten Docter

Kirsten Docter

Kirsten Docter, associate professor of viola at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, spent much of her career (23 years) with the award-winning Cavani Quartet. She left the quartet about two and a half years ago, shortly before their Geneva Music Festival (GMF) debut, but still has connections to the festival. Docter taught current Cavani violinist and frequent GMF performer Eric Wong and met GMF Director Geoffrey Herd when he was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

“At a certain point, I feel like all musicians have one-degree of separation from each other,” she laughs, adding that she has also performed with Clive Greensmith, who returns to the festival this year for the chamber music finale.

Docter’s career has brought her to all 50 states, with concerts on major series and festivals throughout North America, Europe, and Australia, and numerous appointments as a master class clinician and teacher. She left Cavani to take a teaching position at Oberlin.

“Eventually, my career migrated to a little less travel and more teaching,” she says. At Oberlin, she divides her time between private lessons and running the chamber music program. Docter notes, “I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years now, so I have what I’d call student-grandchildren—students whose parents I taught.”

She enjoys teaching for the opportunity to develop these types of longer relationships, and because her performance career and teaching career feed each other. “I treasure both; I feel like I’m better at each because of the other. I learn from students as they work on a performance and that helps me prepare for mine,” Docter explains.

One could also say teaching is in her DNA. Her parents were both in music education, “In fact, all of the members of Cavani at the time I was with the quartet had parents who were music educators,” she says, noting hers were both chorale directors.

Her mother worked in a school that had a Suzuki program and was intrigued by it so Docter got an early start in music at just four years old. “It was really in the first decade of Suzuki in the United States when I started violin in Minneapolis,” she says.

When she reached the age that most other children were just taking up an instrument at school, her mother convinced her to try viola. For a while, she played both. This had its benefits, she says, pointing out, “I got to do things I maybe wouldn’t have otherwise because I played the viola and there were so few kids who did.”

Docter has never spent time in the Finger Lakes but has driven through the region many times in her years of travel. “It’s so beautiful. I’m really pleased that I’ll be able to stop and play there and make beautiful music with some great people,” says Docter, adding “I love that people choose to do summer festivals in beautiful places!”

Docter is also excited about the pieces she’s playing, particularly Shulamit Ran, “Lyre of Orpheus.” She explains, “I have taught her solo viola piece to three students and got to meet her.”

She will join the 2019 Geneva Music Festival as part of the “Clive Greensmith and Friends: Chamber Music Finale,” on Friday, June 14 in Skaneateles and Saturday, June 15 in Geneva. In the meantime, see and hear her online.

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