A new generation with enthusiasm for the viola

Sào Soulez Larivière und Muriel Razavi  | © Clara Evans / Verena Bruening

Muriel Razavi and Sào Soulez Larivière took up their viola professorships at the University Mozarteum Salzburg on October 1. Both have received numerous awards, are active worldwide as soloists and chamber musicians, and invest a great deal in the future of classical music. 

Famous composers like J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, L. v. Beethoven and A. Dvořák liked to play the viola. Some of them created outstanding works for this special and versatile instrument and yet for many musicians the viola is not the first choice, often the way leads over the violin and the love for the instrument develops with the playing. Thus the viola has a special role in chamber music: it is the middle voice, fills the harmony and "warms" the ensemble from within. Usually it is not as exposed as the violin, yet it radiates from the middle, often taking over long melodies or rhythmically prominent interjections. It's a game: finding the right balance in polyphony and blending into the alternating role of solo or supporting voice. If you think this is easy, you're wrong. Violas have undergone major structural changes over the centuries, gaining in body size and increased sonority. The further development of the repertoire for this instrument is close to the hearts of the two artists Muriel Razavi and Sào Soulez Larivière, and new music is an obvious choice, although they also want to rediscover older, unknown works.

Starting in October, the two will pass on their individual experiences to students. Muriel Razavi previously worked for two years as a mentor at the Leipzig University of Music and Theatre, supporting students in their professional preparation for the music business. "It is not necessarily about perfection, of course the technical basis and a sound understanding of music must be present, but beyond that the musical communication and the vibrations we share with colleagues on stage and with the audience are of great importance" as Razavi points out. Sào Larivière also began working with younger artists and fellow students at an early age: "I also see myself now as a colleague of young musicians who work together and grow with each other. I want to pass on the joy of music to students." Both maintain a very collegial approach and want to learn together with their respective students, accompany them part of the way and support them in their development. "It would be very nice for me if students take away something for the future of their identity as musicians* in addition to the technique and repertoire," as Larivière tells us. Razavi is also convinced that "a successful career doesn't just happen in a room. She will try to bring the music world closer to the students by also looking beyond the "horizon" of the university. It is important to convey industry-relevant information on academies, auditions, invitations to tender, further training opportunities, master classes, foundations, and know-how on how to market oneself correctly and appropriately as a freelancer. In addition, the conception, i.e. the thoughts behind the music, plays an essential role. Both see great importance in the development of interesting programs and the telling of stories with music. That, too, should be taught to students. It's not about training instrumentalists at the university, but about supporting musicians in their development.

The American-Iranian violist Muriel Razavi also sees her work as shaped by her cultural and linguistic backgrounds: "There is something incredibly unifying about music. It's a language that can be understood by everyone, and I want to emphasize that aspect in my work." Razavi acquired degrees in the humanities in addition to her musical training. She was concerned with religion, culture and history, especially of the Near East.  Joining Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said's "West-Estern Divan Orchestra" provided an opportunity to combine the two fields of interest. Again, it was thinking outside the box that allowed her to grow. She researches re-orientalism in contemporary music by Iranian female composers from the "Iranian Female Composers Association." This work informs performances of contemporary works. "Whether you're a composer or a musician, the relationship to your own life, society and politics is reflected in our work," Razavi notes.

The two violists share an impressive list of awards and competitions they have won, yet they agree that competitions are not essential to a musician's career. However, they grow with the challenge, and it's good practice for auditions. Razavi expressly welcomes competitions that focus on storytelling and program conception. Larivière appreciates the experience gained at competitions through rehearsing repertoire and exchanging ideas with other musicians. Asked about their wishes for the future of classical music, they paint a picture that applies not only to music: openness to all genders, nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Openness to new processes and formats in concerts. Confidence in the young generation and in the music of the future. One could really feel the music in Salzburg and recognize the joy of music in society. These are wonderful prerequisites for the future. In this sense: Welcome!


Muriel Razavi is engaged both in contemporary music, including that of Iranian women composers, and in historical performance practice as a baroque violist. She is a member of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim and the soloist ensemble "Mutter's Virtuosi" under the musical direction of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Prior to her appointment, she was deputy principal violist of the MDR Symphony Orchestra Leipzig. She studied with Tabea Zimmermann, Nils Mönkemeyer and Tatjana Masurenko. In 2019, she completed her master's degree with Wilfried Strehle at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Muriel Razavi is pursuing her doctorate at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg under the artistic supervision of Daniel Barenboim. In addition to her music studies, Muriel Razavi holds a Bachelor's degree in "History and Culture of the Near East - Iranian Studies" from the FU Berlin and a Master's degree in "Religion and Culture" from the HU Berlin. She plays on a viola made for her by the French violin maker Patrick Robin and an Alemannic baroque viola based on a historical model by Dorothea van der Woerd.

Born in Paris, French-Dutch violist Sào Soulez Larivière is a member of the Frielinghaus Ensemble. The accessibility and perception of classical music are of particular concern to him. Chamber music was central to his musical upbringing from an early age, and he shared his love of music with his sister, violinist Cosima Soulez Larivière, with whom he performs frequently. He is committed to expanding the viola repertoire, enjoys arranging works for his instrument, and promotes contemporary music. Collaborating with renowned composers, he delves deeply into the creative side of music. Sào Soulez Larivière first began playing the violin before receiving a scholarship to study with Natasha Boyarsky at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England, where he discovered the viola while playing chamber and orchestral music. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree at the Hochschule für Musik "Hanns Eisler" Berlin with Tabea Zimmermann. He is currently completing the Professional Studies program at Kronberg Academy, where he also earned his Master's degree.


(First published in Uni-Nachrichten / Salzburger Nachrichten on October 7, 2023)

Spot On MozarART