Moving on up: Milan Milisavljević is MET's new Principal ViolaInterview
After 12 seasons as Assistant Principal Violist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, 2018⁄19 will mark Milan Milisavljević’s first season as Principal Violist. It’s rare nin North America for a player to move up within his own orchestral section, and Milisavljević is only the fifth person to hold his new post since the founding of the Met.
We spoke with Milisavljević about the unique psychology of blind auditions - playing behind a screen, so the player’s identity is unknown - and the ups and downs of playing in the pit for one of the world’s most iconic, news-worthy opera companies.
What can you tell us about the psychology of playing a blind audition?
I personally don’t mind blind auditions because I’m a big believer in behavioral psychology - visual information provokes biased thinking when it comes to ranking musicians, whether we like it or not. But for me, the biggest factor in performance, which is to create an authentic connection with the listener, is heightened in importance when having only one’s ears for judgment. I like to imagine playing for a small child whose attention I have to keep by telling him a story with my playing. I feel that playing with courage, absolutely clear intention, true conviction and love for each note goes a long way in all auditions, including blind ones.
How does a group like the MET Orchestra stay focused on their work amid the highs and lows of the company?
We’re all human and it’s inevitable that what happens at the company affects emotions and morale. That said, I’m lucky that I work with an extraordinarily professional group of people who allow little to stay in the way of their dedication to their job. Every organization has ups and downs and we’re no different. That said, our true love for what we do keeps us going regardless of the headlines.
You wrote about your new post as Principal Violist, “I will help the Met’s viola section…enter a new, vastly different period, the one we all deeply wanted” - can you describe more what you mean?
The Met viola section, like any orchestra section, is a diverse group of personalities and temperaments. Any section can have great harmony as well as tremendous strife. With a change of personnel and myself becoming Principal after twelve years of sitting Third Chair, I hope to usher an era of cooperation, artistic integrity and excellence that my section mates and I desired and can finally have.
What do you enjoy about playing in the MET Orchestra, and what about your work is unique to playing opera?
I love playing in the MET Orchestra because of its outstanding refinement, deep sense of teamwork, wide range of expression and tremendous power. I think a lot about the importance of meaning, of knowing one’s mission. Musicians of the Met Orchestra know very clearly what our mission is - to serve and support singers and make gorgeous music every night, to nurture opera, and especially, to create a way of playing that is deeply sensitive to the voice and its idiosyncrasies. Knowing this gives us a quiet but inextinguishable sense of who we are. That is a mission in which I truly believe and want to serve.