Erika Eckert is associate professor of viola at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

(Photo: Courtesy Erika Eckert)
When violist Erika Eckert sets out to plan and perform a recital, she searches for music that explores a theme or tells a memorable story.

Eckert, associate professor of viola at the University of Colorado in Boulder, presents her newest recital program, “Family: A Musical Portrait,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Grusin Music Hall on the CU-Boulder campus.

Her selections for the program grew out of several recent milestones in her life, including the loss of a parent, the wedding of a sibling and the birth of her brother’s child.

She'll play two pieces by composer Hilary Tann, titled "Mother and Son" and "A Girl's Song to Her Mother."  The program also features a piece by Estonian composer Arvo Part  for alto, violin and viola, as well as music by Hunter Ewen, an in-house composer at CU, who wrote a piece for viola and electronics.

Eckert co-founded the Cavani String Quartet and traveled the world with the group before becoming a professor about 20 years ago. More recently she’s played occasional quintet performanceswith the Takacs Quartet, also based at CU-Boulder's College of Music. Locally, she’s also appeared with the Boulder Bach Festival and Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

She spoke with CPR Classical about her approach to finding music for a recital, her work as a mentor to young viola players and what she does just before she goes onstage for a performance. Click the audio link above to hear it.

Interview highlights:

On why she likes finding a theme when she selects music for a recital:

“I took a sabbatical in 2010 and started venturing into the idea of performances being more of a place to allow people to have an experience, to connect with something deeper inside themselves. So I stopped looking at programming as trying to represent different time periods … or doing some of the big masterworks. But I started theming the programs. … What I love is when people come backstage afterwards and they don’t necessarily speak to me and say, “Oh , you know, that was amazing playing’ or whatever, but they say, ‘Oh my gosh, I had the most amazing experience listening to that piece.’ And so I guess this is just a direction I’ve been wanting to go creatively.”

On how her approach for developing themed recitals inspires some of the advice she gives her students when they prepare for their own performances:

“In preparing even the standard works with them, we still work a lot on the idea of how they need to work on the technique of what they’re doing. But they need to be very in tune with the expression that they’re putting in to the music because that’s part of what the audience’s experience is.”

On the thrills and challenges of traveling and sitting in with the internationally renowned Takacs Quartet when the group plays a quintet piece that calls for an extra viola:

“It’s the most exciting thing I get to do every year. Sitting in with a group like that is amazing. I can’t think of a better word for it. You just need to not get in your own way, because the energy of what they do just carries you along and it’s really a treat.”

The program for Tuesday’s recital:

Hilary Tann: “A Girl’s Song to Her Mother”
Hilary Tann: “Mother and Son”
Arvo Part: “Es sang vor langen Jahren”
Hunter Ewen: “Circles on Quiet Water”
Dan Welcher: “Tickets for a Prayer Wheel”
Peter Seabourne: “Pieta”

Hear more music from Erika Eckert on Colorado Spotlight with Charley Samson at 7 p.m. Sunday.