Meet the Musicians: Principal Viola Leslie Van Becker

Name: Leslie Van Becker
Birthplace: Berkeley, CA
Instrument/Title: Principal Viola
Member since: 1978 

How did you get started in music?   

In the fourth grade, my elementary school in Colorado Springs started us on instruments. I wanted to play the cello but the only instrument they had left was a viola—so that is how I started. My dad was an English professor at Colorado College and I got to study with a violist there. 

How would you define your instrument’s role in the orchestra? 

I love the tone of the viola. I love playing the inner voice—I feel like I am inside the music.  

What’s your earliest musical memory? 

When I was in high school I was in the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. We played only Baroque and early Classical music, and we played all the Bach keyboard concertos with fantastic crazy harpsichordists. I loved it. 

When I first graduated from Yale with my Master of Music I got the job in Grand Rapids. I used to fly back and take lessons with William Lincer who had been principal viola in the New York Philharmonic for 40 years. When I studied with him he was teaching at Juilliard. He was such an amazing musician and so generous with me. He taught me how to be a good leader and how to play in an orchestra. And what stories I heard about Leonard Bernstein and the Philharmonic!!! I think of him every day in my teaching and in my playing. I am deeply grateful for and to him and I try to pass everything on to my students. 

What would you consider to be the musical highlight of your career? 

I usually love what I am playing at the moment. I like good music of all styles. In orchestra and chamber music playing Mahler, Shostakovich and, of course, Beethoven takes me over the moon. 

What made you want to join Grand Rapids Symphony? 

I love the downtown Heritage Hill area and the Grand River. My husband and I have lived in Heritage Hill the whole time we have been in GR. We love the diversity of our area and of course the old houses. We have restored five houses and still are excited about our neighborhood. Of course, now we have great restaurants and bars and shops—what’s not to love? 

What is your pet peeve?   

People who leave trash on the ground and people who do not recycle. 

What music do you enjoy listening to—classical or otherwise? 

I love modern classical music—the crazier and more dissonant the better. I think chamber music is my favorite thing to play, although nothing beats a really loud ending in an orchestral piece. I am obsessed with Fado singers, tango, salsa—anything Latin! I love soul, gospel, R&B, Billy Holiday, Bessie Smith, Rolling Stones and the Beatles. I like quite a bit of pop—I love playing shows—I guess you could say I like music in general!!!   

What advice would you give to young beginning musicians? 

Practice, practice and practice. Listen to music—live music and recordings. Really listen to what your teachers say to you, listen to your friends that you play music with. Be curious about all music—really work at what you are doing—do not be lazy when you are playing or practicing. 

What would you like people to know about the Grand Rapids Symphony?   

I would like people to know the level of commitment each musician in the Grand Rapids Symphony has to music. We have all studied and studied; practiced and practiced—we agonize over our musical phrasing, listen to recordings and study musical scores of the pieces that we play at our concerts in Grand Rapids. We love playing music for our wonderful Grand Rapids audience.  

Posted by Sam Napolitan at 6:00 AM
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