A nigun is a Hebrew melody, and it is also the name of the classical piece that violist Tatjana Mead Chamis will be performing Sunday, Jan. 11, at a chamber music concert sponsored by Chatham University.
Chamis, an associate principal viola with the Pittsburgh Symphony, was contacted directly by the Russian-Israeli composer of “Nigun,” Boris Pigovat, who asked her if she would play the solo viola composition. Chamis’ initial impression of “Nigun” was, “It’s a really beautiful, soulful and powerful piece. It’s modern, but not at all difficult to listen to; it speaks right away to the listener,” adding, “It has Jewish themes and has a very Jewish feeling to it.”
“Nigun” makes its Pittsburgh premiere at the concert Sunday, and the concert also marks the first time that this group of musicians will be playing together. All four women are former students of The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, one of the country’s most prestigious conservatories. Works by Brahms and Schumann will also be performed.
Chamis moved to Pittsburgh some 11 years ago when she auditioned for a position with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She has played with the Utah Symphony, music festivals and travels extensively with the Pittsburgh Symphony.
A Franklin Park resident, she is a member of Temple Ohav Shalom, along with her daughter, twin sons and husband, the Brazilian-born conductor and composer, Flavio Chamis. Most recently, she and her husband collaborated this past summer — for her birthday, he wrote a suite that she performed at the Bach Beethoven and Brunch concert series in Mellon Park.
Chamis began playing violin at age 7, but when her family moved to Utah, she studied under a Russian-Jewish violist, Mikhail Boguslavsky, who convinced her to switch to the viola.
Ironically, it was Boguslavsky who helped put her back in touch with her Jewish roots. Chamis’ mother was born Jewish but raised her children to be Mormon. Through Chamis’ relationship with her mentor, other Jewish musicians and her Jewish-born husband, she has rediscovered her Jewish origins.
“There are many Jewish composers, conductors and musicians out there; music is very rich in Jewish history,” Chamis said.
In fact, Chamis hopes to have the opportunity to play another composition by Pigovat called “Requiem: The Holocaust,” an award-winning piece written for the viola.
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)