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Interviews

Joy in Collaboration: A Conversation with Catherine Rinderknecht Moritz (Part One)

Violinist Catherine Rinderknecht-Moritz Headshot

November 1, 2023

I’m Erika
 I’m a violinist and teacher based in the Seattle area. I love learning everything about the violin, how to be a more effective teacher and holistic player, and new ways to approach repertoire and artistry.
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(Originally published May 25, 2019)

Lately, I’ve been on a podcast interview kick, listening to some fantastic conversations on the Bulletproof Musician and Being Boss podcasts. I love gaining new insights on peak performance, artistry, practicing, and life hacks from elite musicians, athletes, and creative entrepreneurs. While I eagerly await each new interview with performers like Hilary Hahn, Steven Isserlis, and Joyce DiDonato, it’s also inspiring to hear from our peers. One of my goals since starting the blog last year is to highlight musicians working to create vibrant, sustainable artistic careers as teachers and performers within our communities. 

I’m excited to share this first interview with my friend and former colleague, Catherine Rinderknecht Moritz. Catherine is a violinist dedicated to connecting with people through the shared experience of music-performing, teaching, and collaborating with others to enhance our human experience. Praised for her “innate artistry”, she strives to bond deeply with music and convey it with the utmost care, vulnerability, and sincerity. 

An advocate for new music and collaboration, Catherine actively commissions and promotes new works for solo unaccompanied violin. In 2016, she commissioned and premiered a series of solo violin pieces for her project entitled, “There is No Comfort Zone” and was a co-commissioner of Stephanie Ann Boyd’s Amerigo violin sonata (2015), giving the Oklahoma premiere as part of the composer’s 50 State Sonata Project. 

Catherine is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts program in Violin Performance and Pedagogy at the University of Iowa. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance with distinction at the University of Iowa and her Master of Music degree in Violin Performance at the University of Oklahoma. Her principal teachers include Scott Conklin, Hal Grossman, and Doris Preucil. Learn more about Catherine and read her blog at http://www.crinderknecht.com/

In this two-part conversation from this past year, we discuss pushing your boundaries, collaborating with living composers, and musical accessibility in rural America. 


EB: So when I first met you, I was so impressed by your commitment to playing music written for you by composers at the University of Oklahoma and elsewhere. I was wondering what first drew you to contemporary classical music?

CRM: It’s really funny, I like to tell people I am not the poster child for being a fan of contemporary classical music. I was that person, when I did Theory IV—where we learned about how a lot of this works and starts to deviate from the general public conception of classical music—that was like, “why am I learning about this? This sounds like someone sat on a piano. What is this?” It made me angry. I didn’t get it. I understood mathematically how the theory worked, but I just didn’t like it. And I gradually softened a little bit through my undergrad, but I still wasn’t a fan. So it seems really weird that I’ve been really into contemporary classical music, but one of the things that drew me in and that I love most about music is collaboration. I found that I enjoyed making music with people that I like talking about music with, that I liked working with, or that I like spending time non-musically with. I found that even if somebody had a different aesthetic musical language than I did, if I liked how they talked about music, I could find something in their music to connect to. 

EB: Is that a matter then of kind of translating someone else’s ideas into your own language or more adapting your aesthetic to kind of meld with theirs? 

CRM: I think it’s finding something that you can really sell to people, some aspects of it that you relate to. One of the things that I stress when I perform or collaborate is music is about sharing and being human. So I look for something that just strikes me about a specific example of being human. Usually I go very personal on it because that’s just me. I find something that it reminded me of… I remember there was one piece I worked on that I commissioned a couple of years ago. It was completely not my aesthetic at all, and it was really hard for me to get into. But I really wanted to. I remember it was a series of miniatures, and [in] one of them, I figured out some sort of formal thing. And as soon as I figure that out, I figured out what kind of narrative I wanted to construct through it. And then it made more sense, and it was really fun to figure out how to make that obvious to an audience. 

EB: See, I love narrative-based approaches to music because it allows someone to take something they may not know how to interpret, but they can find emotional connections to a piece. When you commission a piece, are you requesting something that has a narrative, or what do you look for in a piece that you want composed for you? 

CRM: I actually had a really specific thing in mind. I wanted solo violin music, not because we don’t have enough, but for the idea of accessibility. Being from rural Iowa, I always ran into difficulties trying to find a pianist that I could just hand music to without giving it to them for four months, and often I couldn’t plan something for months in advance especially once I was through college or in grad school. And pianists are hard to find or hard to bring them or they cost a lot of money. This doesn’t make sense. There’s also just a limitation of not every place I want to play has a piano. My idea was, I need pieces that can go anywhere I can go, like I could play in a barn! So actually my only guidelines really were, write something for a solo violin, not too long so I can string a few pieces together, and make it sound like it’s a violin. It needs to actually sound like a violin. Not, here let me make just tapping sounds on the violin or something ridiculous. Now some of the pieces ended up having some other elements, like I did tap my violin and play in one. But, it still sounded like a violin; it’s recognizable that it’s a violin. I had to chant in one. In Sanskrit. 

EB: That was part of your “There Is No Comfort Zone” project, right? 

CRM: Yeah. That was kind of the arbitrary name I gave it just in conversation with the composers because they were all vaguely uncomfortable for different reasons writing for solo violin. Either with just the idea of solo violin or with the type of requirements I gave them because it was mostly not too long, so it was like no more than 10 minutes. And they were all like, oh. I had one composer that was like, I’m used to writing really really long things. This is a little weird, but this is cool! 

EB: That’s so fascinating to me because I remember being there at that recital, and I would have thought that maybe the no-comfort zone might be for you in particular, but to realize it was for them too is something to think about. 

CRM: It’s not only just them; it was me sometimes trying different aesthetics, and also for the audience first, I was really bold with the “you’ll not walk away singing some of these, and that’s okay.” I still remember my dad’s comment afterwards, it’s not only out of the box, there is no box! 

EB: What were some of the challenges of that project? 

CRM: Getting a timeline together was really tricky and figuring out when I could do it. And [to] get all the pieces to me at a certain time. I had one composer give me a piece like a month after I asked for it because I think he was thinking about writing something for solo violin anyway, so it coincided nicely for him. I had another one where I only ended up playing a movement of it because that’s all that existed. 

EB: Wow. 

CRM: And then the rest of it got written. That was actually Jonathan Annis’ piece that I played on his recital. Only the little movement existed when I gave mine, so his recital was actually the full premiere of it… So that was a challenge, getting that all lined up and then learning it all and figuring out how to champion it. Another challenge was figuring out how do I create an audience for this? And how do I make people want to go to this when it’s an afternoon of music that most people would not choose to necessarily seek out to hear? 

EB: What did you find successful for audience recruitment? 

CRM: Large amounts of enthusiasm help. And I actually had fun being really to be honest about how it’s sometimes really weird, but a lot of people wanted to hear it simply because they knew me and wanted to hear me do something. I also had a lot of fun showing creative work-in-progress pictures of how things were going. My favorite one was when I was trying out the yoga piece [Prana] where I had to chant, and I couldn’t do all the poses that Joe Rebman wanted to do because he’s now a yoga instructor, and I am not gifted at yoga, and I fall down my face half the time. But, I actually tried out as fully as I could while still playing one of the poses he suggested in different areas, or I tried to do that to see what [would] being in this posture do for this section. I also kind of revised it down for my skill level in some places because I thought that was helpful, because one spot was a headstand, and I was like, no, I can’t do that. Not even with the violin, no, without a violin, no, still no. 

EB: Goodness gracious no. 

CRM: That’s not something that I can relate to so… 

EB: Yehudi Menuhin might have been able to do it. 

CRM: Yeah. No, not me. So, I decided to kind of tweak it to what I might do on a yoga practice based on my skill level and my needs and yoga. So it worked for me, but it was really cool because I actually managed to take one picture where I was in warrior two—just the legs and playing the violin, and it was really kind of fun. And, apparently people thought it was really cool that I was doing that. 

EB: It’s unconventional, and I think sometimes unconventional things at least draw attention, and then you can meet them where their interest is. 

CRM: Right. Yeah, I can found that where people are like, oh, why are you doing this? Well, I’m playing a piece about yoga, and it’s helping me figure out the piece. Oh, that’s kind of cool. What’s the deal with this piece? It only gets people interested in something. You’re finding something that people relate to. It’s like a lot of people might not play violin, but they might do yoga. 

EB: Yeah. So, have you had opportunities to play any of the pieces on that project more recently, or is that something you’re looking forward to doing in the future? I know how hard it is for composers to get a second performance of a work. 

CRM: Yeah. No, that’s something that I have difficulty with on that. I kind of want to remedy that. Really, the only piece I’ve been able to give a second performance of was the entirety of [Jonathan Annis’] piece because I played that on my first recital then. Since I’d played it on his recital the previous fall, it was a good fit. So I’d like to. I just have to figure out how I’m going to do that. I also really want to figure out how to get multiple performances. So when I started this, the idea kind of behind it was to get this collection of pieces that I can keep in my repertoire and pull out since they’re short pieces, put different combinations together and play at different times on different programs. And kind of put together something that feels like a good fit. I have not gotten to do that because [of] life and academia and school. But I’m kind of actually getting really energized right now by working on how to do that sort of thing and how to actually take it into rural Iowa. There’s this organization that does work at the University of Iowa called Arts Share. One of their goals is to bring art into all 99 counties in Iowa, and they have relationships with key contacts in almost all of the counties. They’re at 84 of 99, which is kind of impressive. And so I kind of took that as a model. Like, what would it be like if I could eventually, at some point, play some collection of these pieces in every county? You know, what would that look like? What kind of venues? So it’s a very long term thing. But, you can do that and get 40 performances, even if you get a large pile of pieces and rotate pieces through, of a piece and that would make composers super happy. 

EB: Yeah, that’s so exciting. 

CRM: I’m not talking reaching the ends of the river or anything here, but you’re talking that many performances. So, that’s one of the things that I would like to do is find opportunities to give repeat performances cause that’s a thing that pedagogically bothers me as well. That we often teach or learn contemporary music for a specific performance, and unless you’ve put together a program and figure out how to do it again, you just do it once. And then that’s sad. 

EB: Yeah. So your all-county comment reminded me that part of the project you did was the 50 States Sonata premiere of Stephanie Ann Boyd’s piece, Amerigo. How did you get involved in that, and what was it like to be part of a 50 state premiere? 

CRM: Oh that was really cool. Actually, fun story! I remember I had a couple lessons with Mr. [Hal] Grossman the fall after my masters degree… He just forwarded me this e-mail cause apparently Stephanie had contacted people in each state, talked to professors and students, people she knew, and was like, “hey, would you be interested in doing this? I would like to do this; it’s inspired by my time with my teacher, John Kendall.” Which I thought was really cool because he was one of the first Suzuki teachers in the United States, and I grew up studying with Doris Preucil, who was another one of the first ones. So I was like, this is a really cool connection; I shouldn’t miss this. And also, I’m commissioning music right now so this is cool. And so I just replied; she was like, okay, you’re it. And then I got to Skype a couple times with her and just talk about my perceptions of music, where I’m from, some nuts and bolts things. She had some really cool ideas, but it was really fun to just bounce them off of her. She asked a lot about our musical taste, what inspires us. 

EB: Had she written the piece before you got in contact with her or did she take a lot of the different commissioner’s… 

CRM: She took different things into consideration. So what ended up happening is that piece ended up being based on different time zones in the U.S. And then Hawaii and Alaska each got their own thing… so that was really cool. I thought so because she noticed some similarities through different time zone areas. And so each movement was named… for a location in that time zone. And so as I prepared that, I actually brought up all those things. I’m like, oh, what made her write this like this? Oh, this is cool. That was a fun experience going through, and she welcomed any feedback when we were like, hey this isn’t working musically. I mean, she’s a violinist. There wasn’t a lot of that, but there was a little bit of hey, this tempo is a little weird here, or do you care if I break bows here? You know cause some composers are really picky about that. Couple things of wait, this isn’t going to sustain, are you okay with that? I know you know this ,but are you okay with that? She’s like, yeah, I want this. Oh, okay. Some notational things that it’s like, oh, clarifying. But [it] was really cool to work with her on that. 

EB: Wow. So has playing contemporary classical music changed your approach to playing more standard repertoire? Or do you find they inform each other? 

CRM: They do inform each other. I kind of like the idea that I’ve gotten from playing contemporary classical music that all music was once new, so what are you bringing to it? Very much approaching it from the idea that each composer has a thing that they intend to get across. Sometimes they’re explicit about what they intend to get across, sometimes they aren’t, and sometimes you imply that based on the rest of their life, and that’s okay. Sometimes they don’t want you to do that, but sometimes it just came out anyways. But filtering whatever they intend through your playing and who you are as a person and bringing that to our audience. So it’s a really interesting thing since each performance even of standard repertoire is new. And so I’ve been trying to use that mindset more often. Rather than, oh yes, the great ones do it all like this. Therefore, do this. 

EB: Does that sometimes cause you to butt heads with people who have influence over you in terms of teaching or coaching? Or do you find them to be more open to your ideas and interpretation? 

CRM: Usually what I’ve found is, because at least with standard pieces, it’s based more on just some sort of historical informing. Most professors are very excited about that. They’re like, oh yeah you’re being very studied, you’re being very sincere about your intent and the composer’s intent. Good. Occasionally it leads to some, okay, so what does that mean if we have either different practices in modern playing or differences in instrument, and that’s fine. It’s a really good starting point. I feel like this would most clearly come across in Bach. Bach is always a good example, and it’s been awhile since I’ve actually played Bach. I didn’t do any Bach in the last few recitals which is just weird, and I don’t like it, and yet I do. But also I don’t. It didn’t work out, didn’t fit on the program in an authentic way so I didn’t do it. But there is a way of looking backwards, sometimes we color how [we] interpret Bach with modern ideas, and that’s okay, we should. It’s really interesting to just go through in such detail and figure out, hey, what does this mean. We can’t do this in the way they did it because we have different instruments, so how much do we compensate? What do we do, you know, how are you identifying what is valuable in voicing or what not? It’s kind of fun. 

EB: Yeah, we have so much information at our disposal that you can try different things, and then the next time you play a piece, you can try it again. Has not playing Bach in the last couple recitals been a choice of your programming? Are you interested in other things as a recitalist right now in terms of putting together programs? 

CRM: It just kind of worked out that way. My program last fall, I focused on different elements of collaboration. So I played the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia with one of my violist friends. I worked with my dancer friend. I did a Brahms sonata, which is like the height of collaboration. And then I premiered a solo violin piece, which sounds not collaborative, but it focused on the collaboration with the composer since it was a very new piece. That piece was really fun. It was actually written in a way that it deals with mental health issues, which was awesome. 

EB: Who composed that piece? 

CRM: Tony Manfredonia. He is all over Twitter, does a lot of video game music and a lot of contemporary classical things, and his cat is really cool. His cat has a Twitter account because she’s sassy and looks grumpy! A friend of mine teaches at an elementary school, and after that recital, I actually went and played this piece. She was like, they can handle this, they’ve talked about mental illnesses; this would be really cool for them to identify how they hear various emotions in that music in different things. So I went, and we had a really cool talk about it. It was like grades 3 through 6; it was really neat. But they all wanted to know about the composer, and if I was friends with the composer. It’s like, oh, do you know them? And I’m thinking, okay, I haven’t actually met them because [of] the internet and twitter; new music is a wondrous thing. But also, how do I promote safety with young children? I’m like, okay, so Tony’s cool; he’s really great, and he has a cool cat. And they were all like, wait, what video game things does he develop? What does he write for?… But it was a really great humanizing element before they even heard the piece, and then they heard it and were like, whoa!…

EB: So speaking of Tony and Twitter, what are your favorite ways to discover new composers?

CRM: Honestly, if I have some sort of a relationship with them as a person or musician even outside of composing, I find that it’s a lot easier to work with someone. It’s a lot more enjoyable because again, aesthetically, I’m really picky and weird… But also, on Twitter, there is a really cool thing called @musochat… Different people that are in the new music community sign up to host and base it on a topic. I think one of the last ones was amateurs on music. They did one on mental health and musicians. I did one on incorporating new music into pedagogy. I haven’t had time to do that in a while. Somebody did it on having and finding a work-life balance, so it’s not necessarily topics that are related to new music per-say… but it ends up going that direction usually. But, it’s really cool. So through that, I have discovered a lot of composers I’d never heard of. And, that’s actually how I met Tony. I had talked about how I’d just come off of doing that recital a couple of years ago. I was like, I really want to do this again… He was super persistent about it. It’s like, “hey, I want to collaborate with you. Do you have any ideas? I like what you’ve done. I listened to your stuff you have on your website. I like these pieces in particular. Tell me more about this, what you like to hear, if you have any themes, do you want to do this? What would you like to do, tell me about your idea for this.” You know he was really enthusiastic. And so the @musochat on mental health was actually shortly before that. Tony was like, hey, I want to talk about this because I have experience with this. And so he wrote about it in music, and it was really cool. He wrote the piece, and… I had a draft by the end of 2016. I think he gave me the final edited version well before I started working it out to premiere it. And then a couple things changed again because he heard it on a real instrument. But the final edits were done in early 2017, so it took awhile before I actually got a chance to figure out how to program it. But since I got it, I was like, I have to figure out how to do this. These piece is too cool, and the more I delved into it, I was like “aah!” Just because it was so well thought out, and it really used the violin well. 

EB: That’s so cool. Are you going to be putting up a recording at any point? 

CRM: Probably. I need to work on that. 

EB: The timing is always the hard part. So you kind of already got into this question, but how do you find Twitter enhancing your experience in the classical music community and social media in general?

CRM: I found it to be a really inspiring community, which sounds really blanket and trite, but I’ll make it better. So there are lots of people that do a lot of cool things, and it’s really easy, I think, in a university setting to be like, wait, no, pay attention to my cool things! But literally everyone that’s in this community on Twitter is just saying, “whoa! You did a thing! Tell me me more about your thing! Okay cool, now I’m going to go do my thing.” It’s a very excited, enthusiastic, supportive community. They’re like, “oh you do a thing; come hang out with us. Tell us about it.” It’s also a very real community where there are a lot of people that are very open with “man, I haven’t felt like a musician lately. I’ve needed to do this, this, and this. Friends, this is okay!” So there’s a lot of talking about appropriate self care. I find that if I ask, “hey friends, what do you do to maintain your joy in practicing?”—I did that a couple weeks ago because it was super rough, and there were a lot of things going on. And I got a lot of really great answers… And, it’s weird because we’re all tapping away on phones and tablets, behind computer screens, whatever. But, it feels like relational and not artificial. So that’s really exciting. It’s really cool. So it actually is inspiring, not in the “oh you’re inspiring.” It’s really fun to watch people do things and use what they love to turn it into something else, and then we’re like whoa, cool, that’s totally not my thing, but I’m glad it’s your thing!…Which I expect I’ll encounter the more I kind of flesh out things that I want to do. They promote each others’ things, their projects. That’s really exciting. Somebody announces, hey, we’re collaborating! We’re doing a thing! Everybody else gets excited when people actually need each other… I think sometimes we focus too much on “oh, this thing! I like the sound you produce rather than I like this human.”

EB:  That’s a really important thing to think about, and I don’t think I think about that as much, too, because we get so insulated in our practice rooms and with our own individual projects. Looking outward is probably a lot healthier for all of us. 

CRM: Right. I mean, granted, there’s still the idea of, oh my gosh, if I absolutely hate their aesthetic, probably not going to try to work too hard to work together. But also, eeh? You know it’s, oh hey, but personally I like you. Okay, cool. There’s something where it helps challenge your preferences a little bit. And that’s okay. They should be pushed a little bit; you should like what you like, but also you should be willing to challenge it a little.

Read Part Two HERE.

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