Violas (pronounced “vee-oh-lahs”) are bigger than violins and have a lower, deeper sound. Violas are the only instrument to read music in a clef called “alto clef.” This clef sits in the middle between the high treble notes of the violin and the low bass notes of the cellos and basses, which is perfect for the mid-range sounds of the viola. You play the viola by tucking it between your chin and shoulder, just like the violin. Your left hand presses down on the strings to change the pitch, and your right hand moves the bow or plucks the strings. The viola has four strings tuned a fifth apart, and from highest to lowest, they are: A, D, G, and C.
Principal Viola, Reine H. Myers Chair
Associate Principal Viola, Douglas and Louise Leatherdale Chair
Assistant Principal Viola
Rebecca Albers joined the Minnesota Orchestra as assistant principal viola in 2010 and won the position of principal viola in 2017. She has performed throughout the United States, Asia and Europe, making her New York debut at Lincoln Center, performing the New York premiere of Samuel Adler’s Viola Concerto with the Juilliard Orchestra. An avid chamber musician, she performs often at such festivals as the Marlboro Music Festival, Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer and Winter Festivals, and Rome Chamber Music Festival.
Albers is a member of Accordo, a Twin Cities-based chamber ensemble whose members are present and former principal players from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra. She has toured extensively with Musicians from Marlboro and with the Albers Trio, an ensemble formed with her sisters Laura and Julie Albers, and has been featured on many of the Orchestra’s chamber concerts, performing music by Schumann, Beethoven, Dvořák and Schubert.
Sabina Thatcher joined the Minnesota Orchestra in September 2019 as associate principal viola. She served as the principal viola of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1989 until 2012. She was a soloist with that ensemble on numerous occasions, performing a wide variety of repertoire including Penderecki’s Viola Concerto, Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, Hindemith’s Kammermusik and John Harbison’s Viola Concerto. She was also a member of the Rosalyra String Quartet, which gave its New York debut in 1996, and with which she recorded works by Bartók, Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms. She has also recorded both the Fauré Piano Quartets and the Brahms A-major Piano Quartet.
Korean violist Jenni Seo is the Minnesota Orchestra's newly-appointed Assistant Principal Viola, joining the ensemble after performing in the viola section of the Baltimore Symphony during its 2017-18 season. She is a frequent substitute with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York City Ballet orchestras, and makes reoccurring appearances at the Music at Menlo, Montecito, Bad Leonfelden, Keuka Lake and Perlman Music Program festivals. She has appeared on stage alongside Itzhak Perlman, Lynn Harrell, Donald Weilerstein and David Finckel, as well as members of the Cleveland, Takacs and Juilliard String Quartets. She has been presented by the WQXR Midday Masterpieces series, the Harvard Club of New York and at the Neue Gallery. The winner of the 2011 ASTA National Solo Competition, Seo received undergraduate and graduate degrees from The Juilliard School, where she was a student of Cynthia Phelps, Heidi Castleman and Steven Tenenbom, and served as principal viola of the Juilliard Orchestra.
Violist Sam Bergman joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2000 at the age of 23. Born in Boston, he grew up primarily in small-town Pennsylvania, studying violin and viola with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra. He attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, studying viola with Jeffrey Irvine and Lynne Ramsey, and played as a member of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham before coming to Minneapolis.
Born in Taiwan and raised in California, violist Sifei Cheng joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 1995. He has served as principal viola of the Charleston Symphony, New World Symphony, Juilliard Orchestra and has led sections under Michael Tilson Thomas, Eiji Oue and Christoph Eschenbach. As a chamber musician, he has played in the Ravinia Festival, Caramoor Music Festival, Taos Chamber Music Festival, Pacific Music Festival and the New York String Seminar. Some of his past coaches include Samuel Rhodes, Miriam Fried, Paul Biss, Alan de Veritch, the Tokyo String Quartet and the American String Quartet. He has collaborated in chamber music with artists such as Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank, Andrew Litton and Alicia de Larrocha. He is also a member of The Isles Ensemble, a collaborative chamber group here in the Twin Cities.
Kenneth Freed is an orchestral player and conductor, chamber musician, educator, and social entrepreneur.
A violist and violinist, Freed started music lessons at the Henry Street Settlement Music School in lower Manhattan with Elizabeth Weickert before attending the Juilliard Pre-College Division studying with Louise Behrend. He then received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Yale College and a Master of Music Performance degree from Yale School of Music studying violin with Syoko Aki Erle. While at Yale, he was awarded the William Waithe Concerto Competition Prize, the Broadus Earle Memorial Prize for Violin and the Tokyo String Quartet Prize for Chamber Music. He then studied in London with Helen Dowling, a student and assistant to Georges Enescu.
Violist Megan Tam joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003, and returned to Minneapolis in 2015 after a year with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. She performs regularly on the Orchestra's chamber music series, and in the 2016-17 season, she played Mendelssohn's Second Viola Quintet and Prokofiev's First String Quartet with Orchestra colleagues.
Tam studied violin and viola at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. She completed undergraduate studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying under Robert Vernon and receiving the Robert Vernon Prize in Viola. In 2002 she and fellow members of the Linden Quartet won the grand prize at the Coleman Chamber Music Competition.