A Mother-Daughter Duet at CalArts

Nancy Uscher is best known around the Institute as the provost–the senior academic administrator–for CalArts.  What’s not as widely known is that she’s an accomplished violist and teacher as well. A triple threat in many respects! So when it came time for her daughter Alessandra Barrett, also a musician, to choose schools you’d think she’d hesitate before coming to CalArts–especially because teenagers seem instinctually drawn to places where their parents are not.

“I wanted to come to CalArts since I was already studying with Mark Menzies,” said Barrett (Music BFA 12), who is double majoring in violin and viola. “I really wasn’t bothered by the fact that my mom is the school’s provost. She gives me my space.” (Because of their last names–Uscher kept her maiden name–many of Barrett’s non-music teachers don’t know they’re related. Until they read this post, of course.)

While mother and daughter travel in their own circles around CalArts, there’s one thing that draws them together time and time again: music. “We’re musically on the same page,” said Uscher, who started playing violin at age 9 and turned to the viola as a teenager. They share common interests in classical composers, citing such names as Brahms, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff as favorites.

The two can be found both on and off campus playing in a number of recitals and festivals. They’ve traveled to and performed in Argentina, Brazil, India, and last year opened the Rwanda festival, part of a CalArts School of Theater project. “I love playing with my daughter,” said Uscher. “When I play with her, other students, colleagues and music faculty, I believe it enhances my work as provost.”

They played together last Friday in the REDCAT program, Les Espaces Acoustiques and Beyond: New Music After Grisey, in an interlude piece for 33 violins by CalArts alumnus Andrew McIntosh. Uscher and Barrett are also currently rehearsing for a graduate student’s recital in a piece for cello and orchestra.

“I still learn from her,” Uscher said of her daughter. “She’s a good soul.”

Above is a video of Uscher and Barrett in a viola duet performing Bela Bartok’s “Ruthenian Song.”

***A not-so-subtle reminder: It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. Call home.

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