Benjamin Geller, Principal Viola
Are you a native Charlottean?
No, I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and am thus a native Rockfordian, though I love the Queen City but prefer the term "Charlatan."
What drew you to your instrument?
I didn't like the Viola at first growing up, and somewhat resented playing it when I was occasionally asked as a kid. However, tastes mature, and when I was in my undergrad at Butler University I had a Violist friend who had switched from violin and convinced me to take a lesson with the amazing Michael Isaac Strauss. I loved the rich, nuanced sound and never really looked back.
What are the challenges and opportunities unique to your instrument?
The viola is a little bit bigger and a little bit lower than the violin and usually
plays more of a supporting role. Occasionally we do get solos, and we always love the opportunity to shine.
Have you always been in the Charlotte Symphony, or have you worked elsewhere professionally?
After I graduated with my Masters, I spent a year and half in The New World Symphony in Miami. From there I played for a year with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in New Zealand, and then I worked for two years in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra before coming to Charlotte.
Do you perform outside of your work with the Charlotte Symphony?
I play at the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro during July as well as in the orchestra at the Arizona Music Fest in Phoenix for a week in February. Both of these opportunities came about when Music Directors who were guest conducting heard my playing and invited me to be a part of their festivals. I am so lucky to have these opportunities to play with more musicians and for a wider audiences. The work is so incredibly rewarding.
Could you describe your job within the Symphony?
I think my job in the Symphony is to act as the glue for the string section. If the low and high ends of the strings get away from each other, the whole ensemble can slide apart. It can often be left to the viola section to sort of "cast the deciding vote" on how things are going to go.
Can you describe what you’re thinking and feeling right before a concert starts?
Usually right before a concert starts I'm scanning the audience for friends or strangers who I recognize from previous shows. If I can make eye contact with anyone it usually makes me more excited about the performance. Right before we start though, I usually think something like, "Feel the Rhythm! Feel the Rhyme! Get on up, it's bobsled time!"
What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened on stage?
The most memorable thing was from my first professional gig with an orchestra. I subbed with the Indianapolis Symphony when Peter Frampton was the guest and there was a woman in the third row that threw her bra on stage. I knew right then that I'd made it.
What music do you enjoy listening to, classical and otherwise?
I try to listen to all kinds of things. I find that I mostly listen to Beethoven or some combination of Jazz, Funk, and 90s Hip Hop.
What are some of your non-musical interests, or passions?
I like to swim, read, watch movies, mountain bike (I'm not very good or fast), but I love swimming in the Pisgah forest waterfalls.
What’s your favorite spot in Charlotte?
Right now I really like Smokey Joe's. They have live music and all of my favorite games.