Maria Semes currently plays in the first violin section of the Louisville Orchestra. She has performed with numerous orchestras in the United States including the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, The Nashville Symphony the Britt Festival Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and the Spoleto USA orchestra. Semes performs extensive chamber music on both the violin and viola and is a member of the NouLou Chamber Players in Louisville. She received her Bachelor and Master of Music from The Juilliard School where she studied with Naoko Tanaka and David Chan. She is adjunct faculty at Indiana University Southeast.  

Interview by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

1. I’ve seen the video of you performing with your sisters. I take it you come from a musical family?

Yes, I do! My parents used to be professional musicians, my mom played the harp, and my dad played the bass. Because of the very large size of both of those instruments, they decided that I had to play an instrument that was portable, and the violin is very easy to carry around! I am the oldest of 4 girls, and we actually all play the violin. I guess all three of my younger sisters thought the violin was so cool; they copied me! 

2. Where did you train?

I grew up in Philadelphia, and I was very lucky to have great teachers and mentors. I went to Juilliard for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. 

3. The Louisville Orchestra is not performing, but tell us how the Social Distancing Quartet come about?

The day the Louisville Orchestra canceled our first weekend of concerts, Annie Daigle, Lillian Pettitt, Evan Vicic and I wanted to still be able to bring some kind of performance to our audience, so we decided to start the “Social Distancing Quartet”. We had all played together in different groups and had talked about playing together in a quartet, but had never had the time – this seemed as good a time as any! We record remotely from our homes, but I really cannot wait until we can perform together in person!

4. What would you imagine the next public performances will be like?

I imagine the next public performance may look a bit different than what we are used to. Because of social distancing guidelines, the hall may not be at full capacity, the program may be shorter in order to eliminate lingering during intermission etc., but I do imagine that the excitement from both the performers and the audience will be great. I am anxiously awaiting when it is safe to perform again and share in this joint excitement between audience and performer.  

Maria (top) with sisters Clare, Carolyn, & Amy

5. As a performer, what are some of your favorite pieces?

Ah, there are so many pieces I love performing I couldn’t possibly choose one! But today, I am very much missing performing with my Louisville Orchestra colleagues, so I will choose an orchestral work. A couple of years ago the Louisville Orchestra performed Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, “The Resurrection” symphony. It uses a choir and a very enlarged orchestra. Being on the stage with so many musicians performing such a beautiful piece of music was so special to me, I really hope to be able to do it again soon!

6. Many American orchestras have struggled to find new audiences. How difficult will it be for them to overcome this disruption? 

I definitely can’t wait to attend a live concert when it is safe to do so again. I have been enjoying all of the content that has been put up on social media by so many artists, these have been fantastic outlets to enjoy music by, but an in-person concert is a completely different experience for me. Watching a performance live alongside my fellow audience members is something that can not be replaced for me. If the majority of people are like myself, and are craving live performances, I think American orchestras will play a very important role in bringing people together again. 

7. What other cities have you worked in?

I attended school in New York City for 6 years, so I did a lot of work teaching and playing at weddings and various events while I was in school there. Right after I graduated I started my job here in the Louisville Orchestra. When the Louisville Orchestra is not performing I play as a substitute with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Nashville Symphony, and in the summer I play with the Britt Festival Orchestra in Oregon. 

8. What, if anything, is different about working in Louisville?

I love living and working in Louisville! I moved from NYC, so the small family vibe of the city was a bit different than what I was used to-but definitely in a good way! I love meeting audience members as I exit performances, and I usually run into them around town or make plans to see them after other performances. Louisville is a very friendly city and I love being able to call it my home. 

9. If you weren’t a musician, what do you imagine you would be doing?

If I wasn’t a musician, I imagine I would probably go to law school because I love to argue (My family can definitely vouch for this).

10. What is on your quarantine playlist?

My quarantine playlist right now is anything not classical….I practice classical music most of the day, so when I am not practicing I like to listen to other things. I have been listening to a lot of the artist Tom Misch lately. Check him out, he’s really awesome!

11. What book is on your bedside table?

Actually, what I am reading right now is a gift from a friend/ the author, and someone I met at a Louisville Orchestra concert. The book is called, ‘The Grace of the Ginko”, by Michael Hardesty. 

12. Quarantine is over. What do you do first?

The first thing I will do is invite all of my friends over for wine, no more “zoom” happy hours!!!

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for