If anyone has "made" the viola in the latter part of the twentieth century, it has been American violist Kim Kashkashian. Born in Detroit and of Armenian extraction, Kashkashian studied the viola with Karen Tuttle and legendary violist Walter Trampler at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
Kashkashian has been a staunch proponent of commissioning new works for her instrument. The list of composers who have written works especially for her reads like a "Who's Who" of contemporary composition: Arvo Pärt, Tigran Mansurian, Peter Eötvös, Krzysztof Penderecki, Paul Chihara, Sofiya Gubaidulina, Linda Bouchard, Giya Kancheli, and György Kurtág are all among them. A frequent flyer at the Marlboro Music Festival, Kashkashian was strongly influenced in her approach toward commissioning new music for chamber combinations in her role as assistant to one of the festival's organizers, violinist Felix Galimir. It was also at Marlboro that Kashkashian met pianist Robert Levin, with whom she frequently performs and records; other public events at which Kashkashian can regularly be seen include the Salzburg, Lockenhaus, and Stavenger festivals in Europe. Kashkashian's musicianship has been well represented on recordings through her association with Germany's ECM label in a happy collaboration that celebrated its third decade in 2014.
Kashkashian has written eloquently about the neglect of the viola and the reasons her instrument has been consigned to second-class status for so long. The instrument she terms "the much-maligned viola" has a first-class champion who works to broaden the range of technique, advocacy, and repertoire for the instrument. Kim Kashkashian teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.