She was 11 years old, and he was 14. That’s when Daria and Michael Adams fell in love, and the relationship they formed at such tender ages has developed, matured and endured. While Daria, a violinist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), and Michael, a violist with the Minnesota Orchestra, didn’t actually meet and marry until later in life—at age 27—they both discovered their first love—music—in childhood violin lessons.
Michael was raised in Danville, Illinois, which bills itself as having “small-town charm and big-city amenities.” Fair enough, but it wasn’t exactly a cultural hub for classical music. But with the encouragement of Michael’s professional musician parents, he began Suzuki violin lessons at 4 years old.
Over in Iselin, New Jersey, 9-year-old Daria would begin violin lessons. She, like Michael, followed an educational path toward a music career. She attended the New England Conservatory of Music and State University of New York at Stonybrook. After working with Detroit’s Renaissance City Chamber Players and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, Daria earned a place with the SPCO in 1987.
After attending Mannes College of Music in New York City and the Eastman School of Music, Michael worked with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Denver Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra and the Tulsa Philharmonic. A connective tissue disorder resulted in an injury to his left arm. He returned to music with the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, and later became a producer and host for classical station WCAL-FM in Northfield, Minn., and eventually worked at Minnesota Public Radio. He earned a spot with the Minnesota Orchestra in 1989.
Along the way, the couple met in the opera pit of the Santa Fe Opera in the summer of 1987 and married in 1991. They’ve raised three children in Edina; Kiana, 22; Nico, 20; and Tori, 18. Blending careers with family life can be a challenge for any couple, and the Adamses’ careers required day, evening and weekend nannies to care for their children during blocks of rehearsal and performance times.
Given the hours the children spent listening to Michael and Daria practice and attending some of their performances, exposing them to music was an organic effort. “It was just very natural,” Daria says. “We had to work to bring other [interests] into our home.”
As much as music is part of the couple’s spiritual DNA, there are occasions when remaining emotionally in tune is difficult. “In my life, I’ve had a real love/hate relationship [with music],” Michael admits. The combination of being one’s own worst critic while exhibiting a perfectionist drive “can be crippling at times. As a professional, you have to knuckle down and get through those periods,” he says.
A typical week for Michael includes daily rehearsals with four concert days a week during the season. Daria usually rehearses weekdays, with three or four evening performances, not to mention all the at-home practice sessions. “You’re always trying to get better,” Michael says. “It’s a very humbling field. There’s always someone better coming along.”
Still, “[music] stamps who I am in life,” he says. For Daria, her 1860 Italian violin, which she’s owned for 20 years, is an extension of herself. “Once you have an instrument, you really know how to play it. It becomes part of your identity,” she says. “It’s who you are. You’re very protective [of it].” Daria feels a special sense of stewardship over her violin. Prior to her owning the instrument, a violin dealer found the violin in pieces (a mystery how and why), but it was painstakingly restored.
As a violin teacher at St. Olaf College and a private instructor for high school students, she finds meaning in sharing her musical expertise and passion with new musicians. “I like working with young people,” Daria says. “I like having them around and watching them find the joy of playing.”