Masterclass with Ashan Pillai


Ashan Pillai, Viola

Ashan Pillai (born 1 December 1969 in Colombo, Sri Lanka) is a British violist. He received his education as a music and academic scholar at Merchant Taylors School, London, followed by studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London, the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, the Banff Center for the Arts, Alberta, Canada, and the Juilliard School, New York City. His principal teachers were John White and distinguished American pedagogues, former students of William Primrose, namely Donald McInnes and Karen Tuttle.

Pillai has performed as a soloist under the batons of Christian Zacharias, Eiji Oue, Andrew Parrott, Christopher Hogwood, Robert King, and Lawrence Foster, collaborating with orchestras such as the English, Gulbenkian, Czech, Andorran, and Scottish Chamber Orchestras, as well as I Musici in London and New York. He has also collaborated with musicians such as Lynn Harrell, the Kreutzer and Brodsky Quartets, and the Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt.

Throughout his career, Pillai served as the assistant principal violist in the English Chamber Orchestra (1995–2000) and was a co-founding member of the Mobius Ensemble (London 1997–2006). He served as the violist in the Zukerman Chamber Players (New York/Ottawa 2004–2010) and the Trio Cervello (Barcelona 2016– ) with pianist Enrique Bagaria and clarinetist Josep Fuster. Additionally, he held the position of principal violist with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra (2000–2018). Pillai is currently a Professor of Viola at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC) since 2001, the Conservatori Superior del Liceu in Barcelona since 2008, and the Alfonso X El Sabio University in Madrid since 2012. In 2014, he was appointed chair of viola and chamber music in Música en Compostela, a historic music festival specializing in Spanish music. In 2020, Pillai was appointed Artist in Residence and Visiting Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and was later appointed Professor in 2021.

As a recording artist, Pillai has an extensive discography, contributing to labels such as EMI, Naxos, ASV, Altara, Verso, Meridian, Bel, Columna, RTVE (Spanish Radio and Television), the BBC, and Oehms Classics. His recordings encompass a wide range of repertoire, including sonatas by Brahms, Bax, Debussy, Lluís Benejam, Felipe de los Rios, Juan Oliver Astorga, Mendelssohn, Naumann, Glinka, Schubert, Gerhard, and concerti by Hoffmeister, Mozart, Leonardo Balada, and Josep Soler. Notable recordings include “The Viola Sonatas from the Royal Palace in Madrid,” “The Virtuoso Viola in Spain,” the Hoffmeister Works for Viola, and the string quintets recorded with Zukerman.

Pillai is also recognized for his editorial work. He edited the “12 Estudios o caprichos de mediana dificultad (12 Studies or Capriccios of Medium Difficulty)” for viola solo (1881) by José María Beltrán Fernández (1827–1907), published by Clivis Publications. In 2016, he edited the first edition of the “11 sonatas from the Royal Palace in Madrid (1770-1819)” for Boileau Publications and released the first recording of this monumental collection of works for viola. He has also edited the “Sonata en Re” by Tomas Lestan (1884) for Edition Piles.