Wellington IVC Blog #1

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

Kia Ora! (Maori for ‘hello’),

After roughly thirty hours in airborne hibernation, I landed yesterday in Wellington (New Zealand) for the 44th International Viola Congress (IVC). It is a very special experience to travel halfway around the globe, only to be greeted with warm cheers, as if you were a regular. This was the case last night at the pre-congress dinner. I shared a table with board members of the International Viola Society (IVS) and our host, Donald Maurice. The atmosphere was great from the first minute!

Pre-congress dinner, left to right: Jutta Puchhammer (IVS Vice President), Donald Maurice (IVC44 Host) and Anna Serova (IVC44 featured artist).

This morning we converged at St. Andrews church to receive our badges, programme books and goodiebags. We then set off on foot for the Pipitea Marae, a Maori ceremonial house near the Wellington Parliament grounds, where we were to be treated to a great honour: a special Maori welcome ceremony known as the Powhiri. Initially we were met with Haka chants and the traditional nose greeting (hongi).

We, the visitors (manuhiri), were then introduced and vouched-for in Maori  by Justin Lester, the Mayor of Wellington. Our native hosts in turn made long and (for most of us) utterly incomprehensible speeches, yet the honest emotions of warm hospitality and friendship were unmistakable! IVS President Carlos Maria Solare, having impressively rehearsed some Maori greetings of his own, reiterated our peaceful purposes. Each speaker’s pledges were sealed with chants. I cannot adequately describe the depth of this impression, and I’m sorry I can only say: you really, absolutely, had to be there!

This ceremony was properly celebrated with tea and muffins and huge mounds of whipped cream. In a less formal mood, we were invited to join a crash course in Haka dancing, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that we will come up terribly short trying to match this welcome ceremony in Rotterdam next year!

Now it was down to the core business of making music. The Deseret string quartet (from Brigham Young University, USA) brought a musical offering to our hosts with Ethan Wickman’s Namasté, which is a Nepali word for “I bow to you”. The double meaning of “bowing” at a viola congress was not lost on us :-). This very soulful music made me think of string quartets by Janacek, sometimes Ravel, but it certainly had its own originality.

Back at St. Andrews, the Italian Viola Society made an important contribution with works of Italian composers, performed by Ensemble della Piattellina, led by Dorotea Vismara. Their programme was highly varied, I enjoyed most the romantic Piano Quartet by Giulio Roberti (1829-1891 – yet with a remarkably raw dissonant chord in its 1st movement!) and the fascinating quintet Centauro Marino by Salvatore Sciarrino.

The programming of the evening concert in St. Andrews would seem to reflect our host Donald Maurice’s warm interest in early music (being a renowned viola d’amore player himself), as the Pandolfis Consort brought us 17th century works with gut-stringed viola da braccia, violetta, cello, théorbe and a marvellous countertenor (Nicholas Spanos). To my ears, the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Felice Sances (1600-1679) with its idiomatic descending chromatics was particularly memorable.

Following a short intermission, the evening programme closed with the Arnold Bax sonata for viola (Sophia Acheson) and harp (Ingrid Bauer): a powerful reminder of how very well Bax knew how to compose for the viola. Admirably performed!

The pub The Old Bailey on Lambton Quay has been appointed as “official waterhole” for the IVC, but disappointingly many delegates are still overwhelmed by jetlag and unable to keep on their feet. Having no musical obligations of my own beyond the massed viola orchestra (8am rehearsals! good grief…), I decided to ignore my more or less obliterated internal clock, and had a few good New Zealand brews with the local violists. A perfect end to a wonderful first day. And still we have four more jam-packed days of congress to look forward to!

PS. Aan onze nederlandse lezers: Vanwege tijdgebrek moet ik mijn gewoonte om alles in het nederlands te schrijven en daarna in het engels te vertalen nu even loslaten… het blijft dit keer in het engels! Ik hoop op jullie begrip.