Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS
Monday morning, September 4th: Time to put on my “IVC 2018 Committee Chairman” hat for a rise-and-shine meeting with the board of the International Viola Society, at Vice President Jutta Puchhammer’s hotel suite across the street. I come armed with a powerpoint presentation to help describe our congress plans for next year. I received a lot of helpful feedback and advice, and fortunately the board was quite happy with our direction so far. So I got their blessing to hold my “welcome to Rotterdam” speech at tomorrow’s closing gala dinner.
In the afternoon we once again convened at St. Andrews on the Terrace. The “Wellington Congress Viola Orchestra” (consisting of students from the New Zealand School of Music) had readied itself for a string of solo concertos.
Graupner’s double concerto for Viola d’Amore and Viola was a new discovery for me. Our host Donald Maurice could finally be heard on his favourite instrument, alongside Marcin Murawski on the viola. It was admirably performed. I did feel however that the orchestra was a bit oversized for such a piece (6 celli?), as the Viola d’Amore at times was drowned out.
Kenneth Martinson demonstrated impressive virtuosity in the Rolla D-major concerto, a real finger cracker. In a way it was a reminder of the various lectures and recitals on the topic of Rolla last year at the Cremona IVC.
The orchestra now took centre-stage on its own, with the Suite no. 3 for strings by Respighi. A good find for the list of “works in which the viola section has a significant solo part”. Conductor Martin Riseley hauled this one ashore, with a big cheer for the intrepid foursome in the viola section.
In Michael Kimber’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Melody”, our resident Polish Kimber-connoisseur Marcin Murawski had the lead role. After a dozen or so variations, Renée Maurice appeared behind the orchestra to give us the vocal rendition of said folk song, with a very convincing Eastern European intensity. But contrary to expectation, this recurrence of the main theme did not signal the beginning of the end, more like the halfwaay milestone. There was lots more work to do for Marcin Murawski and the orchestra, which seemed to enjoy indulging in the Polish swagger. All in all, much pleasure was had!
The audience could just stay in their seats for the next concert, which was another “Potpourri” session. The first piece was “Siete canciones populares españolas” by Manuel de Falla. An appropriate amount of mediterranean temperament surfaced towards the end of the suite. Good work by the lone Spanish congress delegate Gema Molina Jiménez, who confusingly has a Swedish flag and a Moose-warning sticker on her viola case.
Elisabeth Smalt came on stage to complete her advocacy for “silent music”. In “Woman, Viola and Crow” by Frank Denyer, the vocabulary of the music was augmented with high heels hammering on a plate, rustling seashells, and occasional crow-calls.
An eerie acoustic landscape is created. This music seems in a way beyond “like” or “dislike”, it just is. The same might be said for Morton Feldman’s “The Viola in my Life III” (1970), now with a piano interacting in a very elemental way with the viola sounds, no more crowing, shell-rustling or foot-stamping, what remained were pizzicato’s and solitary bow strokes. By thus taking away sound by sound, silence was approached.
The next section of the concert consisted of works by Penderecki, performed by Daniel Sweaney. The “Sarabande, Tempo di Valse, Tanz” for solo viola exposed a very warm and pleasant sound from the viola. Sweaney concluded with Penderecki’s “Duo: Ciaccona” together with Annette-Barbara Vogel (violin), a beautiful piece.
Last but not least, Andrea Houde appeared with a world premiere performance of a Viola Concerto composed by her student C.F. Jones. The first section is quite melancholic, but the music picks up more energy as it progresses.
After a “working dinner” with Daphne Gerling at the local Thai cafeteria for our presentation tomorrow, time had come for the big Gala concert in the Michael Fowler Centre – the home of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (which by the way is frequently led by Edo de Waart). A beautiful concert hall with impeccable acoustics. The programme title was “The Three Altos“, referring to the three soloists: Two “local heroes” – Roger Myers and Roger Benedict – and the proclaimed diva of this congress, Russian-Italian Anna Serova.
The first performance of the evening was an arrangement of Schumann’s “Märchenbilder” for viola and orchestra, with Roger Myers as a soloist. He has an extravagant playing style, which resulted in heavy articulation where none was warranted. The 3rd movement (Rasch) was by the same token executed at stunning speed, bravo for that!Next followed two world premieres, both with Anna Serova in the spotlight: “Lady Walton’s Garden” by Roberto Molinelli is a miniature concerto (and served very well as prelude to the Walton concerto itself, later this evening). It describes the beautiful garden La Mortella (?) on the island Ischia near Napels, which was the life work of Sir William Walton’s wife. She came from Argentina, so the Finale is a Tango. Serova took this challenge and – to our delight – put the viola aside for a 2-minute dance show on stage. I can’t think of another violist who could copy this feat (maybe Isabelle van Keulen? at least she likes to play tango’s).
The other premiere concerto piece was “Poem of Dawn” by Boris Pigovat. Although there was no tango dancing here, I found it musically more pleasing than the Lady Walton piece. The last piece was certainly no premiere: the well-known Walton viola concerto,
performed to wide acclaim by Roger Benedict.
The “Three Altos” were joined by NZSO principal violist Julie Joyce for the encore – a viola quartet rendition of Piazzolla’s “Libertango“. All things considered, I was a bit disappointed that the two gentlemen didn’t engage their female colleagues in an encore of the “Lady Walton” dance show. 🙂
The 5th and final installment of this blog will appear tomorrow, Sept. 8th.