Interview Nobuko Imai

The world famous violist (and DVS Honorary Member) Nobuko Imai turns 80 tomorrow. In this interview, she tells us about her teaching career and her long-standing special relationship with The Netherlands, having lived and taught here – albeit on a part time basis – for more than 40 years.

by Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

On a brisk late-January day, we meet in her daughter’s house in Amsterdam, only a few minutes’ walk away from the Concertgebouw. We are seated in the living room with a cup of tea.

DVS: More than 5 decades of teaching Viola at the highest level. Tell us how it started, and what has kept you going.

It started in America, where I became a member of the Vermeer Quartet, named after the Dutch painter, of course. The quartet was founded by Shmuel Ashkenazy (violinist) at the Northern Illinois University near Chicago, so I started teaching there, I was about 30 years old. I stayed there for 5 years. I didn’t know much about teaching, it was “learning by doing” for me, and I liked it very much.

Later I started teaching also at the Royal (Northern) College of Music in Manchester, as well as in Utrecht and The Hague (at the Royal Conservatoire). And then I taught in Detmold, and in Amsterdam, and at the Kronberg Academy (near Frankfurt), in Madrid, and in Geneva… that’s a very short summary of my teaching career.
Unfortunately I never had a teaching position in Japan, although of course I was there frequently, performing and giving masterclasses.

DVS: Do you hear yourself quoting your own teachers when you teach?

The thing is, I always want to create something. I don’t want to repeat, there has to be something new. Even practicing scales can be done creatively. If you have a weakness, you need to work on it – but you should use your imagination to improve, to create your own scales. That’s the way, I think, avoiding routine. I always find something new, and then I get very excited. I never grew bored of teaching.

DVS: So you regard teaching as a kind of collaborative exploration?

Yes, that’s how you survive 50 years of teaching. As a violist you have to have your own sound. And the viola comes in so many different shapes and sizes, you need to find out how to best “manipulate” your own instrument. You have to investigate.

DVS: What circumstance first brought you to come and teach in The Netherlands?

Well, initially it was because I met a Dutch music lover, after the Geneva competition. He told me he had a big house in Heemstede and I would be welcome to stay there whenever I was in Amsterdam for work or leisure. So I did come, on and off, but never really lived there a long time, a few months maybe. Then eventually I got married to a Dutch man, so that was significant (laughing). But I was still commuting a lot between my different schools.

DVS: Do you see any characteristics of Dutch viola culture or music life?

In my experience, the Dutch are very international in their orientation. They are receptive to new information, and adapt well. In Japan, for example, or Germany, things are quite different in this respect.

The teaching culture at the Conservatory of Amsterdam is strong, I very much appreciate Francien (Schatborn) and Marjolein (Dispa), we’ve been cooperating and creating together. We work together without interfering, creating something bigger. It would never happen quite like this in other countries.

DVS: Are you retiring now from the Conservatory?

I will stop regular teaching in Amsterdam now because of my age, but I hope to continue doing seasonal masterclasses.

DVS: For 15 years now you have been hosting the bi-annual Amsterdam Viola Festival. Looking back, how do you feel about it and what would you hope for the future?

Last time (November 2021), the Amsterdam festival was dedicated to Hindemith, and we had a special recital consisting entirely of Hindemith and Bartók duos. It was very enjoyable getting to know the younger students at the CvA this way, we were giggling a lot (laughs). I hope there could be more programs like that in the future, involving everybody.

DVS: These Bartók duos, by the way, were also special to you.

Yes, I went to Hungary to learn about Hungarian folk music and to play with folk musicians. We ended up travelling to Japan together to play some of this music. Their rhythm and intonation takes a real effort to learn. I spent quite a lot of time with those people. Later, I thought of playing the Bartók duos on the viola. They are not hard, almost beginner level. But I didn’t transcribe them, so we play them in the original (violin) key, which makes it a bit more difficult, but keeps more of the original sound.

DVS: On Sunday (March 19th), you will celebrate your 80th birthday with a special concert in Het Concertgebouw. Tell us about this concert.

I thought it would be nice for my students to meet again, so that’s the idea behind the celebration here in Amsterdam. We will play various pieces for viola ensemble. For example we’ll play the 1st movement of Bach’s 3rd Brandenburg concerto, transcribed for a maximum number of violas. And we’ll play a viola orchestra version of Händel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba“. We may have to remove the 1st row of chairs to fit everyone on stage!

Many of my students are now renowned violists in their own right. For example Timothy Ridout, whom I taught at the Kronberg Academy. He is such an open personality, he’s curious about new repertoire and always finding music in it, an inspiring role model for young people. And Diyang Mei, he’s currently the principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic, he will fly in from Berlin on Sunday just to play the Paganini “Gran Sonata“, and then fly back the same evening. Just to name a few … it will be a great reunion! I’m looking forward to see them all, and I’m grateful that they make time to come here, even from Japan or Taiwan.

DVS: Final topic: Viola Societies! We were elated that you promptly accepted an Honorary membership of the DVS back in 2013, when we were freshly founded. How do you view the role of Viola Societies?

I first encountered a Viola Society when I was in the U.S., in a festival where female composers were highlighted. I have contributed to several International Viola Congresses since, most recently at the Rotterdam congress in 2018.

Viola Societies are meaningful to a lot of people, but it takes a lot of dedication to run them. I think the Dutch Viola Society has a particularly fruitful climate (mentioned above) to prosper.

DVS: Thank you for your time, and thank you on behalf of the Dutch viola community for all you have done! We have been so lucky to have you here all this time, and we look forward to celebrate with you in Concertgebouw on March 19th!

(P.S. Sunday’s concert (link) is completely sold out – but the DVS will be there, and we will post a report by early next week!)

Dana Zemtsov’s Dutch Viola Music CD Project

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

English version below! Follow this link.

De jonge nederlandse altvioliste Dana Zemtsov begint dit voorjaar aan de opname van een album met nederlandse altvioolmuziek, waaronder de concerten van Badings en Koetsier, met Phion (Philharmonie Oost- Nederland) en dirigent Shizuo Kuwahara. Ook neemt ze de altvioolsonate van Badings op met pianiste Anna Fedorova.

Om het project financieel rond te krijgen, heeft ze met steun van de Zemtsov-stichting een crowdfundingcampagne gestart. Reden voor de DVS om telefonisch even contact te zoeken om wat meer te weten te komen hierover. Ik tref Dana aan in de koffiepauze van een hectische Zemtsov masterclassweek, die dit jaar voor het eerst geheel virtueel plaats vindt.  

DVS: Wat een spannend project – op welke termijn gaat dit gerealiseerd worden, als de crowdfunding slaagt?

We gaan nu in maart al opnemen, Channel Classics (haar label, red.) heeft bijna alles al geregeld. Ik moet wel zelf de kosten voor de dirigent en de uitvoeringsrechten dragen, en het liefst zorgen voor een beetje promotie. Want vooral voor dit soort onbekende concerten heb je een beetje extra aandacht nodig. Daarom is het PR-budget zo hoog. Als we minimaal €7,000 ophalen, dan kunnen we de CD al in het najaar klaar hebben.

DVS: Hoe is dit idee ontstaan, en waarom is juist nu een goed moment om door te pakken?

We hebben al heel lang gepraat over dit idee, zowel de directie van Phion en chefdirigent Otto Tausk waren al ontzettend enthousiast over dit project, en we waren al een tijdje bezig om een datum te zoeken. Normaal had ik nog lang kunnen wachten op een beschikbaar orkest, maar “dankzij” de Corona-pandemie hebben de orkesten geen concerten, terwijl ze wel budget hebben voor projecten. Daar valt ook opnamewerk onder, dus nu kon het opeens. Dus moest ik ook opeens heel snel gaan studeren om op tijd klaar te zijn!

DVS: Maar deze week heb je niet zoveel tijd om te studeren…? 

Nee, door de Zemtsov Masterclassweek, met 45 deelnemers (en dus bijna evenveel keer lesgeven) – mijn eigen studeersessies moet ik nu een beetje tussendoor inplannen.

DVS: En waar wordt het allemaal opgenomen?

In Muziekcentrum Enschede. En ik ga nog met Anna (Fedorova) de sonate van Henk Badings opnemen in de Stadsgehoorzaal Leiden.

DVS: Dus er staan drie stukken op het programma: Het Concertino van Koetsier, het concert van Badings en de sonate van Badings.

Precies, en ook nog de Pavane van Arne Werkman, waarvan de pianobegeleiding in dit geval georkestreerd is. Dat wordt een mooie “extra”. Dus alles bij elkaar is het echt een Nederlands project.

DVS: Hoe ben je in aanraking gekomen met het concert van Badings?

Ik heb het voor het eerst echt live gehoord met Nobuko Imai als soliste, dat was echt geweldig. Ik was toen nog maar 13 jaar oud of zo, maar ik dacht gelijk “wow, dit is een heel goed stuk!”. Het concert bevat veel klankexperimenten, met clusters en kwarttonen, octatonische toonladders, en etnische elementen (bijvoorbeeld gamelanmuziek, Badings was geboren op Java – red.).

DVS: En de sonate van Badings, heeft die verbindingspunten met zijn altvioolconcert?

Nou, de sonate is eigenlijk heel anders, de stijl is meer impressionistisch, bijna romantisch. Het tweede deel van de sonate en het concert lijken ergens wel een klein beetje op elkaar. Maar de sonate is ook heel bijzondere muziek, het heeft ook die magische sferen van Badings, waar je “stiltes” hoort in combinatie met harmonieën, zoals een kwint die verdwijnt in een stilte. Dat heeft hij in het concert ook wel. En er zijn ook karakter-overeenkomsten: Het derde deel van de sonate is heel pittig, een soort duivels dansje; soms een beetje onhandig geschreven voor altviool, veel “tussen de noten” en heel snel. Ik ben heel benieuwd wat mensen vinden van dit stuk, wat mij betreft verdient het een plek in het repertoire. Een heel dynamisch stuk.

DVS: Het Concertino van Jan Koetsier, dat wordt een ware CD-première?

Ja, dat is echt een ontdekking – soms denk je bij dit soort onbekende stukken, dat er misschien een reden is waarom het niet eerder opgenomen is. Maar bij dit stuk kan ik geen muzikale redenen bedenken. Het is heel compact, en heeft hele sterke ideeën, het is echt een heel goed stuk! Koetsier schrijft hele boeiende muziek, ik heb ook zijn 1e symfonie gehoord op YouTube, waar hij zelf het Concertgebouworkest dirigeert. Hij was een tijdje tweede dirigent van dit orkest, naast Mengelberg. Geweldige muziek, en geweldig gedirigeerd!

DVS: Wel goed om aandacht te richten op deze stukken, om het bewustzijn te vergroten van wat er zoal bestaat in de nederlandse altvioolliteratuur.

Jazeker, en volgens mij verdienen deze stukken ook internationaal meer aandacht. Het zijn belangrijke bijdragen aan het repertoire voor ons instrument. Ik hoop dat meer altviolisten deze stukken gaan oppakken en spelen, ze zijn het echt waard! Niet alleen als een nationale cultuurverrijking dus,  het is universele en sterke muziek.

Het is soms moeilijk om mensen te leiden naar nieuwe muziek, maar ook voor mij was er een zekere drempel. Ik had de partituren van zowel Koetsier en Badings al jaren in huis. Het is heel moeilijk om onbekende muziek met een open vizier te benaderen, zonder bang te zijn dat het niet goed is. Je moet durven kijken en zoeken wat er in zit. Ik hoop wel dat men bij het luisteren deze muziek voelt binnenkomen, zoals dat bij mij is gebeurd!

~ x ~ x ~

Hier presenteert Dana zelf haar project:

En hier kun je makkelijk en snel doneren:


English Version:

This spring, the young Dutch violist Dana Zemtsov will record an album with Dutch viola music, among others the concertos by Badings and Koetsier, with the Phion (Eastern Netherlands Philharmonic) orchestra, conducted by Shizuo Kuwahara. She will also record the Badings viola sonata, with pianist Anna Fedorova.

In order to secure the finances, the Zemtsov foundation backs her with a crowdfunding campaign. On behalf of the DVS, I called her to find out more. I found her in a short coffee break of the always-busy Zemtsov Masterclass week, which this year has been organized in an entirely virtual format.

DVS: What an exciting project – when will this all become reality, assuming the crowdfunding campaign succeeds?

We will start recording now, in March. Channel Classics (her recording label, red.) has already arranged almost everything. I have to secure the funds for the conductor and a bit of promotion. For this kind of unknown concertos, you really need a bit of extra effort to get public attention. That’s why the PR has been budgeted extra. If we can get around €7000,- with the crowdfunding, the CD can be ready for sale already this fall.

DVS: How did this idea arise, and why is just now a good moment to act on it?

We’ve been talking about this project for a long time. Both the management and chief conductor Otto Tausk of Phion were already very enthusiastic about this project, and we had been looking for possible dates for some time. Under normal circumstances I could have waited much longer for an opportunity, but “thanks to” the Corona pandemic, the orchestra have no concerts, while they do have some budget for project work. Recordings fall into that category, so suddenly the opportunity was there. So, I also had to start practising very quickly, to be ready in time!.

DVS: But this week you don’t have much time to study?

That’s right, due to the Zemtsov Viola Masterclass week, with 45 participants (and hence almost as many lessons to be given). I’ve had to plan my own study session in-between things.

DVS: And where will this all be recorded?

In Muziekcentrum Enschede. And I will record the Badings sonata with Anna (Fedorova) in the Stadsgehoorzaal Leiden.

DVS: So there are three pieces programmed: Koetsier’s Concertino, the Badings concerto and sonata.

Exactly, and also the Pavane by Arne Werkman, where the piano accompaniment in this case has been orchestrated. That will be a beautiful “extra”. All in all it is truly a Dutch project!

DVS: How did you get acquainted with the Badings concerto?

I first heard it live, with Nobuko Imai as a soloist – that was fantastic. I was only about 13 years old at the time, but I immediately thought “wow, this is a really good piece!”. The concerto contains a lot of sound experiments, with clusters and quarter tones, octatonic scales and ethnic elements (e.g. Indonesian gamelan music – Badings was born on Java, red.).

DVS: How about the Badings sonata, does it have commonalities with his concerto?

Well, the sonata is actually very different, the style is more impressionist, almost romantic. The second movements of the sonata and concerto are a little bit similar. The sonata is anyway very extraordinary music, it has those magical Badings atmospheres, where you hear “silences” in combination with harmonies, for example a fifth that disappears in a silence. You can hear those kinds of effects in his concerto, too. And there are some parallels in the characters: The third movement of the sonata is very fiery, a kind of devilish dance; at certain points the writing is uncomfortable for the viola, a lot of stuff happening “between the notes”, and very rapidly. I am truly wondering what people will say about this piece, but in my opinion it deserves a permanent place in our repertoire. It is very dynamic.

DVS: The Concertino by Jan Koetsier will be a true recording premiere?

Yes, that is really a discovery – sometimes you think that there must be a reason why these unknown pieces haven’t been recorded. But in this case I cannot think of a musical reason. The Concertino is really a very good piece! Koetsier writes very enjoyable music, I heard his 1st symphony on YouTube, where he himself conducts the Concertgebouw orchestra. He was assistant conductor for this orchestra for some time, next to Mengelberg. Great music, and great conducting!

DVS: It is good to draw attention to these pieces, to increase the awareness of Dutch viola literature.

For sure, and in my opinion these pieces also deserve more attention internationally. They are important contributions to our viola repertoire. I hope that more violists will play them, they are really worth it! Not only as an enrichment of national culture, it is universal and very strong music.

It is sometimes difficult to lead people to new music, but also for me there was a certain threshold. I had access to the scores for Koetsier and Badings for years. But it is hard to approach unknown music with an open visor, without fear of getting it wrong. You have to dare to look for what’s inside. I really hope that the audience will feel the impact of this music, as it happened with me!

~ x ~ x ~

Dana presents her project:

You can donate to Dana’s crowdfunding campaign here:


Interview Garth Knox

Violist and composer Garth Knox is a featured artist at the Amsterdam Viola Festival 2019. DVS president and ad-hoc reporter Karin Dolman found him available for an interview.

DVS: So, you’re Scottish?

I was born in Dublin, but we moved to Aberdeen when I was 5 years old, so I had my education in Scotland. I’m probably more Scottish than Irish, but I have family on both sides of the water.

DVS: So you’re influenced by Irish and Scottish music, folk music?

Well, I don’t always do it consciously, but it’s there, you grow up with it in your ears, and it naturally finds a way to come out. And I like it, I think folk music is the strongest kind of music there is, a lot of classical music is taken from folk music and brought into the concert hall. And that’s very interesting, once you take folk music away from the place where it happens, you change it. It doesn’t work the same way up on a stage, in a listening situation. So it’s interesting to see what part of this music still survives in the concert hall, and how you can use that, without losing that spark. It’s very hard, it’s a kind of holy grail, but when you can do it, it’s the best thing there is – I really try to get there.

DVS: And then you were the violist of the Arditti Quartet?

Yes, for seven very full years, it was a great experience, very hard work, I learned a lot!

DVS: But seven years was enough?

Yes – it was good to change people, because the Arditti quartet is not your normal classical string quartet; they focus strongly on contemporary music. Arditti is a special case, because when they originally started (1974, red.) they were pioneers in this sense, to always want to play new music. And Irvine (Irvine Arditti, the founder of the quartet, red.) never wanted to dwell on a single piece for 6 months to make it a masterpiece, he rather wanted to promote new works and maybe influence the programming of other quartets. And it worked, more and more other quartets started to include the Arditti’s pieces in their repertoire.

DVS: In The Netherlands there are more new compositions being made than there are quartets to play them… and you are composing too – when did you start composing?

I started composing seriously after I left the quartet, around 1998, then I had more time.

DVS: So you thought, what they write for us, I can do as well?

Well, there were so many interesting ideas that were not obvious from the outside, that the audience didn’t hear, because there were so many other things going on in the music. And I wanted to broaden my interests, beyond quartet music. And I wanted to move back to Paris, where I lived before I joined the quartet; so those were reasons for leaving.

What I tried to learn from the quartet, and use in my music, is a way of presenting sounds so that people could really enjoy the sounds themselves. Many pieces have almost too many ideas, they’re a whole universe in themselves, which you can get lost in. But I thought, why not present people with new sounds but in a context they know already, instead of unleashing a new revolution upon the world every day! You can present the audience with just a subtle change in the sound, to be interesting enough.

So what I try to do in my music, especially in the Viola Spaces, is to write simple pieces. A straight line, a little melody, no complex metrics, one step at a time, focusing on the sound, without difficult notations. As it progresses, I only change little things, like technique, to modify the sound it makes. So my aim would be to persuade classical musicians to listen more to the sound they’re making.

DVS: So you started composing, at first for yourself – what would you suggest as a starting tip for a would-be composer?

Go for it – but keep it simple, less is more! Don’t start too ambitiously, just write what’s on your mind.

DVS: You have a family – did you have to shut them out in order to find room for composing?

I’m not really a full-time composer, I’m also a player, and I combine the two. So I don’t have to shut out my family to compose. In fact part of the reason for composing was to be able to spend more time at home with my family.

DVS: Are there still things you want to do more of?

Composing-wise, yes! The Pocket Concerto is a good example; the piano is not my favourite companion instrument, it seems to suck all the sound away from the viola. I always thought the viola sounds better without the piano, in a quartet for example.

So I was asked to write a Concertante piece for viola for this competition, and I wanted to open a door to a new combination, by using the cello instead of a piano to play the orchestra part.

DVS: Yes you’re totally right, but at the same time, this particular combination made it difficult for many viola students to enter this competition – the cellists often backed out when they saw the score, they couldn’t muster the time and energy to practice this demanding part as a mere “accompanist”.

Really? I’m surprised to hear that. I tried to make it easy on the cello …

DVS: Yes, it’s really an attitude issue among conservatory students,
which we have to try to change…

…anyway, next topic! The Viola d’Amore, a special love of yours. Where do you start to learn this instrument?

I think you can just start to play, and teach yourself. And there’s also a method by the 18th century composer-violist Milandre, with lots of nice little pieces and tips to get started.

DVS: And the tuning – D major seems to be the standard?

Yes, but it can also be D minor, which is my favourite. And you can arrange the sympathetic strings according to the piece.

DVS: I also saw the Hardanger fiddle mentioned on your site?

Yes, I played with Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, an Irish fiddler who has a 5-string “Hardanger d’Amore“. But I don’t really play the Hardanger fiddle myself, although I did play it once in a video. And it is of course related to the Viola d’Amore.

DVS: Some last questions then – did you ever play in an orchestra?

I played in the English Chamber Orchestra for a while, after leaving college.

DVS: And with whom did you study?

I studied with Frederick Riddle at the Royal College of Music in London, a great violist. He’s also known for having made the first-ever recording of the Walton Concerto.

DVS: And where could students reach you – do you teach?

I do some summer courses, but no year-round teaching position.

DVS: Then we’ll make sure your summer courses are shown in our website’s Summer Courses guide!
Thank-you for your time!

Editor’s note:  Tomorrow (Nov 16th), Garth Knox will perform his own Pocket Concerto (for viola and cello) at the Evening concert of the DVS National Viola Gathering in Splendor Amsterdam! Reserve your tickets and come!

5 vragen aan… Dana Zemtsov

door Kristofer G. Skaug

English version below! Follow this link.

Dana Zemtsov is inmiddels uitgegroeid tot een “BNA” (Bekende Nederlandse Altiste). Op jonge leeftijd heeft ze zowel het nederlandse en internationale publiek voor zich gewonnen met haar spel. Ze heeft op belangrijke podia en festivals opgetreden, en heeft lof geoogst met haar twee solo-CD’s “Romantic Metamorphoses” en “Enigma”. Als telg van een gerenommeerde volbloeds altvioolfamilie straalt ze met een natuurlijke overtuiging de liefde voor haar instrument en repertoire uit. Aanstaande weekend treedt ze driemaal op met violiste Frederieke Saeijs en het Nederlands Philhamonisch orkest in de Sinfonia Concertante van Mozart: Aanleiding voor de DVS om een speed-interview aan te vragen.

1. Als je geen altvioliste was geworden, wat had je dan gedaan?

Dat is een heeeele moeilijke vraag voor mij. Het enige wat ik zeker weet is dat ik mijn hele jeugd ontzettend graag auditie wou doen voor een professionele balletschool. Dat was mijn tweede grote passie, en ik wou zo graag ballet en conservatorium tegelijk doen. Maar ik weet niet of ik het in die harde balletwereld het verder emotioneel zou overleven. Ik kan me misschien voorstellen dat ik iets met schilderen of literatuur zou doen, maar dan zou ik in Mexico wonen en een tropische tuin hebben met colibri’s, papagaaien en heel veel kleurrijke planten! Toch zijn geen van deze interesses zo natuurlijk voor mij als muziek… maar ik kan me zeker niet voorstellen dat ik iets niet-kunstachtigs zou doen in ieder geval 🙂

2. Wij rekenen je graag als een nederlandse altvioliste – hoe zie je dat zelf?

Absoluut! Ik heb russische achtergrond, mijn jeugd heb ik in Mexico doorgebracht, en ik vind deze twee culturen ongelofelijk bijzonder; ze zijn zeker een deel van wie ik ben. Maar in Nederland heb ik mijn hele muzikale opvoeding gekregen en mijn eerste muziekvrienden waar ik kamermuziek mee leerde kennen.

Als ik Nederland vergelijk met andere landen, valt mij op dat er hier heel veel nadruk is op kamermuziek, samenspel en het genieten van muziek. Ik ben ongelofelijk gelukkig dat ik de belangrijkste jaren van mijn muzikale formatie en de eerste grote ervaringen hier heb mogen meemaken.

3. Je staat dit weekend met Frederieke Saeijs in het Concertgebouw om de iconische Sinfonia Concertante van Mozart te spelen. Hoe kwam deze samenwerking tot stand?

Dit is een  jubileum van het Kersjesfonds, waar alle solisten en dirigenten van dit concert prijswinnars van zijn. Het was dus helemaal hun idee om mij te combineren met Frederieke in dit programma. We hebben al vorige maand de Concertante samengespeeld in Duitsland, en er ontstonden ongelofelijk magische momenten. Ik ben zo dankbaar dat ze deze combinatie hebben bedacht, en het is natuurlijk een eer om zo het Jubileum van het Kersjesfonds te mogen vieren!!!

4. Vlinders in je buik?


5. En na volgende week – waar kunnen we je dan vinden? Naar welke toekomstige projecten kijk je uit?

Heel veel bijzondere projecten, en allemaal tegelijk! Ik speel nog 3 keer in het Concertgebouw met twee verschillende programma’s; een tango-programma met fantastische pianiste Anna Fedorova, violist Daniel Rowland, bassist van het concertgebouw Nicky Schwarz en de geweldige argentijnse bandoneonist Marcelo Nisinman (dit programma doen we ook in TivoliVredenburg).

En dan op het Tracks Programma met percussionist Dominique Vleeshouwers en pianist Louis Schwizgebel. Het leven van Beethoven samengevat met altviool, marimba, piano en electronica – stel je voor! 🙂

In april komt er een hele bijzondere samenwerking met dirigent Daniel Raiskin, in Finland. Ik ga daar het concert van Leo Smit spelen, en “Suite in old Style” van Dobrinka Tabakova. Het is allemaal fantastische muziek! Ik kijk ontzettend uit naar dat programma, en hoop dat ik het gauw ook in Nederland mag brengen! Meteen daarna is er en tourneetje in de VS met Anna Fedorova, en mijn debut met orkest daar, met het Lake Forest Orchestra en dirigent Fabio Mechetti.

Verder komt  dit jaar nog een nieuwe CD uit samen met geweldige pianiste Anna Fedorova: “À la francaise” – niet perse alles is Franse muziek, maar alles is wel geinspireerd op iets Frans! 🙂

We wensen Dana heel veel plezier en succes met al deze projecten!

De Sinfonia Concertante met Frederieke Saeijs, Dana Zemtsov en het Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest olv. Karel Deseure zijn te beleven op de volgende data en locaties:


English Version:

Dana Zemtsov has become a household name among Dutch violists. At a young age, she has conquered both Dutch and international audiences with her musicianship. She had appearances on major stages and festivals, and won praise for her two solo CD albums “Romantic Metamorphoses” and “Enigma”. Coming from a renowned family of fullblood violists, she radiates her love for the viola and its repertoire with natural conviction. This coming weekend, she will give three performances of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” together with violinist Frederieke Saeijs and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, and on this occasion we approached her for a speed-interview.

1. If you hadn’t become a violist, what would you have done?

That is a veeery difficult question for me! The only thing I know for sure is that, in my younger days, I long hoped to audition for a professional ballet school.  That was my second big passion, and I wanted so much to do ballet and conservatory at the same time. But I’m not so sure that I could have survived emotionally in the tough ballet world. I can imagine that I might also have done something with painting or literature, but then I would have chosen to live in Mexico, with a tropical garden full of hummingbirds, parrots, and lots of colourful plants! However, neither of these interests have the same natural appeal to me as music… anyway, I can’t imagine that I would be doing something non-artistic… 🙂

2. We like to think of you as a Dutch violist – how do you see yourself?

Absolutely! I do have a Russian background, and I spent my youth in Mexico – and both these cultures are very special to me, they are part of who I am. But I received my musical education in The Netherlands, and here I had my first musical friends, with whom I discovered chamber music.

If I were to compare The Netherlands with other countries, there is more emphasis here on chamber music, playing together and enjoying music. I am incredibly lucky that I spent the most important years of my musical upbringing and had my first major musical experiences here.

3. This weekend, you will play Mozart’s iconic Sinfonia Concertante with Frederieke Saeijs in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. How did this cooperation come about?

This is a jubilee celebration of the Kersjesfonds, and all the soloists and the conductor of this concert have won awards from this fund. So it was altogether their idea to match me with Frederieke in this programme. We already performed the Concertante together twice last month in Germany, and some very magical moments transpired! I am so grateful that they thought of this combination, and it is of course an honour to celebrate the Kersjesfonds jubilee in this way!

4. Excited?


5. And after next week – where can we find you? Which future projects are you looking forward to?

There are very many special projects coming up – and all at the same time! I play three more concerts in the Concertgebouw with two different programmes; a tango programme with the amazing pianist Anna Fedorova, violinist Daniel Rowland, bassist of the Concertgebouw orchestra Nicky Schwarz, and the great Argentinian bandoneon player Marcelo Nisinman (we also play this programme in TivoliVredenburg Utrecht).

And then, in the Tracks Programme with percussionist Dominique Vleeshouwers and pianist Louis Schwizgebel. The life of Beethoven summarized with viola, marimba, piano and electronics – go figure! 🙂

In April there is a very special collaboration with conductor Daniel Raiskin, in Finland. I will play the Leo Smit concerto and the “Suite in old Style” by Dobrinka Tabakova. All of it fantastic music! I look tremendously forward to that programme, and I hope that I can perform it in The Netherlands soon, as well!

Directly after this, I go on a mini-tour in the US with pianist Anna Fedorova, and I will also make my US solo debut with orchestra, with the Lake Forest Orchestra and conductor Fabio Mechetti. And later this year I will bring out a new CD with Anna Fedorova: “À la francaise” – not all of it is strictly French music, but entirely French-inspired!

We wish Dana all the best for these projects!

The Sinfonia Concertante with Frederieke Saeijs, Dana Zemtsov and The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Karel Deseure) can be heard on the following dates and venues:

Interview NNO Altvioolsextet

door Kristofer G. Skaug

English version below! Follow this link.

Op 27 mei as. geeft  het NNO Altvioolsextet een optreden in het Muziekinstrumentenmuseum Vosbergen in Eelde. Het viel de DVS-redactie op dat dit ensemble al vaker opgetreden heeft, en dat er dus sprake moet zijn van meer dan een gelegenheidsclub. Reden om een beetje door te vragen!

DVS: Wie zijn jullie, en hoe lang spelen jullie al samen bij het NNO en in het sextet?

NA6: In het NNO Altvioolsextet spelen Christophe Weidmann, Martin Manak, Kees Dekkers, Ulrike Adam, Katharina Saerberg en Kristin Stets. In 2011 hadden we twee concerten met de hele altvioolgroep van het NNO georganiseerd. Na deze concerten bleven er zes altviolisten over die als sextet door wilden gaan.

DVS: Het aanstaande programma bevat veel bewerkingen (Bach, Brahms, Bloch enz.), hoe komen jullie daar aan?

NA6: Veel met andere altviolisten praten en vragen, veel op internet zoeken…  Een paar bewerkingen hadden we al. Voor het eerste concert heeft onze vioolcollega/arrangeur  Gijs Philip van Schaik de Roemeense dansen van Bartok fantastisch gearrangeerd, daarna nog Hongaarse dansen van Brahms. En we hebben het geluk dat Kristin haar talent tot arrangeren ontdekt en de laatste jaren heel hard voor ons gewerkt heeft!

DVS: Er wordt veel nieuwe muziek geschreven voor altviool-ensembles. Spelen jullie ook wel eens muziek van hedendaagse componisten?

NA6: Gijs Philip van Schaik heeft voor ons een stuk geschreven, Impatient Dance voor 5 altviolen in 5/4 maat. Heel leuk. Dat is tot nu toe het enige werk van een hedendaagse componist. Maar we staan natuurlijk voor alles open.

DVS: Zien jullie een wisselwerking tussen jullie samenspel als orkest-sectie (onder leiding van dirigent en aanvoerder) en het kamermuzikale samenspel als altvioolensemble? Hoe komt dat tot uiting?

NA6: Wat een moeilijke vraag….Daar hebben we nog niet over nagedacht. De altvioolgroep van het NNO is sowieso een goede een gezellige groep. Maar je speelt natuurlijk anders samen kamermuziek dan in het orkest, waar je toch nooit precies hoort hoe iedereen speelt. Het samenspelen in het sextet beinvloedt zeker het orkestspel in de altvioolgroep. Onlangs hadden we ook een samenspeeldag met de hele groep. Het grote voordeel van een altvioolensemble is dat iedereen een gelijkwardige partij kan hebben . Geen eerste, tweede viool, bij elk stuk worden de rollen opnieuw verdeeld.

Behalve het sextetten, zou de altvioolsectie van het NNO een educatieve en promotionele functie kunnen vervullen voor de altviool, als competentiekern in Groningen e.o.?

Daar hebben we ook nog niet over nagedacht. We spelen vooral graag samen en genieten van de gezelligheid. Maar het is wel een goed idee om daar eens over na te denken en dan ook in samenwerking met altviooldocenten uit de regio.

Het NNO altvioolsextet speelt werken van Bach, Bloch, Bartok, Tchaikovsky en Brahms in het Muziekinstrumentenmuseum Vosbergen in Eelde. 
Zaterdag 27 mei 2017, aanvang 20:00u. Meer informatie …


English Version:

On May 27th, the NNO Viola Sextet gives a performance in the Musical Instruments Museum Vosbergen in Eelde. It came to our attention that this ensemble has performed together several times before, so it must be more than an ad-hoc club. Reasons enough for us to ask a few questions!

DVS: Who are you, and how long have you played toegether at the NNO (Noord-Nederlands Orkest) and in the sextet?

NA6: The members of the NNO Viola Sextet are Christophe Weidmann, Martin Manak, Kees Dekkers, Ulrike Adam, Katharina Saerberg and Kristin Stets. In 2011 we organized two concerts with the entire NNO viola section, and after that there were six of us who wanted to continue as a sextet.

DVS: The upcoming programme includes many transcriptions (Bach, Brahms, Bloch etc.), how did you come across these works?

NA6: We talked a lot with other violists and set out our queries on internet… some of the transcriptions were already there. For the first concert, our violinist colleague and arranger Gijs Philip van Schaik made an amazing transcription of the Bartok Romanian Dances, followed by the Brahms Hungarian Dances. And we have been lucky that Kristin has explored her own transcription talents and has applied herself with a lot of hard work in recent years!

DVS: A lot of new music is being composed for viola ensembles. Do you also occasionally play pieces by contemporary composers?

NA6: Gijs Philip van Schaik wrote a piece for us, Impatient Dance for 5 violas in 5/4 beat. Very enjoyable. That is the only piece so far by a contemporary composer. But we are of course open to everything.

DVS: Do you perceive an interaction between your ensemble playing as orchestra section (led by conductor and principal chair), and the chamber musical ensemble of the sextet on the other hand? If so, how does this show?

NA6: What a difficult question … we haven’t thought about that. The NNO viola section is at any rate a good and convivial group. But chamber music interaction is of course different than orchestra playing, where you can never hear exactly how everybody else plays. For sure, the sextet playing influences our orchestra performance. We recently also had a workshop day with the whole section. The big advantage of a viola ensemble is that everyone can play an equally interesting part. No first, second and third fiddle – in each piece, the roles are redistributed across the group.

Besides the sextet, do you see a role for the NNO viola section in educational and promotional sense, as a centre of competency in the Groningen region?

We haven’t given much thought to that either. We primarily like to play together and enjoy each other’s company. But it is certainly a good idea to have a think about that, also in cooperation with the viola teachers in our region.

The NNO viola sextet plays works by Bach, Bloch, Bartok, Tchaikovsky and Brahms in Muziekinstrumentenmuseum Vosbergen, Eelde. 
Saturday May 27th 2017, starting at 20:00h. More information …

Interview Oene van Geel

door Kristofer G. Skaug

English version below! Follow this link.

Oene van Geel: altviolist, improvisator, componist. In 2013 winnaar van de prestigieuze Boy Edgar prijs. Deze week is hij in beeld bij het Amsterdam Viola Festival, waar hij zowel als componist, masterclassdocent en musicus deelneemt. Tegelijkertijd treedt hij op met zijn groep “Estafest” in het Bimhuis. Vorig jaar is ook zijn eerste solo-CD uitgekomen, “Sudoku”. De DVS ging op bezoek bij Oene thuis in Landsmeer om deze muzikale allesvreter beter te leren kennen.

DVS: Denk je bij het componeren primair aan bezettingen, of meer aan specifieke mensen en groepen?

Ik denk zoveel mogelijk vanuit specifieke mensen. Toen ik het altvioolconcert ging schrijven ging het mij veel meer om de persoon Emlyn Stam (voor wie het concert geschreven werd, red.), dan dat ik iets voor altviool wilde maken. Ik ging in overleg met hem, waarbij het ook ging om de mensen in zijn New European Ensemble. We hebben uitgebreid gesproken over zijn muzikale voorkeuren. Ik vind het juist zo gaaf om iets te schrijven voor mensen die mij inspireren, dat geeft heel veel richting. Dode musici en dode componisten, die kunnen niet meer overleggen – hoe mooi die muziek ook is.
Wat bezetting en muziekstijl betreft, ik vind het hele spectrum interessant, van zeer uitgesproken rytmisch tot heel melodisch of harmonisch. Noem mij maar een nerderige knutselaar, die allerlei dingen probeert te ontleden tot de kern. En dan kun je van alles daarmee gaan combineren.

DVS: Je hebt voor het komende Nationaal Altvioolconcours twee stukjes geschreven, is dat voor het eerst dat je een concoursstuk schrijft?

Nee, ik heb voor de Cellobiënnale in 2008 een concoursstuk gemaakt, dat was hartstikke leuk om te doen. Het eerste deel daarvan wordt nog steeds veel gespeeld. Het derde deel heb ik onlangs herschreven, omdat het eigenlijk te moeilijk was.  Dat was leerzaam.

En met deze stukken hoop ik om altisten iets nieuws mee te geven, dat ze met andere dingen in aanraking komen.

Voor het eerste stuk (“Skip Count Sweet Miles”) leek het me leuk om iets te doen met totale jazz-esthetiek, met mensen zoals Lee Konitz en Warne Marsh, Amerikanen die vooral samen met anderen zich baseerden op standards van bekende stukken, maar daar op een eigenzinnige manier geraffineerde themas overheen schreven. Ik heb drie stukken van Monk, Coltrane en Dave Brubeck gemengd tot één stuk, en daar ben ik een thema op gaan bouwen.

DVS: Hier zit een basgitaar track bij, best snel!

Ja, daarom heb ik later een paar langzamere tempi meegegeven als alternatief. Het gaat mij erom dat er een bepaalde swing of drive erin zit.


Oene coacht concoursdeelnemer Hessel Moeselaar in “Skip Count Sweet Miles” met contrabas

DVS: En het tweede stuk “Gesualdo’s Bovenkamer” is heel anders, met juist vrije tempi?

Gesualdo was een interessante componist. Zijn levensverhaal was dramatisch, hij vermoorde zijn eerste vrouw, uit jaloezie. Maar zijn muziek is nog bijzonderder. Ik kocht een CD van Collegium Vocale Gent met een paar van zijn madrigalen, en ik raakte gebiologeerd door die klankwereld, hele boeiende muziek. Je herkent er wel de wetten van contrapunt en stemvoering in, maar het moduleert alle kanten op! Uit een aantal van deze madrigalen heb ik elementen gehaald, en die fragmenten van 5-stemmige muziek heb ik teruggebracht naar een altviool solostuk. De originele eindsequens van 4 harmonieën heb ik doorgebouwd, die systematiek heb ik doorgezet naar een langere afdalende lijn. Er zijn drie gemarkeerde gedeelten in dit stuk, en daartussen zitten twee korte improvisatieplekken waar de deelnemers iets van zichzelf kunnen laten horen. Ik hoop dus dat deze plekken elke keer totaal anders zijn! Misschien bedenken de deelnemers zelf van tevoren een kadens, of een spontane improvisatie ter plekke. Mijn enige verwachting is dat deze inbreng ergens in verhouding staat tot de door mij uitgeschreven noten.

DVS: Spannend voor de altviolist om op avontuur te gaan met dit stuk!

Het avontuur van de improvisatie, dat vind ik ook leuk om als luisteraar mee te maken, en daar wou ik de concoursdeelnemers ook in stimuleren. In het eerste stuk (Skip Count…) loopt de begeleiding (bas) gewoon door, dat heb je mee te “dealen”. Daarom is het mooi als contrast, een tweede stuk waar je helemaal zelf de boog mag maken.

DVS: Behalve dit contrast, had je een verband gedacht tussen deze twee stukken?

Nee, bewust niet. Er was eerst ook een derde deel bij, een stuk helemaal pizzicato, in gitaarhouding. Dan vraag ik wéér een helemaal andere techniek en een onbekende speelwijze. Het werd echter te lang en teveel nieuw materiaal bij elkaar, dus dat laatste deel heb ik weggelaten. Maar ik had dus bewust drie heel vershillende stukken bedacht.

DVS: De twee eerste stukken veroorzaken misschien al genoeg “angst”?

Ik hoop dat we het niet over ‘angst’ hoeven te hebben, en meer over wat er te ontdekken valt! Het is een concours, maar het gaat mij niet om wie ‘de beste’ is. Ik wil vooral zien wat er bij eenieder te halen valt. Soms kunnen gevoelens van weerstand en angst je wel uit de automatische piloot halen, waardoor je wel verder komt, dus dat gevoel is in mijn optiek niet altijd verkeerd, als het maar geen kramp wordt. Maar ik hoop vooral dat er een gevoel gaat heersen van ‘oh, leuk!’ eerder dan ‘oh, help!’, want dat laatste is niet wat ik beoog met zo’n concoursstuk.


Workshop met Oene bij Conservatorium van Amsterdam, vorig week.

DVS: Je bent net terug van een reisje naar Taiwan – wat heb je daar gedaan?

Met de Nordanians heb ik daar op een percussiefestival gespeeld. De Nordanians is een groep met tabla (indiase drums, red.), gitaar, ik op vijfsnarige viool en tegenwoordig ook een bayan (een Russische knoppen-accordeon). En we hebben een chinese gast-percussionist, een jongen die ook klassiek slagwerk heeft gestudeerd, en nu voor dirigent studeert in Helsinki, hij speelt harstikke goed. Dus we waren met z’n vijven dit keer. Op een gegeven moment werd ik door vier man gedragen terwijl ik op een grote Chinese trommel  stond te spelen. Het was een heel leuk avontuur. Er waren veel slagwerkgroepen, vooral uit Azië. Het is leuk als je zo ver weg bent, in een hele andere entourage, en je toch ook zo welkom voelt.

Het was al de 10e keer dat dit festival georganiseerd werd. Stampvol, veel publiek. Twee Taiko-groepen uit Japan, met fluit en Shamisen erbij; en traditionele Chineze groepen. Wij waren erbij als cross-over groep, met ook invloeden uit Indiase muziek, jazz, kamermuziek, balkan, Moldavië…  daarin waren wij wel heel anders dan de meeste andere groepen, maar dat vond men hartstikke leuk.

DVS: Je hebt een aantal musici om je heen, verschillende bezettingen: Je strijkkwartet Zapp4, The Nordanians, en nog meer?

Ik heb ook een duo met Mark Haanstra op basgitaar, we spelen al 20 jaar samen, zeer boeiend. Je moet alles met z’n tweeën overeind houden. Alle passages die normaal gesproken door een violist worden gespeeld, moeten dan op de altviool eruit komen. Dat gaat dus soms opeens enorm hoog en snel, dan kan ik totaal niet achterover leunen. Maar het is heel leuk om met z’n tweeën te wisselen tussen heel sober spelen en groots orkestraal uitpakken. Hoe kleiner de bezetting, hoe flexibeler kun je reageren, net als in de kamermuziek.

Een andere belangrijke groep is Estafest: Gitaar, piano, sax, en ik op altviool en percussie. Ten tijde van het altvioolfestival spelen wij in het Bimhuis.

DVS: Zoek je in elke groep bewust er iets anders uit te kunnen halen?

Ja, zeker! Maar het gaat mij vooral heel erg om de persoonlijkheden die erin meespelen, en er is altijd wel een link met geïmproviseerde muziek. Er is geen ene groep waar er alleen maar vaststaande noten worden gespeeld – dat doe ik als componist al genoeg. Ik vind het als speler vooral leuk om samen met elkaar de muziek te boetseren.

DVS: Zijn de muziekstijlen dan ook heel anders in deze ensembles?

Ja, bij de Nordanians is Niti Ranjan bijvoorbeeld een grootmeester op de Tabla – hij kent die muziek van haver tot gort. Ritmisch is onze muziek dus heel erg door indiase muziek geïnspireerd. Maar wat we harmonisch en melodisch daarop doen heeft meer met moderne jazz te maken. Maar het is geen abstracte band. Estafest kan daarentegen soms een heel abstracte kant op gaan. Het is juist leuk dat je niet bij elke band hetzelfde hoeft te doen.

Wat ik ook heel spannend vind is een nieuwe duo met een danseres, dus altviool en dans. Zij heet Miri Lee, en komt oorspronkelijk uit Korea. Dat is helemaal geïmproviseerd, en uit al die dansbewegingen krijg je zo’n andere soort informatie, vergeleken met collega musici. Het is heel boeiend om naar dans te kijken en te ervaren wat dat oproept, waardoor je vaak meer “beeldend” werkt en denkt.

DVS: Soms benadert het lichamelijke werk van een musicus ook een soort choreografie; er wordt vaak gediscussieerd over niet-functionele “uitspattingen” bij podiumartiesten, terwijl oude helden als Menuhin en Heifetz geen spier teveel gebruikten.

Daar valt veel voor te zeggen, want als je perfect efficiënt bent, kom je technisch waarschijnlijk verder. Het belangrijkste is om te weten wat je bij jezelf vindt passen. Zelfbeheersing moet niet als een keurslijf aanvoelen, maar aan de andere kant moet je ook niet denken dat je alleen voor de show moet bewegen. Interessante vraag: Hoe sta je als speler, componist en mens uberhaupt dicht bij jezelf? Dat moet je zelf ontdekken, en af en toe eens ook uit de bocht durven vliegen.

DVS: Je krijgt heel veel minutieuze instructies op (alt)vioolles, continu prikkels en correcties. Het is moeilijk om daardoorheen nog je eigen authentieke lichaamstaal te ontdekken.

In die zin heb ik zelf een onorthodox parcours gedaan. Ik had wel klassiek bijvak, maar ik heb altijd vooral op mijn eigen manier gespeeld: Technieken verzonnen die ongebruikelijk zijn, en heel eigenwijs klassikale technieken niet geoefend.


Oene’s eerste soloalbum, “Sudoku” (2016)

DVS: Je concoursstukken zijn voor de klassieke conservatoriumstudenten aanleiding om uit hun comfort zone te worden getrokken met jazz en improvisatie. In het algemeen moet een musicus in staat zijn om muziek zelfstandig uit te vormen met frasering en klank. Wordt er bij klassieke muziekstudenten wel genoeg tijd voor uitgetrokken om de muzikale fantasie te stimuleren?

Ik heb veel overleg gehad tussendoor met Marjolein Dispa en Francien Schatborn (docenten van het CvA, red). Ik heb met Francien en ook Joël Waterman samen in de altvioolsectie gezeten bij een project het muzikantencollectief Splendor. Francien vond dit project super leuk en wilde graag nieuwe invloeden bij het Conservatorium in huis halen. Dit is een soort speldenprik om de jonge musici in die richting te bewegen. Ik vond het heel belangrijk om, naast de noten van mijn stukken, ook allerlei voorbeelden (YouTube-links) aan te mogen leveren die samenhangen met deze muziek – o.a. de Gesualdo-madrigalen, en voorbeelden van Konitz, Monk, en Miles Davis. Het is fijn dat de studenten te weten komen waar ik het allemaal vandaan heb, welke tradities er achter de noten staan. Dat moet niet per se, maar het kan hen wel op ideeën brengen. Al is het maar dat ze een ochtendje thuis uittrekken om de klankwereld van Gesualdo in te duiken. Dan is er al iets bereikt.

Ik ben zelf altijd heel nieuwsgierig naar vensters op iets nieuws. De eerste keer dat ik Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Messiaen) hoorde, er ging een wereld voor mij open. Of als ik bepaalde stukken van Penderecki eens hoor. Nieuwe geluiden kunnen je beeld zo verrijken. Dus zo’n nieuwe compositie kan aanleiding zijn tot zelfwerkzaamheid en een soort veldonderzoek. Maar dat is ook de graver en de nerd in mij die altijd maar wil zoeken en fascinerende dingen vindt die hij wil gaan uitpluizen. Iedereen is anders natuurlijk, maar het zou leuk zijn als er mensen bij het concours zijn die daar ook in gestimuleerd worden.

DVS: Behalve met je vaste groepen, zijn er optredens geweest met musici aan wie je bijzondere herinneringen koestert?

Ja, dan moet ik meteen denken aan de samenwerking van Zapp4 met Jan Bang. Dat is een Noorse elektronica-speler, hij had van ons allevier het microfoonkanaal aangesloten en werkte met live sampling/ klankmanipulatie. Wij waren helemaal aan het improviseren, en hij kon als een schaker de verschillende samples naast elkaar leggen en op nieuwe manieren combineren in tijd, soms ook met een nieuwe toonhoogte. Daar reageerden wij dan weer op, en zo ontstond een hele bijzondere klankwereld. Het is alsof je de muziek teruggespiegeld krijgt, maar dan vervormd, zodat er ook nieuwe dingen ontstaan. Die combinatie van akoestisch en elektronica werd heel bijzonder, dankzij zijn organische spelenderwijs componeren met het opgenomen materiaal. Alles was gebaseerd op een “open visier” aanname van onze klanken, expres zonder andere inbreng “van buitenaf”.

DVS: En daarnaast zijn er misschien mensen met wie je nog graag in de toekomst zou willen samenwerken?

Zeker! Theo Loevendie is een van mijn grote helden; componist en nu 86 jaar en nog altijd heel actief. Hij speelde tot zijn 84e nog saxofoon maar moest daarmee stoppen vanwege de oogdruk. Dus nu speelt hij piano. Hij maakt daar enorme vooruitgang mee. Op het festival Wonderfeel (in juli) komt een premiere van een nieuw stuk van hem, geschreven voor Erik Bosgraaf, hem en mijzelf. Theo is voor mij hèt voorbeeld van iemand die altijd blijft zoeken, contact maakt met alle generaties, componeert, speelt, en improviseert. Ik vind het een grote eer om in zijn nieuwe stuk, samen het hem te mogen spelen.

Oene van Geel geeft workshop Improvisatie tijdens DVS congres 2013

Oene van Geel geeft workshop Improvisatie tijdens DVS congres 2013

DVS: Wij zitten natuurlijk ook te hopen dat je iets wilt doen bij het Internationale Altvioolcongres in Rotterdam, dat we in november 2018 gaan organiseren.

Klinkt harstikke leuk, ja! Dat najaar doe ik ook mee bij het festival November Music in Den Bosch, daar wordt dan van mij een dubbel celloconcert en opnieuw het altvioolconcert (met Emlyn) uitgevoerd. Ik zou het ook erg leuk vinden om dan bij het congres iets met bijvoorbeeld George Dumitriu samen te doen. Een altvioolkwartet misschien, dat lijkt mij een mooie uitdaging!

DVS: Ik zou zeggen, “hold that thought”! En dank voor je tijd!

De concoursstukken van Oene zijn te horen in de 1e Ronde van het Nationaal Altvioolconcours, op 15-16 februari as.. De door de jury als beste gekozen vertolking van deze stukken wordt nog eens uitgevoerd bij de “Bonte avond” op zaterdag 18 februari in Splendor, aanvang 20.30u.

Het altvioolconcert van Oene wordt uitgevoerd door Annemarie Hensen, begeleid door een conservatorium-ensemble met Oene zelf op cajon! Donderdag 16 februari in de Sweelinckzaal van het CvA, aanvang 19.30u.

Het optreden van Estafest in het Bimhuis Amsterdam is ook op donderdag 16 februari, aanvang 20.30u (meer informatie:

Oene geeft daarnaast een masterclass improvisatie op zaterdag 18 februari in de Haitinkzaal van het conservatorium, aanvang 11.00u.


English Version:

Oene van Geel: violist, improviser, composer. In 2013 he won the prestigious Boy Edgar award. This week he is in the picture at the Amsterdam Viola Festival, where he participates in the capacity of composer, masterclass teacher and musician. He also performs with his group “Estafest” in the Bimhuis this week. Last year he released his first solo album “Sudoku”. The DVS visited Oene at home in Landsmeer, to learn more about this multi-talented musician.

DVS: When you compose, do you think primarily in terms of instrumentation, or rather about the specific people you are writing for?

I tend to think as much as possible about specific people. When I started out writing my viola concerto, I was definitely more preoccupied with the person Emlyn Stam (for whom the concerto is written, red.) than with the purpose of creating something for the viola as such. I talked to him, also about the people in his New European Ensemble. We discussed extensively about his musical preferences. I particularly enjoy writing music for people who inspire me, this gives me a lot of direction. Dead musicians and dead composers are not able to discuss with each other, no matter how beautiful their music may be.

In terms of instrumentation and musical style, I am interested in all styles, from markedly rhythmical to very melodic or harmonic music. You can call me a nerdy dabbler, who tries to reduce (musical) things to their core. And then you can combine all sorts of things with that.

DVS: For the upcoming National Viola Competition, you wrote two pieces. Is this the first time that you wrote a competition piece?

No, I also composed for the National Cello competition at the Cellobiënnale in 2008, and I really enjoyed that. The first movement of that piece is still frequently played. I recently re-wrote the third movement, because it was really a bit too difficult. So that was a learning point.

With these viola pieces I hope to offer something new to violists, so that they get in touch with other things than they’re used to.

For the first piece (“Skip Count Sweet Miles”) I thought it would be fun to do something purely jazz, inspired by people like Lee Konitz en Warne Marsh, Americans who – in cooperation with others – started with standards of well-known pieces, but wrote their own refined themes on top of that, in their very own wayward manner. I have mixed three pieces by Monk, Coltrane and Dave Brubeck, and then built a theme based on that.

DVS: There’s a bass guitar track to go with this piece, and it’s quite fast!

Yes, and therefore I added a few tracks with slower beats later on, as options. The important thing is that there’s a certain swing or drive in the performance.

DVS: And the second piece, called “Gesualdo’s Bovenkamer” (Gesualdo’s Top Floor) is very different, with free tempi?

Gesualdo was an interesting composer. His life story was a dramatic one: he murdered his first wife out of jealousy. But his music is even more special. I bought a CD by Collegium Vocale Gent with a few of his madrigals, and I was fascinated by that sound idiom, very captivating music. You can recognize the laws of counterpoint and voice leading in this music, but it modulates all over the place! From a number of these madrigals I took some elements; and these fragments in five voices were then boiled down to a solo viola piece. I also extended the system in the original closing sequence of four harmonies, into a longer descending line. The piece has three marked sections, with two breaks for short improvisations. This is where the contestants can really expose something of their own. So I do hope that these two improvs are very different every time! Maybe the contestants have worked out a cadenza in advance, or they do a spontaneous improv on the spot. But I would still hope that this own contribution bears some relation to my written score.

DVS: It is surely exciting for the violist to get to be adventurous with this piece!

The adventure of improvisation, I enjoy this experience as a listener, and I wanted to encourage the competition candidates in this respect. In the first piece (Skip Count…) the bass runs along whatever happens, and you have no choice but to deal with that. That’s why the second (Gesualdo) part is such a gratifying contrast, where you are in control of the flow of time.

DVS: Apart from this contrast, did you have a logical connection between the two parts in mind?

No, consciously not. Initially I also had a third piece in mind, altogether pizzicato, to be played guitar style. This requires yet another uncommon technique. But it all became too long and too much new material for the purpose and timeframe of this project, so I left out that last part. But the point is that I had conceived on three completely different pieces, on purpose.

DVS: The two first pieces may already cause enough anxiety among the contestants?

I really hope that we won’t have to discuss anxiety in this context, just all the features that are there to be discovered! Yes, it is a competition, but it is for me not so important who “the best player” is. I most of all want to see what potential each player offers. Sometimes, feelings of resistance and fear can help to kick you out of the ‘automatic pilot’, thus advancing your progress. So such discomfort is in my view not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t work like a constraint.  But I mostly hope that my music will evoke a feeling of “oh, great!” rather than “oh, help!”, because the latter is certainly not my intention with this piece.

DVS: You just returned from a trip to Taiwan – what did you do there?

There was a percussion festival there, and I played with the Nordanians, a group with tabla (indian drums), guitar, myself on a 5-string viola and currently also a bayan (a Russian accordeon). And we have a Chinese guest percussionist, a guy who also studied classical percussion and now studies conducting in Helsinki. He’s a really good player. So there were five of us this time. At a certain point I was carried around by four men while playing big Chinese drum. It was a great adventure. There were lots of percussion groups, mainly from Asia. It’s very nice when you’re so far from home, in a completely different setting, and still can feel so welcome.

This was the 10th edition of this festival. Full house, lots of audience. Two Taiko groups from Japan, with flute and Shamisen (a kind of banjo), and traditional Chinese ensembles. We participated as cross-over group, with influences from Indian music, jazz, chamber music, Balkan, Moldavian music … in this respect we were definitely the “odd band out”, but we felt very much appreciated there.

DVS: You are surrounded by a number of musicians in different settings: Your string quartet Zapp4, The Nordanians… what more?

There’s this duo with Mark Haanstra on bass guitar, we’ve played together for 20 years, very stimulating. We have to keep everything going with just the two of us. All bits that usually are played by a violist, I have to somehow produce with the viola. That sometimes takes me to extreme heights and speeds, so there’s no relaxation possible. But I like the way we are able to vary between thin, modest passages and big orchestral flourish. The smaller the group, the more flexible you can react to each other’s impulses, just like in chamber music.

Another important group is Estafest: Guitar, piano, sax, en myself on the viola and percussion. During this week’s Viola Festival, I also perform with this group in the Bimhuis!

DVS: Are you consciously looking to achieve different things with the different groups?

Yes, for sure! But the most important thing for me are the different personalities that I get to play with in each band. And there is almost always a link with improvised music. None of my groups play only written, fixed notes – I get to do enough of that as a composer. As a performing musician, I particularly enjoy shaping the music, together.

DVS: Are the musical styles in your bands very different?

Yes – in the Nordanians we have Niti Ranjan, for example; he’s a true grand master of the Tabla, he knows all the ins and outs of this music. So rhythmically speaking, our music is therefore very much inspired by Indian music. But harmonically and melodically, what we put on top of that is more akin to modern jazz. However, it’s not really an abstract band.

In Estafest, on the other hand, we can sometimes take a very abstract direction. I’m very glad that I don’t have to do the same thing with every band!

I’m also very excited about a new partnership, viola with a dancer. Her name is Miri Lee, she’s originally from Korea. It is all completely improvised, and from all those dance movements you get such a different kind of information, compared to fellow musicians. It is very fascinating to watch her dance and to sense what that evokes in me, whereby I work and think more in visual terms.

DVS: Sometimes, the physical exertions of a musician also approach a kind of choreography. There are regular debates about non-functional “histrionics” of musicians on stage, while old heroes like Menuhin and Heifetz hardly made any excess movements while playing.

There’s a lot to be said for that, because if you’re perfectly efficient, you will probably advance further technically. But you should be aware what suits yourself best. Self-control should not be experiences as a straightjacket, but on the other hand you also shouldn’t be compelled to move just for the show effect. Interesting question: How do you manage as artist, composer and human being to remain authentic? This has to be your own personal discovery, whereby you also must dare to go over the edge at times.

DVS: During your violin/viola training, you receive myriads of detailed instructions, a continuous stream of stimuli and corrections. It can be hard to discover your own authentic body language through all that.

In that sense I have followed an unorthodox path. I did have classical studies as minor subjects in school, but I always played things my own way, inventing unusual techniques, while quite stubbornly neglected to practice the classical techniques.

DVS: Your two pieces for the competition are certain to draw most classical viola students out of their comfort zone, with jazz and improvisation. But in general, a musician must be prepared to shape his own music independently, in terms of phrasing and sound. Is enough time allocated at the  Conservatory to stimulate and develop the musical imagination of the classical students?

Well, I have discussed quite a bit with Marjolein Dispa and Francien Schatborn (viola teachers at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, red).  I once sat together with Francien and also with Joël Waterman in the viola section of a project at the musician’s collective Splendor. Francine loved this project, and wanted very much to draw new influences into the Conservatory.

So these pieces are a stimulus to move the young musicians in that direction. Next to the scores, I also had the opportunity to provide all kinds of examples (YouTube links) that relate to these pieces – for example the Gesualdo madrigals, and pieces of Konitz, Monk, en Miles Davis. It is important for me that the students learn where it all came from, which traditions are behind the notes. It’s not mandatory of course, but it can inspire some ideas in them. Even if they just spend one extra morning at home to explore the sound world of Gesualdo. Then we have achieved something.

I was always very curious for new things. The first time that I heard Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Messiaen), it was a new world for me. Or hearing certain pieces of Penderecki. New sounds can enrich your outlook so much. So new compositions promote an active stance in the musician to do field research. But then again, that is the digger and the nerd in me, who is always searching for fascinating things to sort out. So everyone is different of course, but I would be pleased if some of the competition entrants actually pick up on this.

DVS: Outside of your regular bands, have there been performances or collaborations with other musicians that you particularly enjoyed?

Yes, that immediately makes me think of the collaboration of Zapp4 with Jan Bang, a Norwegian electronics artist. He hooked into the microphone channel of each of us, and then started sampling and manipulating these sounds in real time. We were totally improvising, and he mixed and combined the different samples in new ways, sometimes even with a modified pitch. We reacted to this in our turn, and thus a very peculiar sound world arose. It was as if you get the music mirrored back at you, but transformed, so that new things were created. This combination of acoustic and electronic sound became very special, thanks to his organic and playful composing with the recorded material. All of it was based on an open acceptance of our sounds, without any external additions.

DVS: And then there are perhaps people with whom you are looking forward to work in the future?

Absolutely! Theo Loevendie is one of my big heroes; a composer, 86 years old and still going strong. He played the saxophone until very recently, but had to stop due to high eye pressure. So he started playing the piano instead, and he’s making giant strides with it. At the Wonderfeel festival (in July) he will premiere a new piece, written for Erik Bosgraaf, him, and myself. Theo is for me the ultimate example of someone who always keeps searching, connecting with all generations, composes, plays and improvises. It is a great honour for me to get to play with him in his new piece.

DVS: We are of course also hoping that you would like to contribute something at the International Viola Congress in Rotterdam, which we are working to organise in 2018.

That sounds like fun, sure! During that time, I am also contributing at the November Music festival in Den Bosch, where a double cello concerto of mine will be performed, along with my viola concerto (again with Emlyn as soloist). I would really like to work with for example George Dumitriu at your congress. A viola quartet perhaps, that sounds like a nice challenge!

DVS: Well, hold that thought! – And thanks for your time!

Oene’s competition pieces can be heard in the 1st Round of the National Viola Competition, Feb. 15-16th in the Sweelinckzaal at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. The best interpretations (as deemed by the competition jury) will be performed during the concert in Splendor Amsterdam, on Saturday Feb. 18th, starting at 20.30h.

The viola concerto will be performed by Annemarie Hensen, accompanied by a conservatory ensemble with Oene himself on cajon! Thursday Feb 16th in the Sweelinckzaal, starting 19.30h.

The Estafest performance at Bimhuis Amsterdam is also on Thursday Feb 16th, starting 20.30h. (more information:

Oene also teaches a Masterclass Improvisation on Saturday Feb 18th int he Haitinkzaal of the Conservatory, starting at 11.00h.



Interview Jan van der Elst, vioolbouwer

door Kristofer G. Skaug

English version below! Follow this link.

Velen erkennen het belang van de verbindende middenstem in de muziek. Een belangrijke maar toch ook vaak introverte stem. De altviool valt eigenlijk vooral op als, om wat voor reden dan ook, haar stem tijdelijk zwijgt. Opeens klinkt het ensemble dun en onsamenhangend. Alle betrokkenen, behoudens wellicht de enkele eerste violen, kijken dan verbaasd op en verlangen naar de terugkeer van het vriendelijke bronzen altgeluid. De eisen die in de loop der tijd aan de altviool worden gesteld zijn echter enorm toegenomen. De welluidende middenstem moet heden ten dage ook echt luid kunnen klinken en de aandacht op zich kunnen vestigen. Dit heeft geleid tot een veelheid aan verschillende maten, timbres en innovaties.

Een vioolbouwer die zich het lot van de altviool en haar bespelers heeft aangetrokken is de Dordtse vioolbouwer Jan van der Elst. In zijn atelier te Dordrecht zet hij zich al 20 jaar in voor de ontwikkeling van de altviool. Tijdens het Altvioolfestival in Amsterdam zal hij ingaan op praktische zaken die het leven van de altist kunnen verlichten. Geen onnodige theoretische verhandelingen, maar nuttige wenken omtrent de verzorging van het geliefde strijkinstrument de altviool.

Jan_vd_Elst_website_1DVS: Hoe ben je begonnen met vioolbouwen?

Normaal gesproken ga je eerst naar school toe, en daarna bij een meester in de leer. Maar ik heb het eigenlijk precies andersom gedaan. Ik ben eerst in de leer gegaan bij vioolbouwer Robert Walters in Rotterdam (bij velen bekend als “Rob Viool”, en onlangs in 2013 overleden – red.), daar heb ik mijn eerste viool gebouwd. Daarna, midden jaren tachtig, ben ik naar de school in Newark-on-Trent gegaan in Engeland. Het was heel moeilijk om op die school toegelaten te worden, maar mede dankzij mijn opgedane ervaring en meegenomen viool als proefstuk is dat gelukt.

DVS: Leerde je toen alle strijkinstrumenten bouwen?

Nee, je begint met de viool. Een viool bouwen is niet technisch moeilijker of makkelijker dan altviool of cello, maar het is voor de school organisatorisch eenvoudiger als iedereen hetzelfde bouwt. Daarnaast is een viool bouwen in financiëel opzicht minder riskant dan de grotere instrumenten, want als er iets misgaat ben je niet zoveel kostbaar hout kwijt.

Onze school zat in een oud bankgebouw, de opleiding duurde 3 jaar, in elk jaar zaten 12 leerlingen. De atelierruimtes waren te klein voor het met z’n allen bouwen van grote instrumenten zoals cello en contrabas. In het 3e jaar mocht je kiezen om een cello te bouwen, maar niet voor je eindexamen. Dat moest altijd een Stradivarius-model zijn. Ik heb tot de dag van vandaag nog nooit een cello gebouwd.

DVS: Hoe ben je dan uiteindelijk op het spoor van altvioolbouw terechtgekomen?

In het 2e jaar van school heb ik mijn eerste altviool gebouwd. Dat is de altviool waar Karin (Dolman, red) nu nog op speelt. Die heb ik meegenomen naar Nederland terwijl de lak nog niet eens klaar was. Ik vond de altviool niet goed klinken, dus heb ik hem op de plank gezet als een mislukt project.

Karin was toen aanvoerder van het NJO (Nederlands Jeugdorkest, red.), en speelde op een kleine en vrij dure altviool. We hadden toen nog niets, ze woonde hier gewoon in dezelfde straat. Zij vond mijn eerste altviool wel mooi. En bovendien vond de leiding van het NJO dat een grotere altviool beter bij haar status als aanvoerder paste! Zo heb ik Karin leren kennen, en sindsdien ben ik mij steeds meer in Karin en altviolen gaan interesseren.

DVS: Zijn je altvioolklanten anders dan bijvoorbeeld violisten?

Altviolisten zijn veel makkelijker in de omgang. Niet dat ze minder eisen stellen, maar ze blijken vaak intelligenter dan mede-musici door hebben, en hebben oog voor het het grotere geheel, waardoor ze meestal minder navelstaren. Ze zijn teamspelers, die gewend zijn om een middenstem met verbindende functie te spelen. Dat ondersteunt een bepaald karakter, een bepaald overzicht. Er worden festivals voor cello en altviool georganiseerd, maar niet voor violisten. Dat heeft waarschijnlijk met de typische rol van dit instrument te maken.

DVS: Zijn jouw altviolen gebaseerd op een bepaald idee, een bepaald model waar je naartoe bent gegroeid?

Ik vind het nederlands niet altijd zo’n mooie taal, maar het woord “altviool” vind ik wel heel duidelijk. Het gaat om een alt-viool, niet om een tenor-cello. Dus mijn streven is niet om een altviool a la Max Möller te maken, die heel diep klinkt. In het orkest is het wel goed om een paar heel diep klinkende altviolen te hebben, maar in een strijkkwartet zit je daarmee al gauw de cello in de weg. Dus mijn idee is om uit te gaan van het woord: altviool.

Het model van mijn eerste altviool (die Karin nu bespeelt) is van de Guarneri-familie. Dat is een standaard model voor een moderne altviool, die èn behoorlijk diep klinkt èn ook solistisch goed uit de verf komt. Maar ik ga daarbij uit van het vioolmodel van Bartolomeo Guarneri Del Gesù (de kleinzoon van Andrea Guarneri), die zelf geen altviolen bouwde. Van daaruit heb ik mijn eigen altviool ontwikkeld. Het standaardmodel is 41.7cm, uitgaande van een 37.5cm mensuur. Een paar maanden geleden heb ik voor het eerst een kleiner model getekend, 40.5cm.

Tussendoor heb ik ook een Maggini-model gemaakt, met hele korte mensuur en hele kleine C-tjes; maar ik heb daarbij ondervonden dat dit niet “mijn ding” is, dus daar ben ik weer vanaf gestapt. In feite heb ik dus door de jaren heen 4 altvioolmodellen gemaakt.

DVS: Heb je nog ontwikkelingen in gedachte voor de toekomst?

Nou, dit is al een hele stap hoor, om een ietsje kleinere altviool te maken. De altvioolmarkt is eigenlijk heel klein. Maar wie weet …!

Ik bouw ook graag violen, maar violen kunnen soms echt afschuwelijk mislukken, zodat ze helemaal niet klinken. Alles zit zo dicht bij elkaar, dan kan een kleine onnauwkeurigheid grote gevolgen hebben. Bij altviolen is die risico kleiner.

Het leuke met altviolen is bovendien dat de afmetingen veel minder vastliggen dan bij violen. En ook de meningen over hoe een altviool hoort te klinken hebben een grotere spreiding. Persoonlijk houd ik van een helder instrument.

Een praktijkvoorbeeld: Ik had laatst iemand die altviolen kwam uitzoeken van een bepaald type. Ik had er zes of zeven staan. Daarvan bleven uiteindelijk twee over: Een heel donker klinkend instrument dat in een kleine ruimte veruit het mooiste klonk; en een wat minder klinkend instrument, maar met meer helderheid. Toen heeft Karin deze instrumenten vanuit mijn werkplaats bespeeld terwijl de klant met mij in de winkel bleef staan. De meer heldere altviool won het in deze situatie glansrijk van de andere, en hij klonk ook dieper. Bij zulke instrumenten bestaan de lage tonen bij de gratie van de hoge tonen, dat vind ik fascinerend, en dat is mijn ideale klankbeeld voor de altviool. Als je geen hoge tonen hebt in het lage, dan blijft er niets over. En daarom heet het dus ook een alt-viool.

DVS: Wat wil je nog meer graag kwijt aan de altviolisten van deze wereld?

Een van mijn stokpaardjes is bijvoorbeeld het staartstuk! Een staartstuk moet altijd ingebouwde fijnstemmers hebben, omdat veel altviolisten op stalen snaren spelen, die je eigenlijk niet goed met een stemschroef kunt stemmen. Het is onbegrijpelijk dat niet alle staartstukken zo gemaakt worden. Voor de snaren zelf wordt nog veel aan innovatie gedaan, qua materialen en productie. Maar de staartstukken zijn daarin vaak niet meegekomen. De plastic staartstukken van tegenwoordig zijn niet altijd zo sterk, en zijn lelijk bovendien. De oude houten staartstukken hadden vaak een onhandig push-systeem van snarenbevestiging, hopeloos! Maar dit jaar komt er vanuit Duitsland een nieuwe soort staartstukken met een hele goede fijnstemmer mechanisme. Daar zit ik echt op te wachten!


Jan van der Elst bij het KamermuziekAtelier Delft, 2015

DVS: Wat vind je van schuine staartstukken?

Mijn kritiek daarop is dat het vaak bijna onmogelijk is om die staartstukken achter de kam perfect (af)gestemd te krijgen. En zolang dat niet lukt, komt dat staartstuk niet tot zijn recht. Het is geen nieuw idee, en het is een vrij duur verhaal. Misschien geeft het de speler meer zelfvertrouwen, een “onoverwinnelijk” gevoel, maar ik constateer dat een heleboel spelers daar toch weer vanaf stappen.

Ik heb veel aandacht voor de afstand tussen kam en staartstuk, en voor de kwaliteit van de lus van het staartstuk. Of die lus van kevlar of van plastic is, dat maakt een behoorlijk verschil.

Maar belangrijker dan zulke innovaties vind ik, dat mensen goed met hun instrumenten om kunnen gaan. En daar gaat mijn lezing straks over!

Jan van der Elst geeft zijn lezing tijdens de 3e Nationaal Altvioolbijeenkomst in Splendor Amsterdam, 18 februari 2017 om 16:30u. Volledige programma-informatie hier.


Jan van der Elst, website

Newark School of Violin Building (artikel in Amati magazine)

Amsterdam Altvioolfestival 2017

English Version:

The importance of the middle voice as an integrating force in music is commonly recognised. It is a crucial but yet often introverted voice. The impact of the viola is often noticed most when, for whatever reason, its voice temporarily falls silent. The ensemble suddenly sounds weak and incoherent. Everyone present, except perhaps for a first violin, will long for the return of the friendly bronze sound.

The technical demands on the viola have increased significantly over time. The sonorous middle voice must nowadays also be able to make a big sound in order to draw attention. As a result, violas are currently made in a multitude of sizes and innovative shapes, leading to a great variety of timbres.

The Dordrecht-based luthier Jan van der Elst has taken a particular interest in the viola and violists, having developed and built violas for more than 20 years. During the Amsterdam Viola Festival, he will give a presentation on instrument maintenance, with practical advice to improve the everyday life of viola players. No needlessly theoretical explanations, just best practices to care for your favourite instrument, the viola.

DVS: How did you start with violin making?

The usual path is to seek an education at a violin making school, and then to find an apprenticeship in a master’s workshop. But I actually did it exactly the other way around. I started as an apprentice with luthier Robert Walters in Rotterdam (known to many as “Rob viool”, passed away in 2013 – red.). I built my first violin there. After that, in the mid-1980s, I went to the school in Newark-on-Trent, in England. It was very difficult to get admitted to this school, but thanks to my experience and the violin that I could show as proof of my skills, I made it in.

DVS: Did you then learn how to build all string instruments?

No, you start with the violin. Building a violin is not necessarily harder or easier than a viola or a cello, but it is simpler for the course organisation at school when everyone builds roughly the same. Furthermore, building a violin incurs less financial risk than the larger instruments, as you will lose less expensive wood, should the project fail.

Our school building had formerly been a bank. The school had 3 years, each with 12 students. The workshop spaces were simply too small to allow everyone to build a cello or a double bass. In the third year you could choose to build a cello, but for your final exam you had to build a violin, a Stradivarius model. To this day I have never built a cello.

DVS: So how did you end up building violas?

I built my first viola during my second year at school. That is the instrument which Karin (Dolman, red.) is still playing. Ik took it back to the Netherlands while the varnish wasn’t even finished. I didn’t like the sound it made, so I shelved it as a failed project.

At that time, Karin was principal violist of the NJO (the Dutch Youth Orchestra), and she had a quite small but expensive viola. We didn’t have a relationship at that time, she just lived here down the street. She did like my first viola, and she was encouraged by the proposition that a larger viola would better suit her status as principal violist! So this is how I got to know Karin, and since then I have taken an ever increasing interest in both Karin and violas.

DVS: Are your viola customers different from violinists, for example?

Violists are much more easy-going. It’s not that they are less demanding, but they often turn out to be more intelligent than their colleagues suspect. They can see the big picture, so they are less self-obsessed. They are team players, accustomed to the connecting role as a middle voice. This requires and supports a certain character, a certain outlook.  You see viola societies, viola festivals etc. – but no equivalents for violinists. This is probably due to the specific role of the viola.

DVS: Are your violas based on a particular idea or a model that you have developed?

Dutch can be a clumsy language at times, but I really like the clarity of the word “altviool”. It truly captures its nature as an “alto violin”, rather than a “tenor cello”. So my goal is not to make a Max Möller-like viola, which sounds very deep. Sure, in a symphony orchestra it is good to have a few very deep violas. But in a string quartet, you could easily end up getting in the way of the cello with such a sound. So my principle idea is to use the name “alto violin” as a starting point.

My first viola (the one that Karin now plays) is a Guarneri model, a quite standard model for a modern viola, which has a decent depth of voice, but can also hold its own as a soloist instrument. I have chosen a specific design of Bartolomeo Guarneri Del Gesù (the grandson of Andrea Guarneri), who did not build violas himself. From this I have developed my own viola. The standard size is 41.7cm, based on a 37.5cm mensur. A couple of months ago, I designed my first smaller model: 40.5cm.

I also tried a relatively small-dimensioned Maggini model, however I found that this was just not “my thing”, so I didn’t pursue that path further. So all in all I have made four different viola models, over the years.

DVS: Do you have any other developments in mind for the future?

Well, it’s really already quite a big step for me to make a smaller viola. The viola market is really quite small. But who knows… !

I like to build violins too, but they can fail miserably, with no sound at all. Everything is so close together, so a small inaccuracy can have big consequences. With violas, that risk is smaller.

The fun thing about the viola is that its size and shape is much less fixed than the violin. And also the opinions about how a viola should sound vary a lot. Personally I prefer a clear and bright sound.

A real-life example: A while ago, someone came to my shop to try out certain types of viola. I had six or seven of them lined up. In the end, two of them were left over as final candidates. One very dark instrument, which sounded by far most pleasant in the confined acoustics of my shop; and a less sonorous instrument with more brightness in the timbre. Then Karin took both instruments to my workshop down the hall and played from there: In this situation, the sound from the brighter viola reaching the shop room won hands-down, and even sounded deeper. On such instruments, the lower tones are amplified thanks to the higher tones. I find that fascinating, and I have made this my ideal viola sound. If you don’t have that component of brightness in your sound, then you may lose everything. So that’s why it is called a “tenor violin”.

DVS: What else would you like to share with the viola community?

One of my pet issues is the tailpiece! A tailpiece should always have built-in fine tuners. Many violists use steel strings, which are really difficult to tune with the big pegs. I really don’t understand why not all tailpieces are made this way. There’s a lot of innovation going into string technology, but tailpieces seem to have been lagging behind the developments. The plastic tailpieces they make nowadays aren’t always so strong, and they’re often quite ugly as well. The old wooden tailpieces usually had a hopelessly impractical “push” system for the string fastening. But this year, we expect a new model tailpiece with a greatly improved fine tuning mechanism. I can’t wait to get those!

DVS: What is your opinion of tapered tailpieces?

My beef with tapered tailpieces is that they are often impossible to get perfectly tuned behind the bridge, therefore they rarely ever achieve the promised potential. It is not a new idea, and it’s quite an expensive change to make. Maybe it gives the player more confidence, a feeling of “invincibility”, but my observation is that a lot of players are abandoning this tailpiece design.

I do pay a lot of attention to optimising the distance between the bridge and the tailpiece, and to the material quality of the tail gut. It makes a great difference whether this is made of e.g. kevlar or plastic.

But even more important than such innovations is the care and maintenance for your instrument. And that will be the topic of my lecture!

Jan van der Elst gives his lecture during the 3e National Viola Assembly in Splendor Amsterdam, on February 18th 2017, at 16:30h. Complete programme information here.


Jan van der Elst, website

Newark School of Violin Building (article, Amati magazine)

Amsterdam Viola Festival 2017


Interview Geneviève Strosser

Geneviève Strosser studied with Claude Ducrocq in Strasbourg, Serge Collot and Jean Sulem in Paris, and had lessons with Yuri Bashmet, Franco Donatoni and György Kurtág. She gave solo performances with e.g.  Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. She can be regularly heard at the Festwochen in Salzburg and Berlin, Ars Musica and Wien Modern.

Strosser has a strong affinity with contemporary music. She was a member of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Klangforum Wien and Contrechamps. Composers such as Stefano Gervasoni and Hugues Dufourt dedicated solo concerti to her. In 2011 she released a CD with solo works by Holliger, Ligeti, Donatoni, Lachenmann and Scelsi. She furthermore teaches string quartets at the Trinity College of Music in London and viola at the Musikhochschule Basel.

This week, Strosser comes to The Genevieve_Strosser_DSC09425Netherlands to world-premiere a viola concerto by Hanna Kulenty with the Residentie Orkest.

by Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

DVS: Tell us about the Hanna Kulenty concerto, what is its origin, how do you experience it? How did you get involved, and what is your working relationship with the composer?

The person I’m happy to thank for this project is Neil Wallace, head of De Doelen, Rotterdam. Thanks to him, I got to know Hanna Kulenty. He commissioned a piece for viola and ensemble which ASKO and I performed 3 times, 2 years ago. Neil Wallace was so enthusiastic about this 1st version – and so was I – that he asked Mrs Kulenty to do a version for viola and orchestra.

I have to say that the Hanna Kulenty concerto has a very specific aspect, which does not exists in a lot of modern pieces, which is to come back to the real “playful” feeling, exactly like the little child, in the best way. It’s something so important for the interpreter. I communicate with Hanna Kulenty via mails, she’s very inspiring in her answers!

DVS: You seem to be surrounded by a cloud of composers who like to write for you. Is there any particular contribution from your side in the creative process of these composers?

I’m not exactly the type of instrumentalist who goes to composers and show them all kind of possibilities our instrument offers (but I’m thankful to the people who do!!). I think it’s a very personal aspect of each interpreter. The composers who wrote for me had either heard me playing, or coincidence made us meet! I’m very lucky to have a long working relationship with great composers like Heinz Holliger, Helmut Lachenmann, Georges Aperghis, George Benjamin, Stefano Gervasoni….

DVS: Does the viola have particular intrinsic strengths as a catalyst for innovation in music? If so, what would these advantages be, compared to for example the violin or cello?

Probably the strength you mention is that in the past centuries, the repertoire of solo violin or cello has developed much more, so it’s very likely that the composers feel the viola being a “free land” where they can explore, like a “tabula rasa”. And great composers of the 20th century like Luciano Berio, Bernd Aloïs Zimmermann, opened the way for the next generations.

DVS: You do seem to have a strong affinity towards contemporary music. Do you experience a fundamental difference between the “classical” viola repertoire (let’s say, anything written before roughly 1950) and the contemporary pieces – if nothing else, in terms of “work satisfaction” as a performing artist?

Maybe one fundamental difference is that with modern repertoire, there is not the weight of tradition. Probably we should learn from each, build tradition in the 20th century, and free ourselves from the tradition in the past centuries….

It’s the same for the public who is without any reference in modern music.

DVS: Which statement is more true, in your experience:
a) The viola and violin have more similarities than differences, and students should practice both instruments as much as possible, learning the best of both worlds.
b) The viola and violin are related yet significantly different worlds, and a student hoping to master either one should focus on one instrument (at a time).

I would answer the 2nd one

DVS: Tell us about your own process of learning to master the viola, from your very first lessons until the last lesson. Who do you recall as most influential?

I started with the violin when I was 8, and after a few years, I suppose it has as well something to do with early teenager, I was not anymore so much attracted to the instrument. I was playing the piano as well. I decided I should maybe change violin teacher, and someone advised me to see the viola teacher in my home-town (Strasbourg). This person, Claude Ducrocq, from the very first lesson, gave me the desire to play the viola and not to do anything else….. I often think that if he had been a bassoon teacher, maybe I’d now be a bassoonist!

I entered the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, in Serge Collot’s class, great teacher, then Jean Sulem. After the Conservatoire, I had a lot of advice from…. violinists as well!

The process of learning never stops, to my point of view, and each concert is part of it.

DVS: Through the internet, Viola students today have some opportunities that previous generations could only dream of. For example freely available recordings of great violists on YouTube, and vast stores of downloadable sheet music. Could this trigger changes in professional music education (e.g. repertoire training), and should teachers more aggressively explore the associated potential opportunities?

Internet is fantastic, and all the documents we can find is truly unbelievable! Not only for the students. I think that there is still a lot to explore in the opportunities that existed before internet. I don’t today see something that revolutions the way of teaching, as a teacher. But sure, for the students, it’s very different.

DVS: On the other hand, might there also be risks connected to the aforementioned opportunities?

The risk of course, is to believe in everything on internet, and to stop thinking individually, to stop searching alone, in your room, with your instrument.

DVS: Are there specific projects or events in the near future that you are looking particularly forward to? 

In the very near future, I’ll be playing Janacek string quartet, for the opening of the exhibition of Josef Sudek photographs, in the Musee du jeu de Paume in Paris. Josef Sudek loved music, often went to see Janacek, and organized himself a lot of concerts.

Our performance will take place in the rooms with the photos, probably very moving for us and the public.

Come to Strosser’s performances of the Kulenty Concerto in Rotterdam (13/5) and/or The Hague (14/5). Additionally, on Wednesday 11/5 she gives a solo recital and masterclass in The Hague, co-sponsored by the DVS and Codarts Rotterdam.

Interview Jutta Puchhammer

The Viennese-born Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot is described as a violist of  exceptional quality. She is professor of viola and chamber music at the University of Montréal (Canada), and holding part time tenures at a number of other institutions.

She is renown for her performances of rare post-romantic viola repertoire, and has released acclaimed solo CDs with works in this genre. Jutta has a vast experience in chamber music, having been part of the Quatuor Claudel String quartet, The Kegelstatt Clarinet/vla/pno Trio, The Montreal String Trio, and several other ensembles. At various festivals she has performed with artists of international reputation. Jutta is the principal viola of the Canadian Laval Symphony orchestra, and the Vice president of the International Viola Society. She has been awarded the Maurice Riley prize for international achievement. This weekend (16-18 October) Jutta is in The Netherlands, invited by the Dutch Viola Society. On Friday she gives a masterclass for conservatory students in Rotterdam, while her workshop and recital in Dordrecht on Sunday are aimed at a general public.

by Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS_N6A4690-Modifier

DVS: At what point in your life did you decide to become a violist, and did your family (background) support you in this respect?

I started out on the violin, but at age 15 my violin teacher at the music school in Vienna proposed that I play the viola in my youth orchestra. So I did, and I really liked it, I liked the character of my fellow violists, there was no competition, and more enjoyment of playing together. I continued this way for 2-3 years, until I met a viola teacher from the University of Vienna, Siegfried Führlinger. He knew my parents, and after we played some duets together, he asked me to study with him at the university.

DVS: Did you continue studying the violin also?

Only for one year. The last violin piece I studied was the Mendelssohn concerto, and I realised I couldn’t stand the squeaky high sounds anymore. So that’s when I stopped.

DVS: What or who moved you to travel out, away from Vienna?

In European schools you learn a lot of languages, and we were encouraged to have pen-pals in other countries. My pen-pal was a French-Canadian, with whom a romance began. When I was 25, after having completed my studies in Vienna, I decided that it would be easier for me to move to Canada than for him to come to Austria. So I came to Montreal, which was a challenge, because I had not studied here, and had no connections. Montreal is unusual in that it has two communities divided by language, and also the musical job market is divided, and each circle is difficult to get access to. I was fortunate to get some help in this respect from the conductor Agnes Grossmann, whom I knew from Vienna.

DVS: How is musical life there, compared to Europe?

Well, there are differences in taste, which become apparent after some time. I decided to study for a Master’s degree with Heidi Castleman (at Juilliard), in order to have a recognised paper here. And then I came to appreciate some differences in taste and approach to viola technique.

DVS: Can you elaborate on this distinct taste?

It is for a large part the school of technique, which I learnt from Heidi Castleman. It’s clean and crisp playing. The sound is very clear, designed to carry well. I notice also stylistic accents in chamber music, a tendency to make statement entrances rather than merging in softly. The priority is technique first, then music making.

DVS: Are there specific traits of the Montreal music scene, that you would like to mention?

I tend to think of Montreal as somewhat “up North”, far away from the centre of events. We do get frequent visits from international artists fortunately, and in some respects the classical music scene is doing quite well, for example there is are many good contemporary composers. But chamber music is in decline. And a couple of years ago we lost our only serious classical music radio station. This is very sad.

And then there are the schools – they used to offer instrumental music lessons. Thanks to public spending cuts, this has now been reduced to group lessons, in the best case. So a decline in musical education.

The OSM (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) still gets money. But just about everything else is being cut. And musicians have to work longer hours for less pay. The students even play for free, hoping to gain a toe-hold somewhere. But this goes at the expense of established musicians. Not a good situation!

Meanwhile, students stay in school and obtain doctorates, but that doesn’t help them getting an orchestra job. The orchestras audition internationally, and even then they often don’t hire.

DVS: What is the make of your viola, and how did you come to choose this one?

I have a viola by Geoffrey Ovington (Vermont, USA) – in fact I have had two of them. The first one I bought after a summer music camp in 1982, where I came across one of his instruments. I decided to just order a new viola from this maker. The second one, a 43cm Mantegazza model, he actually gave me as a wedding gift in 1989, after I had helped him access the European market. It’s actually made from Austrian wood. I actually never tried anything else. I prefer modern violas, they often respond better to changing conditions (traveling). I say, rather 10 new violas than one old instrument.

I also prefer to use a light bow, it’s easier to put on weight (by ‘leaning in’) than to take it away. And it allows you to add more tone colours, because you are less likely to ‘strangle’ the sound. In some situations a heavier bow can be easier to use, particularly in orchestra playing. But I like to work hard with my instrument, to feel it respond to what I want.

DVS: Do you have any main creeds in your viola teaching?

My teaching revolves around _N6A4447-Modifierdeveloping the artistic personality of every student, to hear his inner voice and producing the confidence to make that sound happen. I always hope to expose what makes each student special.

Another important theme is movement: To avoid forcing yourself, but letting your body work in the most natural way. Everything should be easy. So I visualise movements that are somewhat similar to the actual movement you need for the viola, and we practice that, without the actual instrument: Getting away from the instrument in order to come back to it. My workshops in The Netherlands will also be focussing on this.

DVS: You are also active in the Canadian Viola Society, what are the main activities and future goals of the CVS?

The CVS tries to hold a national event every 2 years, but geography is a real challenge in Canada. Core CVS members travel around a bit to encourage activities in various parts of the country. The distances are hard to cover, it’s a 6-hour drive from here to Toronto, and that’s only the beginning. Differing holiday periods and even time zone difference get in the way sometimes. We hosted the International Congress in 2006…

But nowadays I am mostly involved as board member of the International Viola Society (IVS). And as such, I think that participation by national delegations at the International congresses is a very important activity. Unfortunately the financing of International congresses is also becoming more difficult, so regular Society members often cannot afford to go, even if they would like to.

DVS: Jennifer Stumm recently gave us this quote: “I dream of the day when we don’t need Viola Societies”. Do you sympathize?

No, not at all. The Viola Societies encourage international exchange and learning among violists. The CVS and IVS have given me many valuable experiences, to learn about how the viola is used in different parts of the world. For example hearing the viola played together with African instruments, or in Iceland with stone drums. I’m a big believer!

DVS: What about your personal future goals?

I “rediscovered” a collection of French pièces de concours, very virtuosic repertoire written for the (yearly) final examination of all viola students at the conservatory in Paris. The first piece is from 1896, and from there we follow the series up to 1940. Some of the pieces became quite popular in their own time, but both the pieces and their composers are mostly forgotten now. One exception is Enescu’s Konzertstück, which was also a part of this series. After World War II, the tradition changed, and they started using more standard repertoire pieces for the examinations instead of writing new stuff.

We are in the finishing phases of editing a Schott edition of this music, in three volumes (13 pieces), to be released next year. The edition is complete with fingerings, allowing students to catch on quickly. It is difficult enough as it is, this music is very challenging. I also hope to be able to record some of these pieces, and I intend to present this work at the IVC in Cremona next fall. Some of these pieces will also be on the recital programme in Dordrecht this Sunday!

Interview Jennifer Stumm & Nils Mönkemeyer

It’s that time of year again, when the Delft Chamber Music Festival (DCMF) descends upon us as a small musical paradise. And where there’s chamber music, viola players are sure to be part of the action. In this 2015 edition, artistic leader Liza Ferschtman has invited two very special violists, Jennifer Stumm and Nils Mönkemeyer. The DVS reporter was fortunate to meet up with both of them for a chat about chamber music, viola, and viola advocacy.

by Kristofer G. Skaug


Nils Mönkemeyer  (photo by Ronald Knapp for DCMF).

DVS: Nils Mönkemeyer, welcome in Delft – your first time, I believe?

Mönkemeyer: I was very excited to come here, because I met Liza (Ferschtman, ed.) at the Lockenhaus festival (Austria); I liked her instantly, I think she’s a phenomenal musician. Besides, many of my friends came here regularly in the past.

DVS: And Jennifer Stumm, you are a regular at this festival. What keeps you coming back?

Stumm: Liza and I are really old friends, we’ve known each other for 17 years. Apart from the really charming and beautiful old city, this festival has a reputation of having a certain kind of very intelligent and sensitive musicians; so the concerts here are such a pleasure to play. We really work, it’s a process, and I walk away from a concert thinking something quite special happened. It’s really an extraordinary festival!

Mönkemeyer: Judging from the short time that I’ve been here, it really feels like everyone could play with everyone, and it would work. That’s very special.

DVS: You still have relatively limited rehearsal time, does that bring out extra tension in the performance, as if there’s something that still needs to be negotiated on stage?

Jennifer Stumm

Stumm: Well, that’s true of any festival. But Delft actually has more rehearsal time than most places. We really do work hard to prepare, which I think brings the most satisfying results.

DVS: Are there any pieces that you are particularly looking forward to perform here?

Mönkemeyer: Well yes, the Brahms (string) quintet on Monday (August 3rd), because that’s the only piece, apart from the Duo recital earlier that same day, where I get to play together with Jennifer.

Stumm: Yes, Monday is really “Viola day”.

Mönkemeyer: Definitely, Monday is going to be really cool. I have to say that I never played a duo concert (with 2 violas) before. I don’t know why. Even in my student days.

DVS: There was a viola quartet here at DCMF, some time back; the Bowen Fantasia, with Isabelle van Keulen and her friends.

Mönkemeyer: Well she is one of the few violinists who can really play the viola.

DVS: Some viola players personify their instrument by e.g. giving it a name. How do you think about your instruments, do you see it as a utility, a household pet or a soulmate?

Stumm: Naming my instrument? No.

Mönkemeyer: Or as in, is the viola male or female?

Stumm: The instrument has such a character of its own, it doesn’t need to be assigned a label. Violas are a character actor in the music, and I want my instrument to be able to do anything, so I wouldn’t want to say “it’s a man, and his name is Herbert!”, because then I would have a hard time asking it to play the part of a really sexy woman, for example.

DVS: In the interest of acoustics and ergonomics, luthiers have experimented with innovative viola designs, leading to some pretty strange shapes. Have you tried one of these instruments?

Stumm: Occasionally I’ve had the opportunity to try such instruments, although not in all seriousness. I don’t really look at the viola as if it’s lacking something. Of course every instrument has its pluses and minuses, but I don’t feel that the viola has anything to be ashamed of. In fact to me this is what gives the viola its character, what I love about it: The fact that it is so changeable, and that it could be either male or female, because the instrument itself is not acoustically perfect.

Also because violas are physically so diverse means that with your personal physical characteristics you have to find the instrument that’s right for you.

Mönkemeyer: I think that is very particular for viola players. The size, the set-up of the instrument can be so different. An instrument that my student is playing sounds good, until I try, and then it sounds terrible. My own viola is reasonably big, but it’s quite difficult to make it sound well. I have to work hard for the right sound, but I like that. Others prefer their instrument to sound smooth and soft right away. Violas can be so different!

DVS: What are your favourite “unknown viola pieces”,   deserving of more public recognition?

Mönkemeyer: I have recently recorded a CD with Spanish baroque repertoire, for example a viola sonata by Gaetano Brunetti, he was a Spanish viola and violin player from the Boccherini era. There were 12 sonatas which were written as mandatory audition pieces for the orchestra. I hadn’t thought that I would take to this music, but it’s gorgeous.

Stumm: I’d like to mention the music of Alessandro Rolla, which I recorded. For example some of his sonatas, and the duet for viola with violin accompaniment :-). There’s so much undiscovered early repertoire, but people just don’t dig very hard.

DVS: But then again, violists are probably the only musicians who think of Hindemith as ‘mainstream’…

DVS: Have you had any exposure to the Viola Societies in your home countries?

Stumm: Sure, the American Viola Society is very big, and also sponsors the Primrose competition, which I won; so I actually owe them a lot. They’re really dedicated people, working hard to give young violists opportunities, they have a big national convention where I played a few times. And also in the UK where I live now, there’s a thriving Viola Society.

Mönkemeyer: Well, the German Viola Society is not as big as the American one, but for me it was very important. I grew up in the countryside, and I didn’t know any other viola players at all. So I always looked forward to the monthly newsletter from the Viola Society, which arrived by ‘snail mail’, and I could read about concerts with Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian and so on; It also provided a way to order viola sheet music which was difficult to get by. So for me it was the only link I had to other viola players, when I was younger. Only after I joined the German Youth Orchestra did I realize how many other violists there were around!

DVS: Do you see any missed opportunities that Viola Societies have failed to pick up on, where more priority should be given, in order to have a bigger impact?

Stumm: I’m going to say something very controversial now: I dream of the day when we don’t need Viola Societies! They are important now, for the advocacy of the instrument. But in the future – well, we’re on our way. I mean, how many violin societies do you know? And why is that? Well, maybe they’d only be having fights… 🙂

Mönkemeyer: But maybe the “nerd factor” of such a club is also holding violinists back. Violists are less worried about that, they’re more like Star Trek fans…

Stumm: But really I do hope so much that the viola will keep climbing until it’s no longer a niche instrument; and that major composers are writing repertoire for us, which is to me a key indicator of where the profession is going. There is a growing number of violists who never played the violin.

Mönkemeyer: That’s a very important thing; many music schools don’t offer a good viola teacher. If you want to start playing the viola you pretty much have got to go to a violin teacher initially, who may not know exactly how to approach viola training. That’s one area where the Viola Societies can make a big difference, by providing teaching materials, courses for would-be viola instructors, and so on. This could be key to get more young viola players. Again this is my countryside upbringing speaking.

Stumm: Anyway, advocacy seems to be a natural part of a viola player’s life.

DVS: What are your most exciting plans for the coming year?

Stumm: A few years back I did a (TEDx) talk about the viola, concerning its physics and the way it is in a way acoustically imperfect, and how that creates the character of the instrument. So I’ve developed a concert program around that, which I’ll be on tour with toward the end of next season, starting in May in Berlin.

Mönkemeyer: So what are you going to play there?

Stumm: It’s a mix of viola solo works and chamber music; as the basis I have two viola quintets, the Mozart g minor and the Brahms G major. And then I’ll be playing some of the Ligety sonata, the Brahms songs, and then George Benjamin’s “Viola, Viola”.

DVS: Are you coming anywhere near here (Netherlands)?

Stumm: No, not next season. But maybe the season after.

Mönkemeyer: This summer I have my own 3-day viola festival within the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, with four concerts every day! Chamber music, concertos, and more. My students are performing there as well. And in The Netherlands, I go on tour with Liza (Ferschtman) next season, we play in Amsterdam (Concertgebouw), Eindhoven and many other places.

DVS: Thank-you so much for your time, looking forward to see (and hear) you in the concert hall!


The Delft Chamber Music Festival has a packed programme, starting this weekend and lasting until August 9th. Among the highlights (for viola fans) worth noting:

  • Monday Aug 3rd: Stoelendansconcert Midden-Delfland, 13:00h
    with Viola duos by
  • Monday Aug 3rd: Concert in Maasland, 18:00h
    with Brahms string quintet, op.111 (with 2 violas:
  • Wednesday Aug 5th : Jong Talent Dag, 15:00h
    with young violist
    Dana Zemtsov and pianist Mariam Batsashvili
  • Sunday Aug 9th: Behagen en/of Prikkelen, 14:15h
    Marc Desmons (viola) in the Dvorak Piano quintet.
  • Sunday Aug 9th: Denken en Gevoelen, 20:15h (festival closing concert)
    Marc Desmons in the rarely heard cello quintet by Gyorgy Catoire (!)