#CremonaBlog Days 4 and 5: Rest of the story (4 years late)

Editorial note: After Day 3 in Cremona, I was too exhausted to keep up with blogging until late at night, and there was simply no time during the day. I wrote this final #CremonaBlog post only 4 years later, to mention a few of the highlights that happened during the last two days of this wonderful congress. My apologies for the long delay!
– Kristofer Skaug (DVS)

Friday October 7th, 2016

One very memorable performance in the main auditorium was the viola quartet transcription of Bach’s solo sonata BWV 1001. The arranger himself, Carmelo Giallombardo, was joined by three young violists (Benedetta Bucci, Francesca Faneschi, and Luca Cubattoli) in this luscious and very well-rendered transformation of this centerpiece from the violin solo repertoire. Not only were the lines enjoyably distributed across the four voices, but the harmonies were elongated so as to magnify those that are mere suggestions over time in Bach’s original music. Of course while listening to this piece, just like the well-known d-minor Chaconne arrangement for four violas, one cannot entirely escape the thought of the slam-dunk wittiness “how many violas does it take to play a Bach solo violin sonata?” which one might expect from the viola-jokes crowd. Nevertheless I hastened to order the sheet music for my own viola quartet (and we started rehearsing it this spring, 2020 – until Corona shut us down). Very much recommended (see the DVS Viola Ensemble Catalogue for details on where to get the sheet music). The recording of this performance has in the meantime also been published on YouTube:

Hereafter we heard a remarkable solo performance by Atte Kilpeläinen (from the Finnish Viola Society), in Gerard Grisey’s Prologue pour alto seul: Although I am not a subscribed fan of spectral music, this piece kept me spellbound for its entire (considerable) duration. I actually took a lot of notes in my programme booklet, but now (4 years later) I cannot really recall what I meant by them, so I’ll leave it there. But look out for that piece, if someone puts it on a recital programme in your neighbourhood!

The lunch-hour recital featured David Palmizio, a young Italian with a high-quality reputation that had reached me already in The Netherlands. I was not disappointed – his treatment of the Ligeti solo sonata and the Shostakovich sonata was exquisite. Then, after lunch, it was finally time for the DVS-sponsored presentation of new Dutch viola music – pieces written for the occasion by composition students at Codarts Rotterdam:

  • Cultivo No.1 for viola and electronics by Elena Garcia; performed by Raquel Sánchez (from Codarts Rotterdam)
  • Inti Raymi for solo viola by Sebastian Diakakis Nilo, performed by Ursula Skaug (Royal Conservatory of The Hague)
  • CORP for 2 violas, by Boelo de Smit, performed by duo “Everything is OK”, Kardelen Buruk and Oksana Mukosii from the Royal Conservatory of The Hague
  • Frayed Ribbon for 4 violas by Christoph Blum, performed by Kardelen Buruk, Oksana Mukosii, Ursula Skaug and Raquel Sánchez.

In the last piece, creative use was made of the auditorium upstairs gallery to create some very fancy stereophonic effects. See video below:

The post-lunch crowd was disappointingly small, but our students had every reason to be proud of their performance, which really stood out in originality and pioneering interpretation of these brand new pieces.

On the photo here (clockwise from rear left): Kardelen, Ursula, Raquel and Oksana.

I have to skip a lot of things in my report here, but I need to mention two more performances that afternoon:

Firstly the solo programme “España” by the very virtuosic Italian violist Marco Misciagna, a bunch of well-known Spanish guitar classics by Albeniz, Tarrega, Sor etc. arranged by the performer to feature a dazzling technique, particularly in terms of spectacular bowing arpeggio feats etc.

And last but not least the solo chamber recital by our very own “Young Guest of Honour” Dana Zemtsov. She played a formidable programme with among others the Vieuxtemps sonata, Schumann’s Fantrasiestücke, and ending up with the bravado Waxman/Kugel Carmen Fantasy.The evening brought us the traditionally chique IVC Gala Banquet, with speeches of thanks from the IVS President Carlos Maria Solare, as well as the official invitation to next year’s IVC congress in Wellington, New Zealand – brought to us by Anna Brooker.

Saturday October 8th, 2016

On the very last day of this congress, there were two more Dutch contributions. Amsterdam-based violist Elisabeth Smalt performed Patrick Ozzard-Low’s “Sonata: In Opposition” as part of a lecture-recital programme together with the composer himself. The performance was held in a darkened auditorium, where Elisabeth moved between different music stands all over the stage – quite an experience to let your ears explore this very modern music in this space.

Secondly, there was Kolja Meeuwsen‘s excellent lecture titled “Viola Masters from the Acoustic Era”, treating historical viola recordings from the early period 1877-1925. Lots of really interesting material was shown/played, e.g. recordings of Nedbal, Tertis, Vieux and Primrose. Kolja also brought some very fascinating hardware to show, such as an ancient suitcase-based turntable.I apologize again for everything and everyone that I’m not mentioning here, there were so many good contributions, interesting lectures, recitals, master classes. But I have to wrap up this account here and now.

During the closing ceremonies of a Viola Congress there’s (almost) always that ultimate viola extravaganza: The massed viola orhestra! Under the baton of violist and arranger Francesco Fiore, everyone present who knew how to hold a viola sat down for a fun programme of Telemann, Bizet, Wagner, Mendelssohn … and, that which you really expect and hope to do when in Italy (especially when so close to Milan and La Scala), some good Verdi opera music! such as Va pensiero from Nabucco. I hadn’t brought a viola to Cremona, but the local Cremonese (originally Dutch) luthier Mathijs Heyligers, who had his instruments on display at the congress, kindly lent me a beautiful tenor viola for this occasion. Can you tell I’m having fun? (that’s me in the corner, far right).

During this closing Ceremony, prof. Michael Kugel received the Silver Alto Clef, a special IVS award, for his contributions to the viola world.

So that was it for Cremona 2016! Thank-you so much to our host Dorotea Vismara and her team for a memorable week. We – Karin and I – picked up a lot of valuable information and experience here which – in retrospect – came in very handy once we started organizing our own 2018 congress in Rotterdam.

Zoom-concert met Esther Apituley

Vol verwachting ga ik ervoor zitten met een hapje en een drankje op de bank thuis, volop ingelogd op de live-uitzending van Esther Apituley’s Zoom-concert uit Amsterdam. Zo’n zeventig Zoom-verbindingen aansluiten is kennelijk makkelijker gezegd dan gedaan, dus het is even wachten. Maar dan, eindelijk – Esther in beeld, breed lachend stelt ze zich voor, met altviool in de hand. Ze vertelt over haar eigen worstelingen met de corona-quarantaine. Stond ze in dit Beethovenjaar te trappelen met haar gloednieuwe voorstelling Beethoven Lost in Silence, moest ze daags na de première alle voorstellingen schrappen. Maar nu mag ze eindelijk weer voor ons spelen. Solo, want medemusici voor de camera krijgen zit er niet in vandaag.

Het concert begint met een stukje Telemann. Het is fijn om Esther te horen en zien spelen. Na een betoog over onze globale natuur-, klimaat- en nu ook gezondheidscrisis reikt ze het troostende Erbarme dich van Bach aan, aangrijpend gespeeld. De begeleiding denk je er wel bij. Hierop volgt weer Bach, de Gigue uit de 2e vioolpartita, een kwint omlaag getrokken om beter te passen in het register van de altviool. Het is een leuk dansje, en zo zijn we niet alleen getroost, maar ronduit opgevrolijkt!

Nu haalt ze toch nog een pianist erbij, maar dan uit en vooraf gemaakte opname, voor de bekende Vocalise van Rachmaninov. Daar lijkt ook een cello bij te zitten, of is zij dat zelf, die de melodie op de lage snaren speelt? Dat laatste lijkt aannemelijk, want haar connectie met de frasering en timing van de basstem is bijna perfect. Dit loopt over in de Berceuse van Fauré, een lieflijk deuntje in barcarolle-sfeer. De webcam draait even naar de bootjes op het water buiten, en het verlangen naar een geheel zorgeloze zomerse dag borrelt in mij op.

Tot besluit wordt een stuk van Michiel Mensingh in première gebracht: De introductie heeft veel weg van een tango-opmaat, maar de daarop volgende ritmes zijn een stuk grilliger. Erg boeiend en met veel speelplezier uitgevoerd.

Ondanks alle zichtbaar in beeld gebrachte inspanningen met de techniek ter plaatse, viel het eindresultaat in mijn woonkamer qua geluidskwaliteit helaas tegen: er was met grote regelmaat uitval en/of vervorming van de mooie altvioolklanken. Waarschijnlijk lag dit aan Zoom, met (in tegenstelling tot een YouTube of facebook livestream) tweerichtingsverkeer tussen alle (in dit geval ca. 70) deelnemers.

“Elk nadeel hep z’n voordeel” – dankzij deze opzet kon Esther wel een applausje in ontvangst nemen via de vele aangesloten webcams thuis, we konden elkaar zien en dankbaar zwaaien. En zo is er ondanks de afstand wel sprake van enige “live” interactie met het publiek. Ik gun haar die beloning zeker van harte. Zolang we niet naar de concertzaal kunnen ben ik wel blij met zo’n alternatief.

Kristofer G. Skaug

Concertverslag – de hedendaagse altviool 17 sep. 2019

for English: please scroll down

Gehoord en gezien: de hedendaagse altviool op 17 september 2019 in Den Haag – Geschreven door Roald van Os namens de DVS.

De Chileens altviolist Pablo Salinas verliet zijn thuisland Chili en verruilde zijn vaste plek bij het Chilean National Symphony Orchestra om deze maand een tournee door de Benelux ter promotie van hedendaagse Chileense muziek te maken. Deze terugkerende concertserie van Chileense muziek wordt georganiseerd door de in Wenen gevestigde International Society for Chilean Music (SIMUC) en stond dit jaar in het teken van de altviool en vond zijn aftrap in Nederland, bij mij om de hoek in Den Haag! Deze bijzondere tour is tot stand gekomen door een samenwerking van de Chileense ambassade in Nederland, SIMUC en het ministerie van Cultuur, Kunst en Erfgoed van Chili. Leuk om vast te stellen dat een organisatie als SIMUC in haar missie en opzet veel weg heeft van onze eigen DVS en wereldwijde Viola Societies!

In het voorprogramma van het 50 minuten durende recital van Salinas stonden 2 altvioolstudenten van het Koninklijk Conservatorium; Gema Molina Jiménez en Oksana Mukosii. Zij speelden de eerste duo-sonate voor 2 altviolen van Bruni (1757-1821).

Na een korte inleiding van componist en tevens voorzitter van de SIMUC, Javier Party, was het de beurt aan Salinas. Op zijn programma stonden maarliefst 5(!) wereldpremières van Chileense componisten geboren in de jaren 70, 80 en 90 van de vorige eeuw.

Salinas opende zijn avond met een op zijn leven en lijf geschreven werk van Mario Feito (1971). Het werk met de naam Sal y Mar draagt de naam van de opdrachtgever; Salinas, en verwijst naar de herkomst van zijn familienaam: Sal (zout) en dan kom je vanzelf uit op ‘Mar’ (zee). In het werk met Chileens folkloristische invloeden was duidelijk optimaal gebruik gemaakt van de laagte van ons instrument, een genot om naar te luisteren.

Jean Daniel Barahona (1986) tekende met succes in op een door de SIMUC speciaal uitgeschreven wedstrijd met zijn Capricio nro 1 para Viola Sola. Een werk dat veel gelijkenissen vertoond met het welbekende deel met de veelzeggende aanduiding: Tonschönheit ist Nebensache uit de solosonate op. 25 van Paul Hindemith. Heel gek is dat ook weer niet daar de componist zelf ook actief altist is!

Na dit heerlijke stuk was het tijd voor een totaal andere klankbeleving met Polimerización van Robert Aravena (1993). De veelzijdigheid van Salinas als altviolist met zijn schat aan ervaring van barok tot modern komt ook in dit stuk weer goed van pas. Ook dit werk met een enorm scala aan flageoletten vroeg weer een enorme technische beheersing en controle van het instrument, Salinas kreeg dat ogenschijnlijk allemaal moeiteloos voor elkaar en wist de sfeer goed vatten. Ook opvallend: het publiek leek gedurende alle stukken geboeid te luisteren. Een verdienste van Salinas en als je het mij vraagt gewoon heel knap gedaan.

Na een 1 minuut durende razendsnelle compositie (Sinapsis) geschreven door Javier Party (1980) kregen wij het bijzondere slotstuk van Christián Mezzano (1978) voorgeschoteld. Salinas heeft hiervoor zijn altviool in zgn. scordatura stemming gebracht, ook dit vroeg weer de nodige aanpassing en behendigheid van onze Chileense toonkunstenaar. Concluderend kan ik zeggen dat het heel bijzonder was om Chileense moderne composities speciaal voor de altviool te horen in Nederland en wie weet wat er nog een Chileense muziek opduikt de komende tijd in de Lage Landen…

-English text below-

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IVC2019 Poznan blog – Day 5

The 46th International Viola Congress takes place in Poznan (Poland) from Sept. 24th – 28th, 2019. Your intrepid bloggers Karin Dolman and Kristofer Skaug bring fresh reports daily from this temporary hotspot of the viola universe.

Day 5: Saturday, September 28th, 2019
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Time flies, we have arrived at the last day of the 46th International Viola Congress. Days have been filled to the brim with viola music, and as much as I love the instrument, the music and the many great people who participate at the congress, everyone has his/her physical limits. So I had to concede this morning’s presentations to some self-healing sleep. This meant, unfortunately, missing Xi Liu‘s lecture-recital on Boris Pigovat’s viola works, including the live premiere performance of his viola quartet version of “Nigun” (a string quartet originally written in 2010 – sheet music presumably soon to become available on the composer’s website). I also missed Jesse Maximo Pereira‘s recital of Brazilian Music.

Premiere of “NIGUN” (photo credit: Marcin Murawski)

But let’s move on to what I didn’t miss: Kenneth Martinson‘s very interesting lecture-recital about the viola music of Marco Anzoletti (1866-1929). He started off with a very  well-prepared performance of Anzoletti’s Viola Sonata (1900), with Krzysztof Sowinski at the piano.

Martinson opened the lecture part of his presentation by postulating that Anzoletti’s bundle of twelve studies (caprices) for viola are a cornerstone of his music, and are some of the most difficult etudes ever written for our instrument. In support of this claim, he screened the Youtube performance of Anzoletti’s Caprice no.2 by Marco Misciagna – a real tour de force of virtuosity indeed. (Footnote: this caprice is written in the oddball key of D# minor – Anzoletti liked to use ALL key signatures from the circle of fifths – and he would ask his students to study each etude in each possible key, transposing on-the-fly!).

Anzoletti wrote a number of works for viola, here’s a brief overview:

  • Viola sonata
  • Sonata for viola and organ
  • 2 Viola concertos (without orchestration, optionally for piano)
  • Trio for viola-cello-piano
  • 2 sonatas for viola-cello
  • The “infamous” 12 studies (Caprices)
  • Numerous shorter pieces, scherzo’s etc.

He wrote four of those works for viola in only a 3-week span of April 1900 – a strange and unexplained peak of viola productivity!

Martinson played the opening from Anzoletti’s Viola concerto no.1 in F minor (1900 – “The Brahms concerto we never had”) – based on MIDI playback from his own  Finale score playback. Anzoletti’s complete cataogue contains more than 2000 works. A number of these are now available from Martinson’s Gems Music Publications.

It remains a mystery why Anzoletti’s music has not been played more. Martinson briefly summarized the composer’s life and career, first as violin soloist and later as a revered professor and composer at the Milan Conservatory. In spite of promising acclaim (contest prizes, peer recommendations e.g. from Brahms), his oeuvre somehow never “took off” with the greater public. Nevertheless, as this lecture-recital demonstrates, there are good reasons to give this composer a second chance!

The next lecture-recital was delivered by Greg Williams (adjunct viola professor at the City University of New York), presenting the three solo viola sonatas by the German-Jewish composer Günter Raphael (1903-1960). Raphael was extremely fortunate to survive the hell of WW2 Germany, in spite of extreme persecution, thanks to help from connections and his Danish in-law family. His health was chronically threatened by tuberculosis, so he spent a good deal of time in sanatoriums, where doctors helped to hide him from the authorities.

Raphael was a multi-talented composer and musician (pianist, organist, violist and violinist). In his prolific oeuvre there are several works for or with viola:

  • 3 solo viola sonatas (1924, 1940, 1946)
  • 2 romances (1923)
  • 2 sonatas for viola and piano (op.13/1926, op.80/1957)
  • Concertino for viola and chamber orchestra (1941)
  • Duos for violin and viola and viola/cello, op 47 (1941)

The viola solo sonatas have influences from the Reger suites, Hindemith’s solo sonatas and the Ysaÿe solo violin sonatas. Williams presented each of these sonatas in turn:

The first sonata op.7 no.1 (1924) was clearly inspired by Reger. It is in C minor and has 6 movements. Some details:
1. Praeludium: syncopated, chromatic, shifts across barlines
2. Fuga: similarities to Ysaÿe’s solo sonata no.1 mvt 2

The 2nd sonata, op.46 no.3 (1940) is written in 3 movements, and dedicated to Ernst Krenek. Some attention was given to the 1st movement, with layering of 3 voices, octatonic scaling and unannounced bar-length changes and other metrical dissonances.

The 3rd sonata op.46 no.4 (1946) is characterized by the total absence of barlines, the music bordering on atonal.

Greg Williams played one or two movements from each sonata, very beautifully done. He has also recorded all 3 solo sonatas (complete) last month as part of his Ph.D. work, the album hopefully to be released next year. Looking forward to that!

The 3 o’clock lecture by David Swanson and Jordan Wright had been spontaneously moved up to the 10am slot this morning (where master classes had been cancelled), so unfortunately we missed also this presentation, with the curiosity-evoking title “MyViola – New Technologies for Achieving Accessible String Instruments for those with Disabilities“.

So we had to wait a bit for the next recital, by Christine Rutledge: “Bach and the Poets: Slow Dancing” – an evolution of a presentation she gave last year in Rotterdam (and I missed it then!). Poets from Rutledge’s birthplace of Detroit, Michigan contributed their works (recited on prerecorded videos) to mesh with Rutledge’s performance of various movements from the Bach cello suites. Indeed, poetry and Bach combined well together to a meditative whole.

Following this performance, we were treated to a recital of “Late Romantic Chamber Works for Tenor, Viola and Piano” in the POSM Recital hall. Tenor Richard Novak was joined by violist Ames Asbell and Joey Martin on the piano. For those of us who thought that the classical viola + vocals chamber repertoire was limited to Brahms’  Zwei Gesänge, this was an eye- (and ear-) opener!

The Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola and Piano (1914) by Vaughan Williams is a song cycle based on poems by Jeremy Taylor, Isaac Watts, Richard Crashaw and Robert Bridges (translation from Greek text).

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Five Songs for Tenor, Viola and Piano is a 2013 arrangement by Lorin Chisholm of songs originally only with piano accompaniment, adding a viola obbligato voice. The 4th song (op.4 no.4), however, has an obbligato written by Rachmaninoff himself, for Frits Kreisler. The sheet music, by the way, can be purchased here.

Tenor Richard Novak brought these songs with great conviction, and viola and piano realised a good complete sound picture. Thanks to Ames Asbell for bringing these rare works to the IVC, a very welcome diversification of the overall programme!

This beautiful recital was followed by the official “Closing Concert” of this IVC. The first part of this concert was in the safe hands of IVS Vice-president Jutta Puchhammer-Sedillot and pianist Paul Stewart. The programme title read “About Phantasies and Legends – rarely interpreted English music written for viola and piano in the era of Lionel Tertis“.

The program consisted of York Bowen’s Phantasie (1918), Arnold Bax’s Legend (1929) and Benjamin Dale’s extensive piece Phantasies op. 4 (1909). I have great recordings of all these pieces, but this was the first time I was privileged to hear them live; Jutta mastered them all with beautiful sonorosity and fearless virtuosity. She is a truly amazing violist… (could it be all those Pièces de Concours that she keeps practicing?). For this performance she received an extensive, heartfelt and totally deserved applause.

The Swedish delegation (violists Henrik Frendin and Håkan Olsson) was granted the honour of capping off the musical feast of the 46th International Viola Congress with their captivating program “Swedish polska” – demonstrating the migration of Polish folk music across the (not-so-wide after all) Baltic sea separating these two countries. In fact the “Polska” has become a genre of its own in Swedish folk music. Using baroque bows, the two men generally played facing each other at close distance, leaning into each other’s sound, expressively motioning their phrasing, and stomping out important departure points. It looked a lot like ad-lib improv session, with rich ornamentations and harmonies. This performance sent us off with a big smile on our face!

Following this we went to the Farewell party at Hotel Ikar, with speeches of thanks, food and drinks. Carlos Maria Solare awarded “Certificates of Appreciation” to our congress hosts Boguslawa Hubisz-Sielska, Ewa Guzowska and Lech Balaban for their work to organize the congress, and I was finally able to give our friendly congress host-assistant Edyta Butor the beer that I’d promised her (a well-known Dutch export). And last but not least, Jutta Puchhammer-Sedillot received the Silver Alto Clef, one of the highest awards of the International Viola Society. Her emotional response reflected how strongly she feels for the cause of the IVS and how much energy she puts into it.

It’s been a great 5 days in Poznan, with interesting programs, a nice ambiance, and happy reunions with old and new friends! In spite of a very compressed timeline to organize this congress, our hosts really pulled it off! So a zillion thanks go out to the Polish Viola Society and the organizing committee. I’d also like to mention the pianist Krzysztof Sowinski, who supported mulitiple recitals every day – a fantastic job!

Looking forward to see everyone again in Castelo Branco, Portugal, where the 47th IVC will take place from October 14th – 18th, 2020!

Signing off from Poznan,
your intrepid bloggers,

– Karin and Kristofer

IVC2019 Poznan blog – Day 3

The 46th International Viola Congress takes place in Poznan (Poland) from Sept. 24th – 28th, 2019. Your intrepid bloggers Karin Dolman and Kristofer Skaug bring fresh reports daily from this temporary hotspot of the viola universe.

Day 3: Thursday, September 26th, 2019
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In spite of my “Eager” intentions, I did not make it to the morning lectures, let alone the 8am ensemble rehearsal. Karin and I went to the IVS Delegates’ Meeting, where the International Viola Society board shares information and feedback with the national section representatives. Without going into details, I was happy to see that there is a constructive dialogue in progress about the workings and directions of the IVS for the future.

The first presentation that I attended was a familiar one – DVS president Karin Dolman and her husband Jan van der Elst proudly presented the results of the Viola-building project during IVC2018 in Rotterdam. Jan gave a very good and entertaining presentation of the Luthier team and the building process, “how to build a viola from scratch in 5 days”. As work progressed towards increased integration of the instrument assembly, the opportunities to work in parallel decreased, until in the final stages it was essentially a one-man job. Working under such time pressure allowed no margin for error, and gave rise to heroic feats like carving the scroll in one day – a job that normally takes up to a week!

The viola was presented “in the white” (i.e. unvarnished) during the Closing Ceremony in Rotterdam, where the uncalibrated product was given test drives by Kim Kashkashian and Atar Arad. Today, 10 months later (almost to the day), the viola could be admired complete with varnish – which in many ways acts as a “sound equalizer”.

Karin played a composition on the new viola, specially commissioned for this occasion by the Polish/Australian composer Paul Kopetz: “The Leprechaun” – complete with elfin ears and jingle bells around her ankles. It was an entertaining performance in and of itself, but more importantly it evidenced the great sound and playability of this instrument.

There is more good news: The viola has been acquired by the Rotterdam-based Erasmus Foundation. Talented students can apply for a 2-year loan, during which they will be obliged to bring this “Erasmus Viola” to future IVC congresses, so that we can all enjoy this instrument as a kind of “international heritage”. More information about application procedures etc. will be posted here on the Dutch Viola Society website later.

The rest of the presentations this afternoon took place in the Wieniawski house downtown, starting with a lecture by Carlos Maria Solare (IVS president) titled “The Emancipation of the Viola within the Romantic Orchestra“. Taking the classical viola “ripieno” role in 18th century music as a starting point, he illustrated with anecdotes and examples how the viola was entrusted new and more significant functions within the orchestra throughout the 19th century, including solo parts and dramatic underlining. Three composers were highlighted for their innovative use of the viola within the operatic literature in particular: Carl Maria von Weber (Der Freischütz, 1821), Hector Berlioz (La Damnation de Faust, 1846) and Richard Wagner (from Tannhäuser to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg).

The lecture-recital “Recreating the 1919 Berkshire Music Festival Competition” by Hillary Herndon is the result of a project initiated by the American Viola Society last year towards a centennial commemoration of the 1919 Berkshire competition, which was entirely dedicated to viola sonatas. Previous to this composition contest, the viola literature only counted about 50 known sonatas; at the 1919 contest,  72 new compositions were submitted, more than doubling the available repertoire. It is known that the Rebecca Clarke and Ernest Bloch sonatas emerged tied in first place, but the other 70 non-winning entries were never identified. So this project attempts to identify viola sonatas that emerged around the 1919 time frame, and of which we may guess that they were submitted to the competition.

Accompanied by pianist Bernadette Lo, Hillary Herndon proceeded to play fragments from five unnamed pieces, and the audience got to vote which fragment they liked best. The winner turned out to be the 3rd movement (very much in the style of an Irish/Scottish jig) from Sir Granville Bantock’s viola sonata in F major. This work was subsequently played in its entirety (with some cuts – quote: “This music needed some pruning“, not only in order to fit into the available congress time slot…!). The artists received lots of well-deserved appreciation from the audience.

The “afternoon recital” at 1700h consisted of a rich set of violin-viola duos. First, Annette-Barbara Vogel (Canada) and Raquel Bastos (Australia) skillfully performed the Six Bagatelles for Violin and Viola by Australian composer Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984). This is surprising music with lots of fun hairpin turns and spanning a wide spectrum of techniques, colours and moods. I hope to encounter it again in the future!

Next came Lech Balaban with a solo Cadenza by Bogusław Schaeffer (1929-2019) – extracted from the same composer’s string quartet. It could be seen as a somewhat bipolar monologue, where each sentence is equipped with its own technical main feature: trills, fast runs of repeating figures, glissando, spiccato, pizzicato, tremolo, double stops and so on.

After this, Balaban was rejoined by his son Jan on violin, to extend their set of violin-viola duos from the Tuesday evening concert. They first premiered a Scherzo by Marcin Molski, a 20-year-old composer who was present at this recital. The vibrant energy of this music was undeniably catchy. They proceeded to play the ultimate vioin/viola classic: the Passacaglia by Händel/Halvorsen. Both players articulated with exceptional control, so one could clearly hear “stereo bounce” effects that often get lost in the more gung-ho encore-style performances of this piece. But perhaps they took this a little too far, denying themselves the relief of a smile along the way – after all, it’s still supposed to be fun playing this, IMO! :-).

The smiles surfaced nevertheless in the next piece, Arpeggio per viola by Alessandro Rolla. It has a furiously fast viola accompaniment, and with a very short length it seems designed as a show-off encore. I was left to wonder if this is an original Rolla, as the ending sounded quite unconventional (whence the smiles) …

Time to grab a quick pasta dish again before the Evening concert … however this time we were tempted to take dessert as well, which meant we arrived too late at the POSM Main Auditorium, where Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski had already started his recital with the (30-minute long) Schubert Arpeggione sonata.

The second piece tonight was Joseph Phibbs’ Letters from Warsaw, inspired by war-time letters that Chorzelski had found from his grandmother. The music starts calmly with an intimate sonorous song in the viola, increasing in intensity and then fading again. The next movement has a more agitated character, with tremolo-trills chasing some as-yet unseen target… the urgency increases and peaks with loud and dissonant chords. The third movement returns questioningly to the calm of the beginning, but the solace is temporary: The viola starts running frantically again, looking for some more permanent refuge. This cycle repeats itself, and then abruptly the running (and the movement) stops. The last movement rephrases the original song, after which the piano brings a soothing and serene lullaby. The viola echoes this lullaby with high harmonics, to end the piece. A beautiful and very personal performance by Chorzelski, with great control of tone. Compliments also to the pianist Lech Napierala!

Andrzej Czajkowski (1935-1982) was a Polish pianist, composer, and a great all-round intellectual. His major work was a very ambitious opera based on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which he completed shortly before his death. Through his friend Maciej Grzybowski, Chorzelski obtained the manuscript of Czajkowski’s viola sonata from the collection of Halina Janowska, who passed away very recently; so tonight’s performance was dedicated to her.

The opening theme is dominated by large intervals reminiscent of a despairing Prokofiev. Different moods and expressions alternate in dissimilar episodes. The 2nd movement has a dark an sinister piano introduction, the viola fluttering above this chasm. At one point there’s another Prokofiev-like allegro, but this soon morphs into more feverish kaleidoscopics. There’s a free cadenza in the viola that is interrupted by a stern choral in the piano, bringing the movement to a close. In fact, the whole piece feels to me like a long “dreamscape” full of seemingly incoherent images. So for the remainder of the performance, I cease my analytical attempts and surrender to just riding the wild waves of this music. It is an impressive and virtuosic performance by both players, appreciated by the assembled viola enthusiasts with an emphatic applause.

The Czajkowski sonata needs and deserves more listenings, it is enormously rich in material, and it is impossible – at least for me – to take it all aboard and immediately “connect the dots”. Given the composer’s reputation as an intellectual, its analysis would probably be a fruitful subject for a research paper.

Editor’s postscript: We have learned that a dedicated web page exists for the Czajkowski viola sonata, maintained by mr. David Ferré – check it out here.

We stay on for Viacheslav Dinerchtein‘s late-night Magic show with “no strings attached” (52 cards and no viola!). With great humour and subtle misdirections (at least I’ll stick to that as explanation for sanity’s sake), Slava led us through a series of perplexing card-guessing games. The Poznan IVC Office’s always-friendly front-desk manager Edyta Butor (I promised her a beer when all this is over!) and IVS president Solare willingly acted as tableside victims of Dinerchtein’s playful deceptions. A much-appreciated non-viola-related wind-down activity after the 3rd full day of viola congress!

Onward to day 4…!

– Kristofer

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IVC2019 Poznan blog – Day 1

The 46th International Viola Congress takes place in Poznan (Poland) from Sept. 24th – 28th, 2019. Your intrepid bloggers Karin Dolman and Kristofer Skaug bring fresh reports daily from this temporary hotspot of the viola universe.

Day 1: Tuesday, September 24th, 2019
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Well, it was a very long drive from Holland (950km), but we’re finally here in Poznan, Poland! Last night, it did not take long to convince us that Poznan has much to offer in terms of food and drinks and a very amicable old city centre.

This morning, arriving at the main venue Hotel Ikar, we found a mid-size conference room with an intriguing mural of some historic Polish (?) battle scene, but no special facilities. Before 9am, however, the room was filled with some 30-odd viola congress participants, most of which are old acquaintances by now (Karin and/or I have attended every IVC since 2013). Many more are joining in the next days…!

Our hosts Boguslawa Hubisz-Sielska, Ewa Guzowska and Lech Balaban, welcomed us to the congress; IVS president Carlos Maria Solare threw in some words of thanks (rehearsed in Polish – which instantly made him a local hero!) and blessings for a good week. By way of anecdotes he mentioned that Henryk Wieniawski, a great violinist and one of the musical legends of Poznan and Poland, had preferred to play the viola in string quartet context. So Wieniawski now has a viola alibi, too :-).

Special guests in the category “old viola gurus” at the IVC this week are IVS Co-founder Dietrich Bauer and Polish VS Honorary president prof. Stefan Kamasa.

Except for the above, the opening ceremony was quite straightforward and unadorned by long speeches and formalities, so without further introductions we leapt head-first into the congress programme:

Jadwiga Stanek presented a lecture about the Variations for solo viola by Gordon Jacob. Written in 1975, it remains a rarely played piece, but is certainly very interesting. It was a pity that Stanek did not perform it live, but her recordings of the nine variations were very nice. She pointed out the characteristics of each variation, and concluded that the piece bears significant didactic value, for its wide range of contrasting techniques.

The next presenter was Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, discussing the piece Sola for viola and electronics, which she commissioned from Anna Thorvaldsdottir on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the legendary 1919 Berkshire viola composition contest. Anne first described the process of understanding and documenting the extended techniques used in this music by means of personal interviews with the composer, demonstrating the many subtle sound effects that could be produced by e.g. lateral bowing, false harmonics (“seagull effect”) and natural harmonics. In fact, Anne has created a really cool website where you can see numerous examples of such extended techniques and their notation, explained and demonstrated by composers and performers together: www.shakennotstuttered.com

She then went on to perform the piece in full. Among the many evocative passages, in particular a long episode of cascading natural harmonics had me carried away. It was a pity that the beamer equipment in the conference room produced a very annoying low-frequency buzz, which severely interfered with softer sounds. Let’s hope they can do something about it before it makes more musical casualties!

Next was the recital contribution (on behalf of the Dutch delegation) of the sisters Ursula and Sunniva Skaug, with the title “Related Souls: A Canonical Sister Act” – referring to their lives forming the analogy of a canon in multiple ways. The DVS logistics team had time to re-arrange the room for a more “concert friendly” layout, and fortunately we could do without the noisy conference room loudspeakers. Lutoslawski’s Bucolics for 2 violas (arranged by IVC host Hubisz-Sielska) and the serenade Related Souls by Dutch-Canadian composer Lowell Dykstra (written for Gisella and Annette Bergman) were received well, and the Message Ground (based on the song Message in a Bottle by The Police) was a successful close-out piece. Everybody was so enthusiastic! Even I (Karin) got compliments, although I wasn’t really involved!

After a short lunch break, the congress continued with an interesting lecture by prof. Stefan Kamasa, titled “Concerts of 20th century Polish composers”. Kamasa is former principal of the Warsaw Philharmonic and an eminent soloist, who has had the fortune to be personally involved in the early history of several 20th century Polish viola concertos: First the viola concerto by Aleksander Tansman (composed in exile, 1936-37), and the Grazyna Bacewicz concerto (commissioned by Kasama in 1968).  Then there was Tadeusz Baird’s much-appraised Concerto Lugubre (1974), Roman Palester’s concerto (1976-79), and last but certainly not least, the Penderecki concerto (1983). It was a fascinating review, full of personal anecdotes and recording fragments from these concertos.

This lecture transitioned directly into a master class, where prof. Kamasa gave advice to two Polish students: Lucja Jaskula played one of the Hindemith solo sonatas, and Justyna Robak gave a movement from one of the Bach solo suites her best shot. Although the spoken parts mostly consisted of a mix of Polish and German, the nonverbal signals (postures, gestures, and last but not least musical expressions) quickly filled the room and spoke their own language.

The University of Tennessee viola class (studio), led by Hillary Herndon, exposed us to a new viola etude collection called “18+3”, composed by Jorge Variego. Samples of the printed book were passed around so people could read along. Most of the exercises addressed challenges with string crossings, with additional accents such as harmonics, ornamentation, shifts, double stops, and so on. The students each introduced and performed one etude (live or pre-recorded), with titles such as “Look Inside”, “Riffin”, “Uninvention”, “Beyond the rail tracks”, “Mi caramelo” and more. Altogether it formed a varied and interesting set of exercises. They are quite suitable, so I (Karin) bought a copy of the book.

Unfortunately, once again the tech support branch of the congress came up a bit short, the UT team was on their own to figure out how to hook up sound and video, and when a (grumpy) local technician finally arrived, they had already employed a workaround which got them through their routine.

Change of venue – over to the Recital hall of the next-door POSM School of Music –
Our host Boguslawa Hubisz-Sielska opened the afternoon recital with a rendition of the (to me) unknown Vieuxtemps piece “Romance on the theme of Halka (by Stanisław Moniuszko)“, technically quite demanding. Her performance gave a good view on the piece.

Next came a piece that we were really curious about, by the (African-)American composer Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941): Sanctum for Viola and Piano, performed by Kathryn (Katie) Brown, a regular of recent IVC’s. The music starts with a long and very personal viola solo introduction, and develops beautifully together with the piano. At one point, Brown and her pianist Théo Narayan were both improvising. It was a convincing and authentic whole. After her performance, Brown gave a short lecture championing diversified programming, while of course putting in a good word for Hailstork to this end. Hearing of the adversities faced by the composer in gaining renown, it was necessary to be reminded that Hailstork’s skin colour played an important role in Brown’s personal advocacy. We definitely have to get his music to be played more in Europe. As with many other American compositions!

Rising to the challenge of an uncomfortably short dinner break, some of us found a quick pasta dish in a nearby Italian restaurant, while others sought improvised solutions such as picnicking in a nearby park. We subsequently gathered at 1900h in the POSM Main Auditorium for the “Inaugural evening concert” of this Congress.

The main part of this concert belonged to the Balaban family, in the form of a father-son duo: Violist Lech Balaban and his violinist son Jan. Together they performed a number of duets, most of quite recent date:  Ewa Fabiańska-Jelińska’s Passacaglia (2018), Piotr A. Komorowski’s Albo – albo (Either – or) (2019) and Sławomir Czarnecki’s Capriccio Brda (2019). Common to these pieces was a predilection for the violin part to stay close to the viola range, not seeking the extreme of its (high) registers.Together with pianist Krzysztof Sowinski, with whom he also performed in Rotterdam last year, Lech Balaban next delivered Szymon Godziemba-Trytek’s Contemplatio in memory of his father, violinist Henryk Bałaban, who passed away 3 years ago. It was a very personal music, melancholic and introverted, including a passage with descending figures of mourning.

On to some lighter material, Philipp Scharwenka’s Duo with piano accompaniment op.105. Apart from the somewhat unusual violin-viola-piano trio instrumentation, this throwback to 19th century idioms did not bring much news, in fact it is a rather long spin-out of a single theme. It struck me as a somewhat romantic but still mostly undramatic divertimento. The ending was quite funny: The viola makes a run down with some chords of the piano and violin.

After a short break, Maxim Rysanov took the stage to perform the Shostakovich viola  sonata (op.147); being the last work that Shostakovich completed before his death, it bears witness of his great love for Beethoven (esp. in the last movement). Rysanov and Sowinski brought a highly charged and very personal interpretation, with which they easily had the audience on the edge of their seats. We look forward to hearing more from Rysanov later this week.

Due to a delayed flight, the Portuguese delegation did not make it in time for their programmed late-night session, so the first IVC2019 congress day ended here. Check back tomorrow for more news!

– Karin & Kristofer

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Verslag Britten Altvioolconcours 2019

door Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS redactie

Redactionele opmerking: Uitspraken van subjectieve aard worden op persoonlijke titel gepubliceerd, en vertegenwoordigen derhalve geen officiëel standpunt van de DVS.

De vierde editie van het Britten Altvioolconcours is afgelopen zondag (17 maart) gehouden bij het ArTEZ conservatorium in Zwolle. Onze wensen naar aanleiding van de deelname in de 2017-editie zijn verhoord: Niet alleen was er dit jaar sprake van een recordaantal van 19 deelnemers, maar ze kwamen ook nog eens van een groot aantal verschillende docenten af – zowel de voorlopleidingen / talentenklassen van Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam en Zwolle waren goed vertegenwoordigd.

De deelnemers uit Categorie 2 (15-18 jaar) waren als eerste aan de beurt. Het verplichte stuk was het Adagio uit het altvioolconcert van Henk Badings, een stuk dat veel vraagt van de muzikale verbeeldingskracht van de spelers. Daarnaast speelde iedereen een stuk naar eigen keuze.

Het gaat te ver om een uitgebreide evaluatie te doen, maar we hebben kunnen genieten van in totaal 15 vertolkingen van Badings. Dit was voor de jury ook een onmisbaar ijkpunt om de kandidaten met elkaar te kunnen vergelijken.

Enkele deelnemers uit Categorie 2: Vlnr. Steffie, Mila, Sylven, Simon, Ida

Onder de opmerkelijke keuzestukken kunnen we noemen het technische hoogstandje Carnavale di Venezia (Paganini/Kugel), uitgevoerd door Brittenconcousveteraan Steffie de Konink (17, Delfgauw). De conservatoriumstudente Raquel Roldán (18, Utrecht) bracht een deel uit een zelden gehoord altvioolconcert (bewerking?) van J. Chr. Bach, met mooie volle klanken. De machtige Grand Tango van Piazzolla werd met veel bravoure gespeeld door Mila Kastelein (16, Den Haag). Een hele verademing tussen alle Bruch, Schumann, en overige “ijzeren repertoire” was dan ook de Blues voor Bennie (E. Pütz), een jazzy, Gerschwin-acthtig deuntje, met gepaste luchtigheid neergezet door Sylven van Sasse van Ysselt. Uberhaupt is mijn wens voor toekomstige edities van het Brittenconcours dat er bij de keuzestukken een “verbod” komt op standaardstukken zoals de Fantasie van Hummel, het Hoffmeister-concert enz. Er is zoveel leuk altvioolrepertoire van de 20e en 21e eeuw – duik daar maar in!

Sfeerimpressie: De jury luistert naar Sunniva’s voordracht van Tsintsadze

Tijdens de uitgebreide lunchpauze (die konden we goed gebruiken!) was er juryberaad voor Categorie 2. De DVS had een stand neergezet om nieuwe vrienden te werven en ook het verkoop van een breed assortiment van gadgets, stickers en CD’s.

De stand van DVS, bemand door Sofie!

Na de break waren de jongsten aan de beurt: In Categorie 1 (10-14 jaar) waren er vier kandidaten dit jaar. Het verplichte werk was het derde deel uit de Sonatine (op.35b) van Berthold Hummel, een leuk allegro dat hobbelt tussen 4/4 en 3/4 maten, technisch goed toegankelijk voor jonge altviolisten (alles kan desnoods in de 1e positie gespeeld worden), maar met genoeg mogelijkheden tot uitdieping en tempoversnelling voor de iets meer gevorderden.

Deelnemers uit Categorie 1: vlnr. Norea, Tygo, Sarah

Norea Quirijnen (14, Zutphen) liet al gelijk zien hoe dat moest: ze speelde met grote expressiviteit de hele Sonatine (waar ook hele mooie lyrische passages in zitten), en rondde af met het verplichte laatste deel in een verrukkelijk hoog tempo. Daarna kwam Juliëtte Gielen (12, Rijswijk) met het mooie – en voor mij nog onbekende – Chanson Celtique van Forsyth. Tygo de Waal (12, Ooltgensplaat) had een concert van Händel voorbereid, en de charmante Sarah Sikkes (10 jaar, Amstelveen) bracht als laatste kandidate van dit concours de bekende Siciliënne van Fauré.

Tijdens het wachten op de uitslag van de jury hielden Karin Dolman en Ursula Skaug een pitch namens de DVS, waarin o.a. een oproep werd gedaan voor nieuwe bestuursleden, rayonhoofden en student-contactleden. Gelukkig hadden ze heel veel te melden, want de jury had echt even nodig om eruit te komen, met zoveel goede kandidaten.

Karin en Ursula pitchen voor de DVS tijdens het juryberaad

Om 17:20u kwam de jury eindelijk in de zaal terug en nam plaats op het podium: Yke Topoel, Ásdís Valdimarsdóttir, Roeland Jagers, Loes Visser, Liesbeth Steffens en Francien Schatborn. De uitslag luidde als volgt:

Categorie 1 (10 t/m 14 jaar)
1e prijs en jongerenjuryprijs: Norea Quirijnen (14 jaar, Zutphen)
Uit het juryrapport: “Norea Quirijnen is een echte verhalenverteller. Ze maakte indruk met haar sprookjesachtige spel, mooie uitstraling en enorme flair.”
Aanmoedigingsprijs (DVS Bladmuziekprijs): Sarah Sikkes (10 jaar, Amstelveen)

Categorie 2 (15 t/m 18 jaar)
1e prijs en jongerenjuryprijs: Sunniva Skaug (15 jaar, Delft)
Uit het juryrapport: “Sunniva Skaug gaat volledig op in de muziek en geeft met haar gedreven energie en muzikaliteit elke noot een eigen lading mee.”
2e prijs: Elin Haver (15 jaar, Amstelveen)
3e prijs: Mila Kastelein (16 jaar, Den Haag): Woudschotenprijs
Raquel Roldán i Montserrat (18 jaar, Utrecht): DVS Bladmuziekprijs
Ida Weidner (17 jaar, Amsterdam): Concertbonnenprijs Orkest van het Oosten
Extra jongerenjuryprijs: Steffie de Konink (17 jaar, Delfgauw)

De DVS Bladmuziekprijzen gingen naar Sarah Sikkes en Raquel Roldán.

De volledige uitslag (inclusief het Britten Celloconcours 2019) vindt u hier.

Norea en Sunniva zullen met het Britten Jeugd Strijkorkest soleren op zondag 7 april bij het traditionele laureatenconcert in De Spiegel (Zwolle). Meer informatie over dit concert vindt u hier.

Hartelijk dank aan de organisatie, met name René Luijpen (die na dit concours terugtreedt als voorzitter), Jorien Quirijnen, Dorien Deodatus en Loes Visser.

(Bijna) Alle deelnemers van het Britten Altvioolconcours 2019

Onbekend altvioolconcert van De Zweedse Mozart

door Marion de Koning
gehoord 14 oktober 2018, 20.15 uur, kleine zaal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

De Schotse violiste Catherine Manson speelde op zondagavond 14 oktober met het Apollo Ensemble een programma rond “De Zweedse Mozart” ter afsluiting van een klein internationaal tournee. De Zweedse Mozart was de bijnaam van Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792), werkzaam aan het Zweedse hof van Gustaf III. Hij was tijdgenoot van Mozart en bewonderaar van Haydn. Tijdens zijn Grand Tour door Europa schreef Kraus zijn zelden te horen Altvioolconcert in C, VB 153b. Dit Altvioolconcert werd in het programma “De Zweedse Mozart” voorafgegaan door een Symfonie van Kraus en afgesloten met werk van Mozart en Haydn.

De Symfonie in D per la chiesa (VB 146) van Kraus was een aantrekkelijke introductie van deze onbekende Zweedse componist. Luchtige hofmuziek bedoeld om in een kerk uit te voeren. De blazers en strijker van het Apollo Ensemble, aangevuld met Manson op een gewone viool, waren aangenaam goed in balans met elkaar. Daarin hoor je dat dit bijzondere ensemble al meer dan 25 jaar met elkaar samen speelt.

Voor het tweede werk: het Altvioolconcert in C (VB 153b) van Kraus pakte Catherine Manson haar altviool op. Haydnspecialiste Catherine Manson is concertmeester van het Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra en primarius van het London Haydn Quartet. De klank uit haar kleine altviool is eerder teer en bescheiden te noemen dan typisch voor een altviool. Afgezien van wat dubbelklanken speelt Kraus’ concerto zich ook vooral af in de hogere regionen, zodat Mansons altviool bijna als een gewone viool klonk.

Na de pauze speelde Manson de altpartij in het Fluitkwartet in C (KV 285b) van Mozart, met een prachtige Kate Clark op traverso. Tot slot werd van Haydn zelf de Symfonie nr. 47 in G (Hob 1:47) die als bijnaam Palindroom heeft, omdat het thema, als in een palindroom, ook van achter naar voren, te spelen is. Een toepasselijk gekozen werk want zoals Kraus een fan van Haydn was, was Haydn een fan van Kraus.

Hoewel Kraus veel onbekender is, bewezen Mozart en Haydn van de eerste tot de laatste maat dat hun namen geheel terecht op de friezen van de kleine zaal staan gebeiteld. Toch is het een verdienste van het Apollo Ensemble dat ze de onbekende Kraus voor het voetlicht brengen. Waarbij het jammer was dat Catherine Manson, de solist in het altvioolconcert van Kraus, niet een altvioliste pur sang is.

Gelukkig zijn altvioolfans in de gelegenheid eind november altvioolklanken in overvloed te horen tijdens de concerten, lezingen en masterclasses van het 45ste International Viola Congres in Rotterdam. Dit 45ste International Viola Congres wordt georganiseerd door de Dutch Viola Society van 20-24 november. Meer informatie, inschrijvingen en concertagenda op www.ivcrotterdam2018.nl.

Sunniva Skaug wint 2e prijs PCC Zuid 1

De jonge altvioliste Sunniva Skaug (14 jaar, Delft) heeft vanmiddag een mooie 2e prijs in de wacht gesleept (Categorie 1: 12 t/m 14 jaar) tijdens het Prinses Christina Concours, Regiofinale Zuid 1 in ‘s Hertogenbosch. Zij is tevens door naar de Nationale halve finale van het PCC op 7 april in Den Haag. Ze speelde de Fantasie van Johann Nepomuk Hummel, begeleid door Natasja Douma op de piano.

(foto: Sandra Heldring)

Sedna Heitzman (17 jaar, Alphen a/d Rijn) won tevens op de altviool samen met haar strijkkwartet (Viride kwartet) de 1e prijs in Categorie 2 (15 t/m 18 jaar), voor een schitterende vertolking – uit het hoofd – van het 1e strijkkwartet van Grieg.

Altvioliste Steffie de Konink (16 jaar, Delfgauw) trad op met de Scene de Ballet van de Beriot werd beloond met een Eervolle Vermelding.



The Rising Star – Ellen Nisbeth

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS
Concertgebouw kleine zaal, 13/12/2017

This season marks the first time that a young viola soloist is selected by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) for their “Rising Stars” chamber recital series. Ellen Nisbeth (Sweden) is the rare exception. Word of her talent reached me several years ago, so her debut in the Concertgebouw was a must hear.

Ellen Nisbeth (photo: Nikolaj Lund)

She started off with a commissioned work by Swedish composer Katarina Leyman: Tales of Lost Times, a four-part solo piece. The introduction presents resounding fifths (a whiff of Scandinavian folk music) interspersed with dialogic passages. A buzzing, agitated tremolo movement titled Around the Campfire brought memories of Northern summers with … well, insects! The final part answers to the opening movement with similar figures. A fitting and personal way to introduce herself to the audience.

Next came Schumann’s very familiar Märchenbilder. The first and last movements are perennial favourites with their warm and sweet melodic material – brought with great musicality and a very fine-tuned sense of co-musicianship with pianist Bengt Forsberg. In the 3rd movement (Rasch), we were treated to a flash of Nisbeth’s considerable technical prowess, with an uncompromising tempo choice.

Time to bring on Britten! Lachrymae – Reflections on a song of Dowland is a perfect showcase for a gifted musician like Nisbeth. She brought some very original interpretations, and made full use of the freedoms afforded by Britten’s score. The references to the Dowland themes remained very clear throughout, and in spite of some perceived dynamic balance issues, the overall performance was very gratifying.

After the intermission, Nisbeth brought her own transcriptions of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, inspired by the writings of R.L. Stevenson. Although these songs felt quite “light” in emotional terms (compared to the Britten), the melodies work well on the viola. Yet another song transcription came with Mut from Schubert’s Winterreise, which in its time had inspired one of R.L. Stevenson’s poems.

This led directly into Schubert’s Arpeggione sonata, which can be a treacherous stage companion. Nisbeth and Forsberg however co-created a warm and charming rendition. I was very happy to note, for example, that the repeat of the (lengthy) first section was all but a repeat exercise – it was significantly re-invented, reconsidered, re-articulated as if played for the first time. The slow movement was beautifully phrased, with great warmth of tone radiating from Nisbeth’s Amati viola. After all this beauty, I was a bit worried for the last movement, which to me often feels like an overdone “extended remix” version of itself. There was however no let-down, because Nisbeth invigorated the music with megawatts of musical energy throughout.

So there is no doubt, Ellen Nisbeth deserves the status of rising star! (while coincidentally, last night astronomers were busy studying the Geminid meteor shower in the night sky – falling stars! none of them were observed to be playing the viola, though).

Could we convince her to visit our Viola Congress in Rotterdam next year?