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
<previous day>

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
<previous day>  <next day>

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

<next day>

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
<next day>

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

<next day>

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?

Wellington IVC Blog #5 (final)

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

Tuesday Sept. 5th, the last day of the 44th International Viola Congress: Fortunately, it has been so busy that there was no time to get nervous about my own lecture this morning, titled “Viola resources, archives and databases worldwide: How to locate and preserve our repertoire“. A joint undertaking with Daphne Gerling (AVS) and Myrna Layton (Primrose International viola Archive), resulting in a combined 40-minute presentation and 10 minutes left for Q&A with the audience. Considering the early time slot at 9AM, the attendance was really good, and there seems to be interest in a follow-up at future IVC congresses.

During the break after our presentation, I went on a shopping spree in the exhibition area and bought a block of “Bespoke Rosin” (can’t wait to find out how that works!), and various books of sheet music. At this point, I also started handing out our super cool IVC Rotterdam stickers, ensuring that everybody brings home a bunch of stickers to distribute among their viola friends.

In the afternoon, the venue once again switched to St. Andrews on the Terrace, where the Augusto Vismara Viola Ensemble gave a much-awaited concert. My expectations were quite high, as there were several premieres on the programme. Unfortunately, one of them was withdrawn because the composer – Augusto Vismara himself – could not make it to the Congress.

The Andante Cantabile for Viola Quartet by Hendrik Waelput is no novelty, but it is rarely performed by a good set of professionals – which evidently is what it takes to make this piece truly interesting. This was followed by two transcriptions of Haydn’s Baryton Trio no.7 and Divertimento no.1. Very well done, although the Italian temper at times took the interpretation a bit to the extreme.

Pietro Mascagni’s instrumental evergreen Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana is always sure to tug at the heartstrings of the audience, but this viola quartet rendition evoked enthusiastic applause above expectations. One could tell that the performers themselves enjoyed it, too.

Robert Kahn (1865-1951) has left us a Serenade (op.73) which is originally for oboe, horn and piano. But he also had the good taste to provide an alternative instrumentation for 2 violas and piano, which was presented here. A very passionate piece of music, but in the end I found it a bit long. Perhaps my ears and mind were just too tired to absorb such a dosage of sound after almost 5 full days of viola music.

The best was saved for last: The world premiere of Waves for four violas and piano, by Giorgio Mirto (1972). It starts calmly, but builds up with John Adams-like ostinatos (mostly with a warm-blooded viola melody on top) and culminates in a lot of Italian temperament before it ebbs back out into the initial serenity.

The applause from the very enthusiastic audience was rewarded with a short recap of the Intermezzo by Mascagni.

For the very last regular presentation session of this congress, I chose to attend Raquel Bastos’ lecture recital “Essencia Urbana: from composition to interpretation“. Raquel discussed the interactions between herself and composer Cecile Elton in the project Essencia Urbana, compositions inspired by Portuguese and Argentinian poetry. She also played different parts of this suite as she went along, and in the end the music itself was (for me) the most memorable part of this presentation.

Just like last year in Cremona, the official Closing Ceremony of the Viola Congress was marked with a performance of the massed viola orchestra, playing a selection of Michael Kimber works under the baton of Marcin Murawski. As one would expect from such an event, there are more violists on stage than in the audience, so it was very successful. Some of us perhaps regretted not having been able to attend all the rehearsals (sorry again, Marcin!). Nevertheless it was worth doing.

So… for the festive celebration of a good congress: The Gala Banquet at the New Zealand Parliament Building (only 5 minutes’ walk from St Andrews) was a very chique event. ANZVS Secretary Greg McGarity and his wife played viola/violin duets by Beriot and others. A very fine performance!

Then came the time for speeches, first by the New Zealanders themselves, and then by IVS president Carlos Maria Solare. He in turn passed the microphone to me, as it is IVC tradition for the Host of the next IVC to have the “famous last words”. My thanks went (and will forever go) to our hosts Donald Maurice and Gillian Ansell, as well as the absolutely amazing congress manager Elyse Dalabakis. The organization was flawless, and the heartwarming hospitality was way, way, way (!) beyond call of duty.

It was an emotional moment for me to publicly blow out the candle for this year’s congress, and at the same time welcoming all Violists near and far to our congress in Rotterdam next year, with the words: “Tot ziens in Nederland“!

Wellington IVC Blog #4

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

Monday morning, September 4th: Time to put on my “IVC 2018 Committee Chairman” hat for a rise-and-shine meeting with the board of the International Viola Society, at Vice President Jutta Puchhammer’s hotel suite across the street. I come armed with a powerpoint presentation to help describe our congress plans for next year. I received a lot of helpful feedback and advice, and fortunately the board was quite happy with our direction so far. So I got their blessing to hold my “welcome to Rotterdam” speech at tomorrow’s closing gala dinner.

In the afternoon we once again convened at St. Andrews on the Terrace. The “Wellington Congress Viola Orchestra” (consisting of students from the New Zealand School of Music) had readied itself for a string of solo concertos.

Graupner’s double concerto for Viola d’Amore and Viola was a new discovery for me. Our host Donald Maurice could finally be heard on his favourite instrument, alongside Marcin Murawski on the viola. It was admirably performed. I did feel however that the orchestra was a bit oversized for such a piece (6 celli?), as the Viola d’Amore at times was drowned out.

Kenneth Martinson demonstrated impressive virtuosity in the Rolla D-major concerto, a real finger cracker. In a way it was a reminder of the various lectures and recitals on the topic of Rolla last year at the Cremona IVC.

The orchestra now took centre-stage on its own, with the Suite no. 3 for strings by Respighi. A good find for the list of “works in which the viola section has a significant solo part”. Conductor Martin Riseley hauled this one ashore, with a big cheer for the intrepid foursome in the viola section.

In Michael Kimber’s “Variations on a Polish Folk Melody”, our resident Polish Kimber-connoisseur Marcin Murawski had the lead role. After a dozen or so variations, Renée Maurice appeared behind the orchestra to give us the vocal rendition of said folk song, with a very convincing Eastern European intensity. But contrary to expectation, this recurrence of the main theme did not signal the beginning of the end, more like the halfwaay milestone. There was lots more work to do for Marcin Murawski and the orchestra, which seemed to enjoy indulging in the Polish swagger. All in all, much pleasure was had!

The audience could just stay in their seats for the next concert, which was another “Potpourri” session. The first piece was “Siete canciones populares españolas” by Manuel de Falla. An appropriate amount of mediterranean temperament surfaced towards the end of the suite. Good work by the lone Spanish congress delegate Gema Molina Jiménez, who confusingly has a Swedish flag and a Moose-warning sticker on her viola case.

The duo Katrina Meidell and Daphne Gerling played “In Paris with You” by Shawn Head. The mood of this piece struck me as nostalgic.

Elisabeth Smalt came on stage to complete her advocacy for “silent music”. In “Woman, Viola and Crow” by Frank Denyer, the vocabulary of the music was augmented with high heels hammering on a plate, rustling seashells, and occasional crow-calls.

An eerie acoustic landscape is created. This music seems in a way beyond “like” or “dislike”, it just is. The same might be said for Morton Feldman’s “The Viola in my Life III” (1970), now with a piano interacting in a very elemental way with the viola sounds, no more crowing, shell-rustling or foot-stamping, what remained were pizzicato’s and solitary bow strokes. By thus taking away sound by sound, silence was approached.

The next section of the concert consisted of works by Penderecki, performed by Daniel Sweaney. The “Sarabande, Tempo di Valse, Tanz” for solo viola exposed a very warm and pleasant sound from the viola. Sweaney concluded with Penderecki’s “Duo: Ciaccona” together with Annette-Barbara Vogel (violin), a beautiful piece.

Last but not least, Andrea Houde appeared with a world premiere performance of a Viola Concerto composed by her student C.F. Jones. The first section is quite melancholic, but the music picks up more energy as it progresses.

After a “working dinner” with Daphne Gerling at the local Thai cafeteria for our presentation tomorrow, time had come for the big Gala concert in the Michael Fowler Centre – the home of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (which by the way is frequently led by Edo de Waart). A beautiful concert hall with impeccable acoustics. The programme title was “The Three Altos“, referring to the three soloists:  Two “local heroes” – Roger Myers and Roger Benedict – and the proclaimed diva of this congress, Russian-Italian Anna Serova.

The first performance of the evening was an arrangement of Schumann’s “Märchenbilder” for viola and orchestra, with Roger Myers as a soloist. He has an extravagant playing style, which resulted in heavy articulation where none was warranted. The 3rd movement (Rasch) was by the same token executed at stunning speed, bravo for that!Next followed two world premieres, both with Anna Serova in the spotlight: “Lady Walton’s Garden” by Roberto Molinelli is a miniature concerto (and served very well as prelude to the Walton concerto itself, later this evening). It describes the beautiful garden La Mortella (?) on the island Ischia near Napels, which was the life work of Sir William Walton’s wife. She came from Argentina, so the Finale is a Tango. Serova took this challenge and – to our delight – put the viola aside for a 2-minute dance show on stage. I can’t think of another violist who could copy this feat (maybe Isabelle van Keulen? at least she likes to play tango’s).

The other premiere concerto piece was “Poem of Dawn” by Boris Pigovat. Although there was no tango dancing here, I found it musically more pleasing than the Lady Walton piece. The last piece was certainly no premiere: the well-known Walton viola concerto,
performed to wide acclaim by Roger Benedict.

The “Three Altos” were joined by NZSO principal violist Julie Joyce for the encore – a viola quartet rendition of Piazzolla’s “Libertango“. All things considered, I was a bit disappointed that the two gentlemen didn’t engage their female colleagues in an encore of the “Lady Walton” dance show. 🙂

The 5th and final installment of this blog will appear tomorrow, Sept. 8th.

Wellington IVC Blog #2

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

The second day of the 44th International Viola Congress started with an early uphill battle against time and gravity to reach the campus of the Victoria University Wellington (VUW), which is the main venue for most Congress proceedings from here on out. At 8 o’clock sharp (!!), a surprising number of violists of all ages and nationalities gather for the first rehearsal of the Massed Viola Orchestra, conducted by Marcin Murawski. The repertoire is entirely dedicated to the oeuvre of Michael Kimber, a household name for anyone previously involved with viola ensemble playing. Classic titles such as the “Viola Fight Song“, “Three Quirky Little Pieces” and “I am Lost without my Beautiful Viola” (sic) are on the music stands. Considering the aforementioned variety of players, the first run-through went very well – and we have daily rehearsals until our performance on Tuesday afternoon! Donald Maurice has kindly lent me a viola from the faculty stores, as I didn’t have the guts to wager my own viola to the Wild West of carry-on luggage rules for this long trip.

The Congress itself resumed today with lectures and recitals in several halls of the New Zealand School of Music and the McDiarmid building. A central space is designated as showroom for luthiers, mostly from Australia and New Zealand.

My first visit went to a lecture with the captivating title “Dancing with Death: Shostakovich and Bartok’s Last Viola Works“. Natalie Stepaniak from the University of Northern Colorado had prepared a compressed presentation of this weighty topic. Unfortunately my head was not up to the task of absorbing this lecture at full speed at this time of the morning (if at all…).

Next up was a recital of repertoire for Oboe, Clarinet and Viola: Violist Ames Asbell from Austin (Texas) brought two colleagues from orchestra to perform these works by (presumably American) composers such as Randall Thompson and Alvin Etler, ending up with the emotive “Three Armenian Impressions” by Michael Kimber.

For trivial reasons, I unfortunately missed the Midday Concert by Roger Myers, dedicated to the Bach family. Instead I was comforted by a catered sandwich lunch and a test drive of some of the showroom violas.

Andrew Filmer’s lecture “No Museum Pieces: A Practical Take to the Grande Sestetto Concertante” blew away what was left of my regretful mood. He presented the anonymous transcription of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for string sextet (downloadable for free here), demonstrating through various fragments (with score) how the Grande Sestetto can be used as a vehicle to get “buy-in” from violinists to learn this piece, by using it as chamber music repertoire rather than a Concerto. This should soften the learning curve and thus make the Concerto itself more frequently programmed in the future. Which is of course something that violists really want! The violin and viola solo parts have been attractively redistributed among the ensemble players (all except for the poor 2nd cellist), creating lots of enjoyable dialogues between these parts. Mr. Filmer also presented his own pragmatic adaptations to the sextet, in the form of ossia-solutions for awkward (originally viola) passages currently assigned to the 1st cello, basically letting the violas repossess those bits (smirk).

Jutta Puchhammer’s presentation “Pièces de Concours (1896-1938)“, constituted a well-deserved and well-used second chance for her to promote this work, after her initial effort at the Cremona congress last year fell victim to a freak schedule clash. She gave full evidence of a work of great dedication over the past several years to edit and publish a collection of rediscovered examination pieces commissioned by the Conservatoire de Paris from 1896 onward.

Not only has she created a prize-winning three-volume edition of the sheet music (which instantly sold out after her lecture), mrs. Puchhammer has also recorded all of these pieces herself on CD, conceding no quality compromises in her rendition of this exceedingly virtuosic music.

In the Adam Concert Room of the School of Music, IVC44 featured artist Anna Serova gave masterclasses. I watched her coaching Henry Justo (Australia) in the Brahms Eb sonata, putting much emphasis on expression in vibrato and tonal quality. The 2nd student was Liudmila Kharitonova, probably by no total coincidence from Serova’s own home town of Arkhangelsk (Siberia). Her Allemande from Bach’s cello suite no.6 was already of great beauty from the outset, so it was fascinating to see Serova improve it further, in countless little details of bowing and phrasing.

I nevertheless decided to skip the 3rd and last student’s masterclass, in order to catch the lecture-recital on Chamber music for viola and bassoon: presented by former IVC36 host Nancy Buck of the University of Arizona together with French bassoonist Franck Leblois. At this point there were 3 parallel congress sessions running, and the Viola/Bassoon session unfortunately drew the short straw in terms of audience. Their loss!

Kicking off with 8 duo’s (1995) by Philippe Hersant, a bassoonist-composer married to a violist; continuing with Comptes de Nuit (2008) by Swedish composer Eberhard Eyser: two pleasantly calm movements with a more lively middle section. The piece “Double Invert” (2016) by Ruth Matarasso explored different ways of bending out of a unison note, and had many other interesting effects including “multitonal” notes on the bassoon (raw and “imperfect” reed vibrations that one otherwise would discard as unwanted transients). The session concluded with a world premiere performance of the 3-part piece “AB” by a certain monsieur Petit, with an 18th century classical style first movement, followed by a calm movement and ending in a merry gallop. An inspiring presentation, begging the question why these 2 instruments don’t engage in duets more often!

This evening’s “Potpourri” concert at St. Andrews offered a very comprehensive programme: Bruch’s 8 Stücke, a string trio, Mozart’s g minor quintet, followed by a Turina sextet and the Mendelssohn octet. Donald Maurice did his best to diminish the psychological challenge by suggesting we regard it as two separate, consecutive concerts. This mental trick almost worked for a good while.

The Bruch pieces were special in that the clarinet had been replaced by saxophone, which worked very well. In some parts I felt that the saxophone was somewhat too expansive; but elsewhere it compensated with a richness in tone that is difficult to imagine from a clarinet. Again it was Nancy Buck taking care of the viola part, with Christopher Creviston on sax and Hannah Creviston at the piano.

William Bolcom’s Fairytales trio for Viola, cello and Double bass is a highly original piece of music with a lot of temperament and humour. Kudos to the NZ Amazon trio (Peter Barber, Robert Ibell and Vicki Jones) for a very engaging performance.

For obvious reasons, Mozart’s String Quintet no.4 in g minor (KV516) is regarded by many as the most beautiful among his viola quintets. The opening theme alone is charming enough to melt a polar ice cap or two. The acclaimed New Zealand String Quartet, joined by Roger Benedict as the essential 2nd viola, gave a very warm and inspired rendition, concluding the first of the “two concerts”.

The “Second concert” started with Joaquin Turina’s Scène Andalouse for viola, piano and string quartet. The Deseret String Quartet hosted Anna Serova as solo violist and Jian Liu on the piano. Rich in moods, this piece flooded the last empty spaces in my head with warmth, and I spontaneously decided to call it a night. As for the Mendelssohn octet I left behind – fun as it may be – the prospect of hearing it while hanging upside down at a viola congress in New Zealand didn’t really add enough perspective for me to risk overkilling a wonderful day.