In Search of a Lost Language

DVS board member Emlyn Stam received his Ph.D. last month at Leiden University. In this article, he briefly summarizes his original research topic. Red.

by Emlyn Stam

Dr. Stam explains his thesis in words and musical examples at Theater Branoul, The Hague – October 29th 2019

Why do the performances of early-recorded violists from over a century ago sound so different from own? How might we describe their performances? What can we learn from them? And most importantly, can their musical and technical approach be used to create new performances today? These are some of the questions that occupied me in my work over the last five years on my dissertation: In Search of a Lost Language: Performing in Early-Recorded Style in Viola and String Quartet Repertoires.  The project involved detailed analysis of recordings by violists Oskar Nedbal, Léon van Hout, Arthur Post, Pierre Monteux, Maurice Vieux and Lionel Tertis. I describe the way they use techniques like unnotated rhythmic and tempo flexibility, portamento, layering, ornamentation and vibrato to create highly personal performances.

I copied their performances as closely as possible and continued by extrapolating from their approach to create my own style copies. This work resulted in a recorded portfolio that accompanies the written thesis where you can listen to the original historical recordings and my own attempts at reinvigorating early-recorded style. Colleagues who wish to free themselves from the constraints of today’s neat, tidy, score-based performances may find the path I followed to be of interest. My work also sheds light on the historical record, detailing how the repertoire was heard at a time when many of today’s most revered, canonical composers were alive.

The dissertation and accompanying recordings can be downloaded here: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/79999


Nedbal Competition blog – 2nd and Final Round

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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Sunday morning – time for the 2nd (and final) round of this competition. The twelve finalists selected yesterday will play in the same relative order as they appeared in the 1st round (which was, by the way, alphabetical by last name).

The 2nd round repertoire consists of:
– Oskar Nedbal: Romantic piece op.18
– A sonata for Viola and Piano: Choice of Martinů, Hindemith (op.11/4), Clarke, Brahms (op.120 either one), Schubert (Arpeggione), Paganini, Feld, Reger, Vieuxtemps, or Kalabis

To remind you what’s at stake here:

1st prize – 20000 Czech Crowns (= €780), a fine bow, viola case and various accessories
2nd prize – 15000 Czech Crowns (= €590), viola case and various accessories
3rd prize – 10000 Czech Crowns (= €390), viola case and various accessories
In addition there are smaller cash prizes for the best interpretation of the Oskar Nedbal piece, the Martinu and Kalabis sonatas, and various other concert and masterclass prizes.

The first candidate is Melissa Datta. She chose the Rebecca Clarke sonata, with which she presents a fiery start. The solo opening sentence of this piece really determines the character of the performance, and tells a lot about the musician. The next challenge is to keep the ensuing impressionistic part interesting, Melissa does that well. The 2nd movement is a scherzo with lots of humour (a familiar trait from Clarke’s other compositions). In the 3rd movement, we should be awash in all the love of the world. I feel that Melissa comes up a bit short in that respect, radiating above all bravura. She seems to be also a bit unfamiliar with the piano accompaniment.

She goes on to provide my first encounter with the Oskar Nedbal piece, which offers a lot of room to provide different interpretations.

The second candidate is Nicolas Garrigues, bringing his Martinu sonata to the Lion’s den, thereby shooting for the special Martinu prize. He starts off passionately on this sonata, which contains a treacherous field of syncopations. But therein lies also the musical power of this piece. However I miss the balance between piano and viola; Nicolas knows the piece well enough, playing large segments by heart, but does not capitalize on this advantage to communicate and connect musically with the pianist, turning instead toward the audience to project even more sound from his viola, which is really already loud enough. I miss also the multitude of colours and moods that are latent in the score of this piece.

The Nedbal piece, too, is performed by heart. The rhythmic figures could have been rendered more clearly, but I trust that is his conscious choice of interpretation, this is only the 2nd time I hear the piece. The recapitulation of the main theme with a muted viola (and a more elaborate piano part): would it work better if shifted one octave up? My imagination starts to work on this.

The South Korean MinGwan Kim starts with Nedbal. His vibrato and playing style is perfect for this piece, including his masterful use of portato. The scherzo segment brings the proper humouristic flair.

And then, what a beautiful Vieuxtemps sonata, romantic and yet precise. Like his predecessor, MinGwan largely stands averted from the pianist, but he manages to communicate through his back and neck. He knows exactly where the pianist is, their togetherness is stunning – although they probably have only had one rehearsal together.

In the beautiful Barcarolle movement, MinGwan tastefully makes use of the potential rubato moments. This movement is so good, and it could easily be performed as a self-standing piece. I could compare it to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, who has taken on a life of her own outside of the original play Hamlet, inspiring artists in many fields. Having a distinctive title (“barcarolle”) helps a bit in this sense. The third movement comes with the indication con molto delicatezza, and transitions into the fiery finale.

On to the fourth candidate, Yizilin Liang, who starts off with a romantic rendition of Nedbal, played by heart. Her interpretation of Hindemith (11.4) however misses the flexibility and contrasts demanded by the composer’s variations – it becomes a bit monotonous. Her communication with the pianist is very good.

Why do I have to think of Woody Allen when I see Amir Liberson on stage? Maybe due to his surprisingly fast and at times funny movements. At times I find this goes at the expense of his playing, such as in the Nedbal (performed by heart). At other times, this body language enhances the character of the music, so it isn’t all bad. And he communicates well with the pianist.

His Brahms sonata is unfortunately tainted by local intonation issues – this challenge is often underestimated in Brahms (not only the viola sonatas), composed in awkward keys with a risk of high intonation.

The lone Czech candidate in the final round, Daniël Macho also plays the Romantic Piece by heart. While he is visibly nervous, nothing catastrophic happens. But in the Martinu sonata, which should be a perfect fit for him, it turns out he’s not sufficiently in sync with the piano score

Polish finalist Julia Palecka plays the Schubert Arpeggione sonata. This piece is in my mind a parade of personalities from an Opera Buffa. But Julia’s personality as I sensed it in the 1st round does not return in full in this 2nd round. Perhaps a mature Schubert needs more time. The last movement leans more on technique, and that works out OK for Julia. She flies elegently through this movement, and perhaps owing to her feeling technical confidence here, I also sense more of the humour between the lines.

In the Nedbal piece, Julia creates much more freedom, playing by heart and communicating with the audience – even getting response back. Nice ending!

The Swedish Alva Rasmussen, studying with one of the jury members in Copenhagen, makes an impressive entree with a high-grade Rebecca Clarke; I’d like to think that the composer very much enjoys this performance from her cloud up there! She runs light-footed like a deer through the scherzo, and lavishes us with a wonderful warm vibrato in the opening of the 3rd movement. I get carried away in her dream. Nice use of poco vibrato in the thin high-octave melody, followed by a return to portamenti and a large warm vibrato in the lower strings. Her love for this sonata really shines through!

Alva seems to have an old soul. You seem to hear a whole lifetime’s worth of loves, joys, and sorrows in her playing. She also plays a marvellous Nedbal.

Evgeny Shchegolev also knows how to play a good and warm Nedbal. Now I can hear his powerful Russian tone. This romantic music is really his domain. In the 1st round, I didn’t mention him in my summary (he played Bach and Henze), but here he is on good terms with the music. In the Brahms sonata he knows how to stretch the bars and to knead the melodies plastically – highly enjoyable!

The 20-year-old Jungahn Shin starts with a marvellous Brahms sonata (in F). I find especially her rendition of the 2nd movement deeply touching, with a beautiful tone. The Waltz too (3rd movement) – wait, wasn’t she the Tabea Zimmermann pupil? Yes – but she still has her very own sound. Compared to this, I’m very curious to hear what our Dutch students will make of the Brahms F-sonata (mandatory piece) at the National Viola Competition next week!

Jungahn concludes her recital with the Nedbal Romantic piece. In this rendition, I miss the broad vibrato which seems to fit this piece so well.

The Japanese Otoha Tabata is a true storyteller. Like the fabled princess Sheherazade, she enchants you and does not let go. She is agile and moves about, but not in a disturbing way. It makes it difficult to draw her, though. If I may complain a little bit, I might like to suggest some fingerings in the higher positions, to allow more variation in colour. Especially in the 2nd movement of Brahms. The jury will have a hard time: Four Brahms renditions, all different and with their own characters.

Although Otoha naturally tends toward a somewhat fast vibrato, she adapts it totally in the Nedbal piece. The tempo is nice and fresh, it sounds almost like an early recording. She makes her performance a feast for ears and eyes, including that beautiful smile when she takes a bow.

The last candidate (yet again – I bet she curses the latin alphabet now and then!) is Yuri Yoon. She, too, plays a very good Nedbal. But the true spectacle comes with the Vieuxtemps sonata: Starting out with a zesty tempo, yet every note precise and pitch perfect. Even going out of her way to keep  the pianist on track, she plays a fantastic 1st movement.

The Barcarolle (2nd mvt.) also holds a relatively fast tempo, whereby the rubato passages stand more out in contrast. But I miss a different sound here, it is rather too sharp, where I’ve come to feel a more “granular” sound would be nicer.

… Well, this concludes my “live” competition coverage – I have to leave to catch my train home, so I will miss the (live) results announcement and the laureates’ concert this evening. But through the internet, I learned that the competition results were as follows:

1st prize: MinGwan Kim (South Korea)

2nd prize: Yuri Yoon (South Korea)

3rd prize: Evgeny Shchegloev (Russia)

Honorary mention:
Yizilin Liang (China), Alva Rasmussen (Sweden) and Otoha Tabata (Japan)

Nedbal Competition 2019 main Prize winners Yoon, Kim, and Shchegolev (photo credits: Zdeněk Chrapek, Oskar Nedbal competition)

Congratulations to all!

Karin

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Nedbal Competition blog – 1st Round, day 2

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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After yesterday’s long session, today we hear the remaining 24 candidates for the 1st round of this competition. At the end of the day, 12 out of the total 65 competitors will be selected for the 2nd and final round. Same as for yesterday, I only mention those candidates that I feel are most likely to be picked for the next round.

Here’s the overall composite drawing of the 1st round (all 65 candidates):

 

 

Today’s first candidate Riina Piirilä (Finland, age 24) is a known name to me, as she visited our Viola Congress in Rotterdam last year. She played a good Bach 2nd Partita (Allemande and Gigue), very carefully prepared, no nonsense. In the fast passages, the bow seems to fly too fast, at the expense of sound production from the lower strings.

Her ensuing Hidemith op. 25 no.1 (first 2 movements) is perfect. She’s surely a candidate for the 2nd round.

Still a young girl, Yayun Qiu (China, age 17) needs some stage experience – I can only really see her sporadically. She is oriented toward the side wall, and she wears a long vest over a long dress, hiding most of her body movements from my angle. That’s a pity, because this counts too. Her Bach (6th suite Prelude and Sarabande) is perfect, and the Reger (Vivace from the 1st suite) is more than perfect! Good timing, beautiful tone, good instrument. My only want is for a bit more contrasting dynamics. She only has to adjust the clothing strategy and stage positioning, that will make a difference. But even without that, she’s definitely a 2nd round candidate.

Jungahn Shin (South Korea, age 20) plays a beautiful Bach (4th suite, Prelude and Gigue), light, but with flair, and with a very pleasing sound. I like this, and I can tell that she is a pupil of Tabea Zimmermann. Also in Vieuxtemps’ Capriccio you can hear the perfection in choice of bow speed, with accurate positioning between fingerboard and bridge. This is surely another candidate for the 2nd round!

Draped in a gorgeous yellow gala dress, Otoha Tabata (Japan, age 20) enters the stage. She plays a very decent Reger (1st suite, Molto sostenuto and Vivace), with perfect pitch. Dynamically a bit too “wavy” for my taste. A fun invention for the bowing in the 2nd movement, piano notes played in ricochet, conveying a proper Vivace feeling.

Then, a fantastic and very original Hindemith (op. 31 no.4, 1st movement), brought with lots of confidence. No doubt qualified for the 2nd round.

I have to mention as well the only Dutch candidate, Michiel Wittink (age 24). He’s currently pursuing his Master’s at Guildhall in London, but we know him from several past DVS events and masterclasses. He played a very promising Bach 2nd Partita (Sarabande and Gigue), unfortunately he lost his mental footing at one point. His Vieuxtemps Capriccio was very good as well, and he has grown tremendously since we last heard him at the Dutch National Viola Competition in 2017. But I have my doubts about reaching the next round in this highly competitive field.

With Shuo Xu (China, age 17) comes yet another great Bach (6th suite, Prelude and Sarabande), with a lot of character! He uses a dedicated bow for this piece, which produces a nice and clear sound. But his good performance is due to more than just a good bow!

Yuri Yoon (South Korea, age 25) brings Prelude and Gigue from Bach’s 4th suite. A very well-played and beautiful Bach! Again, using a dedicated (baroque) bow. This really has made a difference for a number of candidates. The Vieuxtemps Capriccio is very good too, so she might very well turn up tomorrow for the 2nd round.

That was de last candidate I chose for this review.

At 1700h, the jury announced the names of the 2nd round finalists:

Melissa Dattas, Nicolas Garrigues, MinGwan Kim, Yizilin Liang, Amir Liberson, Daniël Macho, Julia Palecka, Alva Rasmussen, Evgeny Shchegolev, Jungahn Shin, Otoha Tabata and Yuri Yoon.

So I had 8 of the 12 names right (even though I over-guessed for a total of 20 potential finalists). So it just goes to prove that competition was intense, and that views/tastes vary very much.

Check back in tomorrow for our “live” blog coverage of the 2nd round!

Karin

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Nedbal Competition blog – day 0

The DVS once again visits new viola frontiers! This time our intrepid reporter Karin Dolman is reporting from the very First Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition in Prague (Oct 31st – Nov 3rd, 2019).

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It is 3.30pm, and I have just set off on my monster train ride to Prague. All this just because – whenever possible – I’d like to avoid flying. At least I have 1st class seats all the way, so I should be reasonably comfortable. But why am I going to Prague? Because of the first Oskar Nedbal International Viola Competition which takes place there, in the coming days.

It is always interesting to see how they organize a new international competition. I haven’t studied the programme closely yet, but given the name “Oskar Nedbal”, I should think that at least his well-known Romance will be played at some point. But OK, I’ve got time enough to read in this train.

The first leg of 2 hours and 6 minutes goes by “sprinter” (local train) from Dordrecht to Arnhem, where I will have to change trains. I will visit an old friend there, before continuing my trip at 21:45 with the international train.

More news after I arrive in Prague tomorrow!

Karin

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Uitnodiging 4e Nationale Altvioolbijeenkomst

Oene van Geel geeft een improvisatieworkshop bij het 1e Nationaal Altvioolcongres in Deventer (2013)

[NL] Op zaterdag 16 november 2019 organiseert de DVS voor de 4e keer een Nationale Altvioolbijeenkomst – in samenwerking met, en ingebouwd in het programma van, de Amsterdam Viola Festival.  Meer informatie over programma en aanmelding vindt u hier.

[ENG] On Saturday November 16th 2019, the DVS is organising the 4th National Viola Assembly, in collaboration with, and within the context of the Amsterdam Viola Festival. More information about the programme and registration can be found here.


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…

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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 fiths – 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 4

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 4: Friday, September 27th, 2019
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We started out the day following Jutta Puchhammer-Sedillot‘s master class in the Wieniawski house. She coached a student on the Penderecki Cadenza, ending up focusing on a natural bow hold and bow pressure. Very interesting demonstrations! Unfortunately we could not stay, as we also didn’t want to miss the next concert …

The venue of the Morning concert had been switched last-minute from the Hotel Ikar conference room to the POSM Recital hall. Due to this (unannounced) change, many of us (including Kristofer) unfortunately missed Diane Phoenix-Neal‘s much-anticipated world premiere performance of Krzysztof Wołek’s Shadowings for viola and electronics (with Wojciech Kaszuba at the dials).

The electronics were active, so Kaszuba was following the score, and added the effects at the right moment. They were mainly effects played by the viola and then repeated (‘shadowed’) by the electronics. The piece didn’t have really a melody; next to playing the viola, Diane added some sounds by singing and talking. Normal notes were nearly non-existent, so perhaps the2q composer Wołek is a follower of Lachenmann. I (Karin) am curious to know whether a graphical score is being used.

Another world premiere performance followed: Marcin Kopczyński’s Sonata for viola and piano op.85, performed by Wojciech Kolaczyk and Anna Paras (piano); the piece came across as mostly tonal and romantic in style, with a certain pentatonic penchant, especially in the 3rd movement. It could easily have been written for the 1919 Berkshire competition (see yesterday’s blog). Nice atmospheres, and a good technical fit for the viola. The second movement sounds a lot like the first movement: Same key, same tempo, perhaps a bit more dialogue between viola and piano, staying pretty much in a certain range between two octaves. The third movement starts with a solo for the viola with a rhythmical theme, which stays with some chords of the piano.

The piece is very well performed. Kolaczyk is a tall man, totally suitable for the viola, and he has a beautiful vibrato, whereas a more fast and tense vibrato seems to be mainstream among Polish violists (we’ve heard a lot of them this week!).

Dr. Heng-Ching Fang (Ching among friends) from Birmingham delivered a lecture-recital with the elaborate title “Joseph Joachim’s Hebrew Melodies on Poem of Byron op. 9: a Performing Practices Study influenced by Moser and Joachim’s Violinschule
and Joachim’s historical recording“.

She first explained that the gist of her presentation was to point out stylistic specifics from the 19th century in vibrato, shifting (portamento) and tempo/timing. Joachim was known as a brilliant violinist, but he also reportedly liked to play the viola, and he composed music for the viola, amongst which the “Hebrew Melodies on Poem of Byron“. The whole piece was then performed together with Krzysztof Sowinski at the piano, already incorporating many of these stylistic idioms. The piece consists of three melodies, only the first of which has clear Hebrew influences, the others could have been taken out of Schumann’s Märchenbilder.

Next, Ching moved on to discuss her case study of performance practice. In this case she was particularly interested in the elements that are characteristic of the (mid-)19th century period, from which this work of Joachim’s originates; as well as the influences of the Moser-Joachim method (Moser was one of Joachim’s pupils): this method consists of three comprehensive volumes, the last book contains several big concertos with Joachim’s fingerings and practice notes.

Vibrato, for one, was sparingly used. (Quote Joachim and Moser (1905):  “Always recognize the steady tone as the ruling one, and [use] vibrato only where the expression seems to demand it“). Carl Flesch (1923) observes that: “Joachim’s medium of expression consisted of a very quick and close tremolo (vibrato)“.

Another technique in the spotlight for this Performing Practices study is the use of portamento in the German tradition. Spohr had noted that portamento served best as analogy to (continuous, not discrete) pitch transitions in the human voice when singing. There are one-finger slides and portamento with a finger change, the latter being a more distinctive medium, further from a pure glissando.

Then there are the idiosyncracies related to timing, such as use of accellerando / rallentando (linked to phrasing and/or dynamics), dotted rhythms, accentuation, and rubato.

The presentation ended with a short recorded fragment of Joachim’s own performance of this piece, which illustrated many of the stylistic aspects discussed in the lecture.

At 1400 we are back in the Ikar Conference room where Dr. Dwight Pounds gave an historical review titled “Legends of the International Viola Society“. Everybody who has spent more than one day at an IVC knows him. He modestly calls himself the unofficial photographer and historian of the American Viola Society, but he has roots back to the early beginnings of the IVS, and has held numerous offices in the IVS and AVS boards. In fact, Dwight himself is probably the biggest living “Viola Society Legend” who is still also consistently and unconditionally active in the IVC circuit today – but he’s much too modest to include himself in his own long lists of IVS key personalities through the last 55 years.

Sharing the stage with Dwight this afternoon was another IVS legend, the Polish-born Dietrich Bauer, who stood at the cradle of what today is known as the IVS, by creating the so-called Pöllauer Protokoll in July of 1965, together with Franz Zeyringer. Bauer introduced himself and his involvement with the IVS in a very entertaining talk, most of which was held in German (without translation), so not everybody could follow. But his personality and humour radiated convincingly enough for all to accept that he could easily have been the enthusiasm-generating mainstay of the mid-20th-century Viola Society, for which he is credited.

Dwight next presented a significant number (60+) of slides with names and photos of Bauer and other key people around the inception and early years of the IVS (through various phases and organizational changes): Next to Bauer and Zeyringer, there was Sawodny, Doktor, Ojstersek, DeVeritch, Rosenblum, DePasquale, Dalton, and many others. And as well the inspirational support of William Primrose, who appeared at several of the early IVC’s.

I will not attempt to paraphrase Dwight in detail, again “you had to be there” to see a substantial list of names transformed into a first-hand account by the very enthusiastic and animated Dwight Pounds! With a bit of luck, his presentation slides will be accessible through the proceedings of the Congress, or in other ways on request.

At the end of the talk, both Dwight Pounds and Dietrich Bauer received from Carlos Maria Solare the IVS Special Award for their “unique contribution to the Viola and to violists around the world”. Very well deserved, as confirmed by long rounds of applause from the audience.

When the dust had settled, it was time for the last DVS contribution to this congress – through Karin Dolman‘s lecture/workshop on viola left-hand technique titled “Finding your own Viola Way“. Before diving into the subject matter, Karin used her stage to appeal for solidarity with the world-wide environmental protests taking place today. (By the way, could we think of something to reduce the environmental footprint of viola playing and Viola Society activities? Obviously, convening an International Congress does imply a lot of long-distance travels … ).

Back to core business – Karin had prepared a very nice presentation with her own drawings and self-produced videos of left-hand work. Without going in too much detail, here are some of the recommendations she put forward:

1) For teachers:
– Expose pupils at an earlier age to 2nd and 4th position work (not only 1st and 3rd)

2) For viola students and players in general:
– Avoid using same finger in a bigger shift (esp. down-shift)
– If you have to make a shift one step up or down, do it on a minor second
– Embrace the value of trying out multiple alternative fingerings;
– If the bowing disturbs the shift, feel free to change the bowing
– Allow yourself to make your own exceptions to the above rules

3) For publishers:
– don’t accept viola transpositions of violin parts, that blindly copy the violin fingerings

By means of example videos, Karin demonstrated how creative fingerings with emphasis on viola ergonomics could achieve smoother playing and better results. As well as the ergonomics of double stops, vibrato, and more.

As the ultimate example, Karin used the opening of the Brahms sonata in F, with fingerings by Lionel Tertis, Tabea Zimmermann as well as her own preference. She played the same fragment with all three fingerings and noted how a personal choice is the result of an authentic and unique personality, temperament and physique. Conclusion: You have to be yourself in order for personal choices to really work. Nobody should try to be Lionel Tertis!

Next on the program was a lecture-recital by Ricardo Kubala (Art Institute of Sao Paulo State University), with the title “Brazilian Music for Solo Viola”. He had hand-picked four 20th century viola solo compositions from different composers. As a general background, he described how Brazilian composers in the post-war 20th century have largely been divided into two camps: Brazilian musical nationalism vs. Atonal and universal idioms. Kubala then went on to sketch the biography of each composer, his oeuvre for the viola, and the characteristics of the selected piece, before actually performing it for us.

César Guerra-Peixe (1914-1993) sat firmly in the “Nationalist” camp, and he wrote Bilhete de um Jogral in Nationalist language, with sonorities resembling the Brazilian “rabeca” instrument (a “folk violin” with a rough, metallic sound).

Claudio Santoro (1919-1989) wrote Fantasia Sul América in 1983, characterized by a cadenza-like free form and free tonal language, with elements of Brazilian popular music.

Marlos Nobre (b. 1939, Recife) is a pianist and conductor, as well as one of the most well-known contemporary composers in Brazil. His 1963 Viola sonata (op.11) has 3 movements. While the 1st movement seems inspired by Hindemith’s op.25.1, the 2nd mvt is a Lento cantabile with a very intriguing mood.  The 3rd movement (Vivo) is lively and accessible, including some typical Tango rhythmic figures.

The last piece is by Alexandre Lunsqui (b. 1969), who studied in the U.S. and in France, but is now Professor of Composition and Theory at the State University in Sao Paulo. He belongs to a new generation composers without camp in the “atonal vs nationalist” rivalry. His piece “Moviola” uses scordatura (Bb/G/D/A), microtones/quarter tones, and extended techniques.

Ricardo Kubala performed with great poise and the pieces were well received. All in all an interesting insight into the Brazilian music scene, which we do not often hear about (at least not here in Europe).

The Evening concert program “TRIVIOLIUM” was presented by the viola trio Jolanta Kukula-Kopczynska, Róża Wilczak-Plaziuk, and Dorota Stanislawska – all three are colleagues from the Academy of Music in Lodz. I first heard them in Cremona 2016, and they also came to Rotterdam last year. So this was a programme I had been looking forward to.

They started out with the world premiere of “Violjordas” for 3 violas, by Krzysztof Grzeszczak (b. 1965). This piece was accompanied by a film produced by the renowned video artist Paulina Majda. The video and music works well together: we see a shadow of a Buddha figure with scintillating lights as if in water, and a bobbing red spot; then streams of multicoloured “party lights” … The scenery changes – insects (flies?) swarming over the surface of a net. Then finally back to the buddha, with the back of a female figure (Paulina Majda herself) in a blue dress.

Each of the trio members then played a solo piece, written by students or colleagues at the Academy (in Lodz).

Dorota Stanislawska brought the world premiere of Preludium for viola solo by Maciej Wijata (b. 2000), who is a trombone player. He initially had no idea of the constraints of viola, nevertheless it turned into an interesting, if not overly playable piece.

Róża Wilczak-Plaziuk played Some good decisions by Sławomir Zamuszko (b. 1973). I do feel that I “get” this piece better than the previous one.

The piece Transcience by Janusz Kopczyński was performed by Jolanta Kukula-Kopczynska, not coincidentally also the composer’s wife. I suppose that helps explain why this finally feels like a real viola piece, starting with sonorous phrases from the C-string. By the way, Jolanta makes great sound here.

Finally, the three ladies gave the world premiere performance of “Triviolium” by Bogdan Dowlasz (b. 1949). This is energetic and outspoken musical language that really grabs your attention. All 3 voices play mostly (near-)unisono figures, but spanning clouds of dissonants. The exceptions (where they go off each doing completely disassociated things) are therefore all the more interesting. We are guided through a number of different landscapes, all of them fascinating. This piece is sure to have many successful performances!

For the final late-night serenade of today, the artists both are and aren’t a premiere: Veteran Henrik Frendin, former congress host and chairman of the now-defunct Nordic Viola Society, has recently founded the Swedish Viola Society, and joins the IVC in Poznan in the capacity of official Swedish delegation together with fellow countryman Håkan Olsson, with baroque violas and a programme called “Telemann in Poland”. An harpsichord is also involved, played by Anna Paradisos.

During Telemann’s visit to Poland in 1705-1706, the Swedes invaded the country, forcing him to flee to the countryside. So thanks to the Swedes, Telemann had an encounter with Polish folk music. Not only did Telemann take this aboard, so did the Swedes: The “Polonaise” was brought home and integrated into Swedish folk music as “Polka” (or “Polska”). This programme presents a number of works by Telemann somehow referring to Poland or carrying traces of Polish musical influence.

From the first piece Partie Polonaise TWV 39:1 (in 7 movements!) I’d like to mention in particular the remarkable ending “Hanaque – Gigue” with a massive drone chord in the 2nd viola. In all sorts of ways, this part really sticks out from the rest, and it is probably the most explicit example in this progamme of Polish folk music influence on Telemann.

The next Sonata in D major (TWV 41:D6) has nothing in particular to do with Polish music, but was included as a curiosity, as it is a viola transcription of Telemann’s only Cello sonata. The other two pieces (Trio sonata Polonese TWV 42:a8 and Trio sonata in g minor TWV 42:g9) were arranged by Henrik Frendin himself for 2 violas and continuo instead of violin and viola da gamba. The last Allegro movement of the g-minor sonata also includes the drone hum and folksy zest of the aforementioned “Hanaque“, and evokes enthusiastic applause.

For an encore, Henrik and Håkan gave a sneak preview of their “Polska” programme for the last concert of this IVC tomorrow, with Polish-influenced Swedish folk music for 2 violas. It’s great stuff, so do come tomorrow night, not to be missed!

– Karin & Kristofer

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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.

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 2

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 2: Wednesday, September 25th, 2019
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I must be getting old, as attending viola ensemble rehearsal at 8am (a daily session aptly titled “Everyone is Eager“, in the early drafts of the programme) proved to be an impossible challenge this morning, after late-night blogging work. Apparently 3 die-hards showed up… but I’m not too ashamed, because without that extra sleep I would have been unconscious at this point, unable to complete this blog in time. Hang on for the full report of a very long and action-packed day…!

The 9am lecture session kicked off with a “food-for-thought” session by Myrna Layton (representing the Primrose International Viola Archive – PIVA) with the title “Building your public: attracting and retaining the Millenial and iGen(eration) audience“. She started out elaborating a number of thesis statements:

  • Performers needs to build an audience if they want to have an audience
  • Players need to ask themselves about their relationship to their audiences
  • All musicians should be able to address audiences confidently
  • Understanding the “iGen” means understanding the future (audience)

As a result, a “list of things to think about” emerged, however it remains more a list of questions than ready-served answers (that would be too easy!). I wonder if we can figure out how the iGen audiences work before the next hard-to-reach generation emerges…!

Next up was an interesting presentation by Elyse Dalabakis, concerning the viola concerto by the Greek composer Dimitris Dragatakis. This is part of her Ph.D. research under guidance of prof. Donald Maurice, in Wellington (NZ). She travelled to Athens to perform archive research for this work, and was also introduced to Artur Paciorkiewicz, the Polish violist who did the premiere performance and recording in 1993.

By no coincidence whatsoever, mr. Paciorkiewicz was present in the room, and was subjected to a (prepared-translation) interview about the process of rehearsing and performing this work. The composer (Dragatakis) was apparently unusually pleased with the premiere performance, the first movement of which we were given to hear the actual recording (reportedly a premiere sounding as such). It is indeed a fascinating work!

At 10am we hurried over to the POSM recital hall, where Maxim Rysanov was giving a master class. The DVS “Sister Act” (Sunniva and Ursula Skaug) were fortunate to go first, with a half-hour lesson on the Lutoslawski Bucolics. He easily squeezed out some extra mileage in dynamics, phrasing, tempi, and even re-arranging the octave choices in various places. After this there were some very interesting lessons on the Bach solo suites, the names of the students unfortunately escaped me.

The programme “An oriental bridge” by Baris Kerem Bahar (Turkey) featured various solo viola pieces written mostly for (and even by) himself. On the whole his compositions are neither modern in style nor very virtuosic, but quite sweet and melodic music (quote: “I’m a romantic guy!”). The ornaments and sounds are really oriental, but with a very classical trained scale work.

Unfortunately, he was unable to perform his programmed pieces by Tsintsadze and Khachaturian, because there was no pianist (wtf 1st degree). Instead he took more time for a Q&A session, and told us about an emerging genre referred to as “Turkish classical music”, which bridges traditional oriental and classical styles, making a specific use of e.g. vibrato, sul tasto, ponticello, and quarter-tone adjustments on conventional scales. For more information you can visit his website: www.bariskerembahar.com

The Swiss IVC delegation summed up in one person, Viacheslav Dinerchtein brought an interesting lecture-recital about Mieczysław Weinberg’s solo sonatas for viola. Born in a Polish-Jewish family in pre-WW2 Warsaw, the talented pianist Weinberg fled (as only survivor of his family) when the German invasion came, and ended up in Minsk (Belarus), where he entered the Conservatory. Particularly notable is his discovery of, and eventual friendship with Shostakovich. They were both very prolific composers, and it seems clear that they influenced each other musically. Case in point, Dinerchtein postulated with confidence that Fjodor Druzhinin’s performance of Weinberg’s viola sonatas must have given Shostakovich the spark to write his own viola sonata. In the other direction, Shostakovich fervently and publicly defended Weinberg’s music against bans and official State beratements.

Dinerchtein played the 1st Weinberg solo sonata for us by heart (!), a very complex work, and deeply impressive. I (Karin) definitely could hear the influences of Shostakovich here, but I also felt a touch of Britten – one of his string quartets sounds nearly like a quotation from this Weinberg viola solo sonata.

Lunch break – so we eat our lunchbag sandwiches, with not-too-cheap coffee from the Hotel Ikar restaurant. Outside it has started raining, quite a lot actually. So we’re happy to stay inside and visit the stands at Music4Viola and Gems Music publishers, where lots of interesting repertoire for viola ensembles is on display. We end up buying a healthy stack of fresh sheet music, for further enjoyment at home 🙂

After the break, Aneta Dumanowska and Barbara Papierz performed (as “teacher-student” duo) the Lament for two Violas by Frank Bridge, bringing out some pleasing whole-bodied confluences of sound, which are richly latent in this possibly most famous piece of the viola duo repertoire. It is nearly a symphony in itself, well written technically for the viola, a delight to play and also today to listen to.

Next, Annette-Barbara Vogel and Jutta Puchhammer-Sedillot take on the Sonata for violin and viola (1945) by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968): A piece with significant challenges in articulation and sound production. Not to be taken lightly!
1st movement (con brio) is very cheerful and bright. It made me (Karin) think of Reger’s  trios for flute, violin and viola – even in dynamics. Then there are also the Rollaisms, i.e. violin and viola happily agreeing about everything.

The 2nd movement introduces a more reflective theme, which is fed into a series of variations. The interplay of violin and viola voices is varied and imaginative. The melody initially stays in the viola, and the violin adds Schubertian high variations. And then suddenly this beautiful waltzer followed by an heroic theme in both instruments accompanied by daunting arpeggios. The movement ends with a rich fugue (reminding us why we have to practice thirds!). Beautiful!

The ensuing virtuosic Scherzo – Rondo movement is very enjoyable music (an intersection of waltzer and tarantella), and very well played too!

An extra cheer from the crowd: The Portuguese delegation has finally arrived, after a harrowing double-delayed travel of 26 hours without sleep! And just in time for Jorge Alves to bring his contribution to this recital: Two contemporary viola solo pieces. The first piece, Dedans-Dehors by Miguel Azguime (b. 1960), is anchored in deep accentuated E-notes on the C-string, with excursions through glissandi and harmonics all over the place, full of surprising twists. It evokes a feeling of timelessness…
The next work by Armando Santiago (b.1932) bears the title “Neume III, en huit strophes” (the programme booklet had it badly misspelled). The music is challenging for the performer as well as the listener: Likened to “a crazy person talking”, there are undulating, shifting notes and odd, erratic pizzicato outbursts, as well as movements hard to describe with words, except perhaps “you had to be there“…

Following a rather wet walk through historical downtown Poznan, we entered the house of the Henryk Wieniawski Music Society, in an alley behind the beautiful Market square. There’s a living-room concert venue with an old white Calisia grand piano (glad there aren’t more IVC attendees, as they would have had to listen outside, in the rain!).
Due to the transit time, we unfortunately missed the lecture about the viola compositions of Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz, but we were on time to hear his viola sonata being executed by Błażej Maliszewski (with Paweł Rydel on the white piano stool).

The next program concerns classical cello sonata transcriptions. Prof. Leszek Brodowski explained his affinity to transcriptions by the shortage of (readily available) viola solo repertoire when he graduated from conservatory, 40 years ago; so he started writing his own transcriptions of classical works – Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert. He then performed a transcription of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata op.5 no.2 in g minor, which indeed sounded like a very convincing option for viola – not least by the visible pleasure that prof. Brodowski took in playing Beethoven here, in this chamber music room, where the spirit of Wieniawski is all around.

Krzysztof Komendarek-Tymendorf followed suit with his very own transcription of Brahms’ Cello Sonata no.1 op.38 in E minor. Together with pianist Mirosława Sumlinska he brought the “transcription” themed concert to a very passionate culmination. Unrelated to the skilled performance, however, one can’t help missing Brahms’ powerful cello notes deep down.Tymendorf’s proverbial encore was an actual world premiere of the piece “Waldteufel und Nixe” by Artur Andrzejewski, more of a miniature, tonal in construction in spite of the 1965 birth year of the composer. Very enjoyable – and noted on the wishlist!

This leaves us with 90 minutes of rest for the ears, and other restorative activities, before we head to tonight’s evening concert in the Poznan Grand Theatre, a quite spectacular building and beautiful opera/concert hall. The Poznan Grand Theatre Symphony Orchestra has taken the stage, with Katarzyna Tomala-Jedynak at the baton. No less than FOUR concertos are programmed, 2 solid hours of viola concertos binge-listening without an intermission! OMG…

 

After a short welcome and introduction from our hosts as well as IVS president Carlos Maria Solare (“what’s-all-this-Viola-Congress-stuff-then?”, for the broader audience), we are all set for the Anton Wranitzky double-concerto in C, with grand old man Jerzy Kosmala playing together with his own 17-year-old grandson (!) Stefan Kosmala-Dahlbeck. Although both are currently living in the U.S., their roots in Poland are strong.

 

The second concerto on the programme this evening was composed in 2016 by the young Ewa Fabiańska-Jelińska (b.1989), and performed by our congress co-host Ewa Guzowska. It is a refreshing contrast to the Wranitzky concerto, and Guzowska adds a lot of energy to the performance, with beautiful tone qualities. Her viola speaks easily through the string orchestra accompaniment.

Similarly for viola and strings is the concerto by Marek Stachowski, interpreted by Tomasz Rosinski. The latter is audibly and visibly a first-rate violist, but the “script” he gets to work with is a bit on the meager side here. There is significant repetition, long periods of soloist inactivity, and not enough material to keep things cooking for the (too long) duration of the piece.

The opposite would be true for the 1968 concerto of Grażyna Bacewicz (mentioned in yesterday’s blog): in the hands of violist Paweł Riess, and joined by a fully instrumented symphony orchestra (except – oddly, the viola section is vacated!), this piece turns into a truly impressive work. The slow movement is of great beauty, and the finale is explosive and furious. Compliments to the soloist, conductor, and the orchestra alike!

I could say more, but this blog is already long enough, and I am really Eager to make it to Viola Ensemble practice tomorrow at 8am!

So that’s it folks – tune in again tomorrow…

– Karin & Kristofer

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