Vacature Tutti Altviool bij NNO

Het Noord Nederlands Orkest (NNO) heeft een vacature voor Tutti Altviool!
De vacaturetekst is onder deze link te vinden.


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?

DVS Nieuwjaarsborrel 2018

De nieuwjaarsborrel van DVS vindt dit jaar plaats op zondag 14 januari 2018 vanaf 14.30u in Splendor (Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 116, Amsterdam). Hier is het programma:

14:30 inloop met een glaasje en een hapje

15:00 welkomstwoord en presentatie van de grootse plannen van DVS voor 2018!
(spoiler: o.a. bijzondere aandacht voor IVC 2018 in Rotterdam!)

15:30 concert met veel bijzondere altvioolmuziek
(er is hier nog ruimte voor een paar optredens –
   als je iets wilt spelen, geef je dan op bij:

16:30 na een kleine pauze zullen Luca Altdorfer, Kristofer Skaug en Elisabeth Smalt een verslag geven van het International Viola Congress in Wellington, waar zij begin september een bijdrage aan leverden.

17:30 Borrel!

Entreeprijs: €5,-  aan de deur (ook voor Splendor- en DVS-leden).
Of voorverkoop via deze link.

DVS – Jullie zijn aan de beurt!

English version below! Follow this link.

De Dutch Viola Society timmert al 5 jaar aan de weg om de altviool in Nederland te promoten en altviolisten met activiteiten te stimuleren. Daartoe worden er lezingen, workshops, masterclasses en recitals georganiseerd voor en door altviolisten.

Het DVS-bestuur bestaat echter nog altijd uit slechts een handjevol fanatiekelingen, die ook nog eens toevallig allemaal in Zuid-Holland wonen. Ondanks alle goede voornemens blijkt dat wij fysiek niet in staat zijn om in alle 12 provincies activiteiten te organiseren – en dit gaat ons ook nooit lukken zonder jullie hulp!

Jouw initiatief is van cruciaal belang om het aanbod van altviool-activiteiten te verbreden in heel Nederland! Dus – heb je een idee voor een activiteit (lezing, workshop, masterclass, recital) die je zelf wilt organiseren? Deel dit idee met ons door het aanvraagformulier in te vullen!. De DVS zal verdienstelijke ideeën ondersteunen met een financiële bijdrage en PR.

Kom op – we wachten in spanning op nieuwe en originele initiatieven!


English Version:

The Dutch Viola Society has been working to promote the viola in The Netherlands for the past 5 years. One of the ways we do that is by organizing activities such as lectures, workshops, masterclasses and recitals

The board of the DVS still consists of just a handful of fanatics, however. And coincidentally we all live in the province Zuid-Holland. In spite of all good intentions, it has become clear that we are physically unable to organize activities in all 12 provinces of The Netherlands – and that we also never will be able to do this withouth your help!

Your initiative is of vital importance in order to expand the offerings of viola related activities in The Netherlands! So – do you have an idea for an activity (lecture, workshop, masterclass, recital) which you would like to organize youself? Share your idea with us by filling in the activity support request form! The DVS will support meritable proposals with a financial contribution as well as publicity.

Come on – we are waiting expectantly for new and original initiatives!

TOPkans op solistenrol in Bruch Dubbelconcert!

The DVS received the following advertisement last week. Much too good to withhold from our loyal followers! Carpe Diem!

Stichting Talent op Podium Orkest (T.O.P. Orkest; “Talent on Stage Orchestra”) was founded to accompany soloists in their first steps towards the top of the classical music profession. We perform solo concertos with instrumental and vocal soloists who are at the start of their career to give them the opportunity to perform with an orchestra.
For our project in October 2018 we are looking for:
  • advanced clarinet and viola soloists (not necessarily a duo)
  • with solo ambitions
  • to perform with us M. Bruch ’s double concerto for clarinet and viola
  • in two concerts on 23rd and 27th October 2018

We offer:

  • a chance to perform as a soloist with an orchestra
  • an advanced amateur orchestra
  • a beautiful program
More information: email, visit or call us on 06-34355166.
Send your motivation letter, CV, and a short demo recording to by 1st December 2017. We will invite the most suitable candidates for an audition in Leiden on Saturday 27th or Sunday 28th January 2018. We will ask you to play a piece of your own choice, and a fragment of the concerto selected by us.

De IVC 2018 Website is Live!

De website voor het International Viola Congress 2018 in Rotterdam is nu eindelijk live!
Het adres is:
Er staat nu al de “Call for Proposals“, waarmee je ideeën voor optredens kunt opsturen.

Voortaan zal ook alle verslaggeving over dit mega-project op de IVC-website plaatsvinden. De huidige DVS website blijft toegewijd aan alle overige altvioolonderwerpen.


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 #3

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

The climb up to the University campus once again proves a good morning wake-up exercise en route to the 8am Viola Orchestra rehearsal. But, in an excellent example of Murphyism, when the tough get going (that would be me), the going also gets tougher.

For example the University had run out of spare violas overnight, so the rehearsal was mostly spent in “air viola” mode for my part. Maybe a good thing, because the extra repertoire that landed on our stand was definitely more challenging than yesterday’s rather innocent, if at times looney tunes.

The Australia and New Zealand Viola Society (ANZVS) Viola Composition Contest Workshop was about to start next door. We’d like to do something like this in Rotterdam next year, so I was curious about their set-up. Composers had been invited to write for viola solo or ensemble, with a duration limit of 5 minutes. The composers had been requested to use pseudonyms so as to avoid jury bias.

The results of the contest were presented by Greg Mcgarity and Olwyn Green. Roughly half of the 22 submitted works were for solo viola, the others for ensembles of 2 up to 8 violas. A number of the best works were performed live by an ad-hoc ensemble, and the audience was invited to submit feedback.

The piece “Two Emotions” for 8 violas was performed first. The pure viola quintet “Are we there yet” has an ostinato in the lower voices and strong leads on top. A very appealing piece. “Alto Gether” for viola septet is a ‘Rondo Allegretto Scherzando’ in a rather conventional melodic concept. In contrast, “Once Bitten Never Shy” for viola quartet exposes a multitude of ideas and techniques, without really straying far from tonality. But perhaps a bit too many ideas competing for attention within a short time span. “Danza per Tre” (for 3 violas, obviously) starts in an introspective bluesy mood, but then transitions into a more upbeat jazzy chorus, complete with half-step modulation etc. With a little more rehearsal time it could be fun to play. The composer himself, though not a pro player, plays the lead part. With respect to the notation, a comment from the audience led to a discussion about the “cut and paste” trend in composition where software transposes freely but often without regard to the readability for the musicians.

At this point I decided to walk down to the Te Papa museum to learn something about New Zealand (non-viola topics, that is). It didn’t take long before the viola mob overtook me, however; a viola was thrust into my arms and I became complicit to a Pachelbel flash mob right there in the museum. It can’t be denied: The violas rule in Wellington this week!

The afternoon took on distinctly Dutch colours: first Luca Altdorfer, a Hungarian student from Groningen, gave her lecture-recital about the music of Karl Friedrich Abel, together with her Italian double-bass companion Severiano Paoli. They have arranged Abel’s duets for viola da gamba into viola plus Viennese bass, the latter of which is a fretted 5-string bass with harmonic tuning. Unfortunately this instrument was damaged in transport (bloody airlines!), but it was still playable. Luca in turn had been denied boarding with her viola, so she had to leave it at home. Fortunately she was able to borrow a beautiful baroque styled viola from one of the exhibiting luthiers at the congress.

They performed several of their arrangements, explaining also the process and the reasoning behind some specific transcription choices. The lecture was well received.

Immediately following this was a “Viola Potpourri” session, where several shorter musical contributions are combined in a single programme. Christopher Luther (USA) played some well-known repertoire by Gluck and Stravinsky, as well as his own transcription of Thelonius Monk’s”Well You Needn’t” for solo viola.

Elisabeth Smalt from Amsterdam (NL!) took the stage. She first played “Music for viola” by Yannis Kyriakides. The apparent genericity of the title encodes the fact that the subject matter is word “Music” itself, expressed in 100 different languages. The result was a long string of carefully pronounced “words” which required great concentration from both the performer and her audience. Extensive use of harmonics and even humming of certain harmonically significant notes.

She went on to play “For Bob” by Kevin Volans, accompanied by her brother Christian Smalt on the piano. Again modernist style, interesting and performed with great pose and conviction.

The New Zealand native Alexa Thomson, who currently studies at Rice University in Houston, made an appearance with the solo sonata of NZ composer Anthony Watson. The rather terrifying 2nd movement is somewhat like Hindemith’s infamous “Tonschönheid ist Nebensache”, but then smeared out in alternating double-stops over 4 strings. It is reportedly a “cornerstone” in NZ viola repertoire. Whow.

To soothen our ears, the Potpourri ends with the “Zwei Gesange” op.91 van Brahms. Enter today’s performing Dutch(wo)man number 3, the singer Maaike Christie-Beekman, who moved to NZ only 7 years ago. The Brahms is well sung, also by the violist.

The last lecture I attended today was “Building Performance Skills Through Viola Ensembles”, by Martha Carapetyan and Ames Asbell, both viola professor/teachers from Texas, USA. It is a well structured presentation of how viola ensemble repertoire can be used in a progressive teaching context, from beginners to advanced students. Extra bonus points for plugging our presentation on Tuesday morning!

I am now in my hotel room finishing this blogpost, and will then spend the evening working on my presentations for Monday and Tuesday. That unfortunately means skipping the evening concert with works by Dvorak and Janacek. And so today’s blog ends here.

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.

Wellington IVC Blog #1

Kristofer G. Skaug, DVS

Kia Ora! (Maori for ‘hello’),

After roughly thirty hours in airborne hibernation, I landed yesterday in Wellington (New Zealand) for the 44th International Viola Congress (IVC). It is a very special experience to travel halfway around the globe, only to be greeted with warm cheers, as if you were a regular. This was the case last night at the pre-congress dinner. I shared a table with board members of the International Viola Society (IVS) and our host, Donald Maurice. The atmosphere was great from the first minute!

Pre-congress dinner, left to right: Jutta Puchhammer (IVS Vice President), Donald Maurice (IVC44 Host) and Anna Serova (IVC44 featured artist).

This morning we converged at St. Andrews church to receive our badges, programme books and goodiebags. We then set off on foot for the Pipitea Marae, a Maori ceremonial house near the Wellington Parliament grounds, where we were to be treated to a great honour: a special Maori welcome ceremony known as the Powhiri. Initially we were met with Haka chants and the traditional nose greeting (hongi).

We, the visitors (manuhiri), were then introduced and vouched-for in Maori  by Justin Lester, the Mayor of Wellington. Our native hosts in turn made long and (for most of us) utterly incomprehensible speeches, yet the honest emotions of warm hospitality and friendship were unmistakable! IVS President Carlos Maria Solare, having impressively rehearsed some Maori greetings of his own, reiterated our peaceful purposes. Each speaker’s pledges were sealed with chants. I cannot adequately describe the depth of this impression, and I’m sorry I can only say: you really, absolutely, had to be there!

This ceremony was properly celebrated with tea and muffins and huge mounds of whipped cream. In a less formal mood, we were invited to join a crash course in Haka dancing, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that we will come up terribly short trying to match this welcome ceremony in Rotterdam next year!

Now it was down to the core business of making music. The Deseret string quartet (from Brigham Young University, USA) brought a musical offering to our hosts with Ethan Wickman’s Namasté, which is a Nepali word for “I bow to you”. The double meaning of “bowing” at a viola congress was not lost on us :-). This very soulful music made me think of string quartets by Janacek, sometimes Ravel, but it certainly had its own originality.

Back at St. Andrews, the Italian Viola Society made an important contribution with works of Italian composers, performed by Ensemble della Piattellina, led by Dorotea Vismara. Their programme was highly varied, I enjoyed most the romantic Piano Quartet by Giulio Roberti (1829-1891 – yet with a remarkably raw dissonant chord in its 1st movement!) and the fascinating quintet Centauro Marino by Salvatore Sciarrino.

The programming of the evening concert in St. Andrews would seem to reflect our host Donald Maurice’s warm interest in early music (being a renowned viola d’amore player himself), as the Pandolfis Consort brought us 17th century works with gut-stringed viola da braccia, violetta, cello, théorbe and a marvellous countertenor (Nicholas Spanos). To my ears, the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Felice Sances (1600-1679) with its idiomatic descending chromatics was particularly memorable.

Following a short intermission, the evening programme closed with the Arnold Bax sonata for viola (Sophia Acheson) and harp (Ingrid Bauer): a powerful reminder of how very well Bax knew how to compose for the viola. Admirably performed!

The pub The Old Bailey on Lambton Quay has been appointed as “official waterhole” for the IVC, but disappointingly many delegates are still overwhelmed by jetlag and unable to keep on their feet. Having no musical obligations of my own beyond the massed viola orchestra (8am rehearsals! good grief…), I decided to ignore my more or less obliterated internal clock, and had a few good New Zealand brews with the local violists. A perfect end to a wonderful first day. And still we have four more jam-packed days of congress to look forward to!

PS. Aan onze nederlandse lezers: Vanwege tijdgebrek moet ik mijn gewoonte om alles in het nederlands te schrijven en daarna in het engels te vertalen nu even loslaten… het blijft dit keer in het engels! Ik hoop op jullie begrip.