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.
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