Day 1 of the International Viola Congress in Würzburg, and already the main organizer, Emile Cantor, is looking frazzled. There's a problem with the catering, some issues with the registration, and as a result, things are running slightly late. But Emile—Dutch-born, German-based, violist in the Orpheus Quartet—just keeps smiling, while pointing people in the right direction for the opening master class with Prof. Thomas Riebl of the Mozarteum Salzburg.
The master class takes place in the ultra-modern metal-and-concrete Mehrzweckraum, in the new part of the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg, which is one of Germany's oldest conservatories. Most of the concerts are held in the Kleinersaal in the same building—modern as well, but with more wood to make it string-player friendly. The older Hochschule building plays host to the Walter Witte competition for young violists, which starts tomorrow. I'm hoping to catch at least the final round on Friday.
First up in Riebl's class is a group of young South African players, the Soshanguve Ensemble. There's an interesting tale behind this group and how they came here, and more about that on Friday. But this morning, Riebl gives plenty of pointers for their Bach: "Remember, long notes in Baroque music should bloom!"
Riebl is a much-admired teacher, and I can see why as he continues with three other young players. Trying to get a more steady tempo from one player, he says, "Don't go forward and backward on pulse, or your audience will get seasick!"
He tells another player, "The bow speed should always support the music."
There's a late-morning recital from the Polish violists Lech Balaban and Boguslawa Hubisz-Sielska; their performance of an attractive duo suite by Michal Spisek is a clear highlight. A brief change of pace comes mid-program when the violin-viola Kruse Duo of Ann Arbor, Michigan, plays a fresh-off-the-computer duo by Braxton Blake.
The Congress is opened officially after lunch with speeches by Würzburg's mayor, former Israeli ambassador Avi Primor (the patron of the Congress) and several others. Those who were lightly dozing during the speeches wake quickly as the grandees leave and a viola-accordion duo takes the stage to play two very contemporary works. I'll admit that this the first time I realized what a palette of taps, creaks, and wheezes the accordion has.
Maybe Bach also has a bigger color palette than we assume?
That's the thesis of Andrew Filmer, who's pursuing his doctorate at New Zealand School of Music. His ideas about the use of two scordatura violas in the Brandenburg Sixth Concerto to create more of the timbre that Bach wanted were put to the test right after his lecture with a fully fledged performance.
Theory, then practice.
See how scientific violists are?
Filmer's thesis advisor, Donald Maurice, was the star of the afternoon concert. With the combination of viola, flute, and guitar, a Latin mood was bound to emerge, and it did, first with Piazzolla's "Café 1930" and then with several pieces by the group's guitarist, Giovanni Seneca.
By the 6 p.m., I'd heard violists from South Africa, Poland, Germany, New Zealand, and the USA, but it was a top American violists who ended the day: Samuel Rhodes, known to many as the violist of the Juilliard Quartet. He served up a monumental solo program, including two Hindemith sonatas (his effortless, lighting-fast playing in the forth movement's Opus 25, No. 1 brought several knowing nods from the audience) and a suitably somber Stravinsky "Elegie."
It was a fine conclusion to the day and a good reminder that viola congresses aren't only for watching young players stretch their wings, but also for admiring master players such as Rhodes as they go into full glorious flight.
- The Emersons: Reflecting on Change, Pt. II
- The Emersons: Reflecting on Change, Pt. I
- Montreal Chamber Music Fest—Brandenburgs a la Wallfisch
- The Montreal Chamber Music Festival—Canada's Instrument Bank Steals the Show
- More from Montreal: The Les Petits Violons School
- Montreal Violin Competition, Pt. V—It's a Wrap!
- The Montreal Violin Competition, Pt. IV, the Results
- The Montreal Violin Competition, Pt. III, The Finals
- Live from Montreal: The Montreal Violin Competition, Pt.II
- Making a Cello, Part II