International Viola Congress XXXVII
Stellenbosch, South Africa, July 27–August 1, 2009
by Paul Elwood, Dwight Pounds, Christine Rutledge, Carlos María Solare, and Tom Tatton
Day one – Christine Rutledge
Day one of the 37th International Viola Congress at the University of Stellenbosch opened with a welcoming ceremony by the sponsors and administrators of the congress (including Robert Brooks of MIAGI, John Roos of the University of South Africa, and Michael Vidulich, president of the IVS). Congress co-host and president of the South African Viola Society, Hester Wohlitz, was recognized for her enormous efforts to bring the congress to South Africa. Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot was recognized for her donation of strings for the students of MIAGI, as was Christine Rutledge for her donation of two student violas. Two important missions of the congress were to include indigenous South African music and to emphasize South African student involvement in all events. Thus it was quite fitting that the ceremony concluded with performances by the Soshanguwe Viola Octet, a group of young South African violists. Their arrangement of the South African national anthem brought the audience to its feet, and they continued with arrangements of South African indigenous tunes. This was followed by a “Rag” by Michael Kimber and improvisations on South African tunes.
From left to right: Peter Udal, congress volunteer (and Hester Wohlitz’s husband); John Roos, Director of the Music Foundation of the University of South Africa; Sheila Masote; Michael Masote, Musical Director of the African Cultural Organization of South Africa and congress lecturer; and Hester Wohlitz (all photos courtesy of Dwight Pounds)
The first official event was a lecture on Paul Hindemith by Luitgard Schader, curator at the Hindemith Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. Dr. Schader’s informative lecture was a prelude to the Hindemith Cavalcade that ran throughout the duration of the congress. This series was the brainchild of Louise Lansdown, viola professor at the Royal Northern Conservatory of Music in Manchester, England, whose students were the performers. Later that afternoon the first concert of this series, “The Concertos,” commenced with performances of Kammermusik No. 5, with violist Ian Fair; Konzertmusik, op. 48, with violist Kate Moore; and Der Schwanendreher with violist Ruth Gibson. Pianist Tim Abel accompanied all performers. The performances were polished and strong. Unfortunately the room for the performance was a very small classroom; the acoustics suffered and the balance was bad between violists and piano.
A fabulous afternoon recital was given by violists Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot (president of the Canadian Viola Society) and Karin Wolf (president of the German Viola Society). Wolf opened the recital with performances of Mendelssohn’s Sonata for Viola and Piano and Britten’s Lachrymae. Wolf’s playing was delicate and penetrating. Puchhammer-Sédillot followed with York Bowen’s Sonata No. 2 for Viola and Piano and For Oleg, a solo work by South African composer Peter Klatzow. Puchhammer-Sédillot’s tone was rich and dark and conveyed the deep emotion of the Klatzow work. Outstanding piano accompaniment was provided by Nina Schumann, faculty pianist at the University of Stellenbosch.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the lecture-recital “Traditional Compositions & Instruments from South Africa and Africa” by Kobus Malan and Anthony Caplan because of a concurrent lecture, “Classical Music in Soweto,” by Michael Masote. Masote and his wife have worked tirelessly for decades to bring classical music to Soweto, and Masote outlined the history of classical music performance there, as well as the progress being made. The overwhelming sense of optimism and forgiveness was palpable.
The evening concert began with performances by South African violist Valery Andreev. A native of Russia and teacher of viola at the University of Pretoria, Andreev performed Suite Afrique by South African composer Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, who was in attendance. The suite was intended to evoke various dances and rituals of southern Africa. Andreev’s performance was spirited but a bit rough.
Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot followed with a stirring performance of Brahms’s Two Songs, with South African mezzo-soprano Violina Anguelov and pianist Elna van der Merwe, also from South Africa. The evening’s concert concluded with a very interesting work for narrator, strings, clarinet, indigenous instruments, and the voice of revered South African folk artist Madosini Latozi Mpahleni. The work, The Songs of Madosini, co-written by Hans Huyssen, is a musical biography of Madosini’s life and music. Madosini is a world-renowned folk musician and master of the uhadi (bow), isitolotolo (jaw harp), and umrhubhe (mouth bow). The audience gave the performers a standing ovation, and it was a fitting conclusion to the first day of the congress.
Day two – Tom Tatton
Tuesday was the fairest of days with wispy clouds and a gentle breeze. 9:00 a.m. saw some twenty-two violists from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, and other locations around South Africa sprinkled with a few congress attendees work on improvisational techniques using African folk tunes and exciting repetitive rhythmic patterns. The glowing cheeks, booming voice, and broad smile of Kolwane Mantu from the Soweto String Quartet soon brought out the natural energy and youthful exuberance of the young viola players.
Three substantial master classes (ninety minutes each) were spread throughout the day: Christine Rutledge with her kind and positive suggestions, Jerzy Kosmala with his ever sage advice and situational humor, and Tim Deighton, who instantly connected with each young violist, concentrating on gesture and all its implications. What struck me was the common positive and encouraging words from three generations of master teachers: the youthful energy of Tim, the knowing and supportive approach of Christine, and the grandfatherly advice from Jerzy. Throughout the week we heard mostly Hindemith in the master classes, but Christine worked with a youngster on the D Minor Suite of Bach, and Jerzy heard a young student perform the third Suite of Reger.
Two complete sessions of the Hindemith Cavalcade were included on Tuesday; the first concentrating on the songs and lesser-known chamber music, and the second included the short works for viola and the lesser-known string quartets. Each Hindemith concert (and throughout the congress) was preceded by short commentaries on each work to be performed by Luitgard Schader from Germany. The former concert included Frankenstein’s Monster Repertoire for quartet and the hilarious spoof on Wagner’s music, Overture to the Flying Dutchman as played at sight by a second-rate concert orchestra at the village well at 7 o’clock in the morning, for string quartet. I must say that the RNCM students performed and understood the humor and comedy in both works and conveyed such nicely! The latter concert included the expected Trauermusik and Meditation and—out of order, inserted into this concert—was the Trio for Viola, Heckelphone, and Piano, op. 47.
What a courageous accomplishment this entire project was for Dr. Lansdown and the students of RNCM. The students included performance experience from freshman to graduate students with the latter carrying the more difficult load. Their performance level, while not always of seasoned professionals, was nevertheless incredibly high, and the challenge was understood and embraced by all. What we sometimes missed in polish and nuance was more than made up in enthusiasm and musical excitement.
11:00 a.m. David Dalton gave his sterling talk on William Primrose. Always interesting and inspirational, David was in fine form. At the 3:00 p.m. hour we heard Barbara Paull, a British-trained physiotherapist who practices in Canada. What a broad smile and perky personality! She knew her stuff. I now have exercises for my upper body and understand that when I swim, the backstroke is better for my neck and left shoulder than the crawl. What a wonderful talk we heard on Bach performance practice by Christine Rutledge at 4:15 p.m. We were treated to a performance of the first Fantasie by Telemann and the C Major Suite by Bach. Each movement was preceded by sensible performance practice commentary. Here is a performer who thoroughly investigates the music she plays.
The opening half of the Tuesday evening concert included three different duets played on the oboe, performed by Kobus Malan, principle oboe of the Congress Orchestra, and on three different African instruments, performed by Anthony Caplan. The first piece was titled Umrhubhe Geeste. The umrhubhe is a single-stringed instrument, which is bowed, hit, or plucked. The balance of the oboe was unequal against the umrhubhe, but it was an interesting piece nonetheless. The balance in Nyatiti Magic was better. The nyatiti harp is of Ugandan origin. This most interesting piece seemed very African with a suggestion of Latin rhythms. The last piece, Wood and Clay, was with oboe and udu, and the most interesting piece of all. The udu is a clay-pot drum with a membrane stretched across the broad opening and a side hole. The deep resonating udu, well-matched balance, active rhythms, and tonal variety made for an exciting musical whole.
Anthony Caplan demonstrates on the umrhubhe, or “mouth bow”
The second half included Mozart’s String Quintet in G Minor and Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major. The Congress Quintet played the Mozart with Karin Wolf from Germany and Jeanne-Louise Moolman from Bloemfontein, South Africa, on viola. The quintet was thoroughly enjoyable, played with appropriate passion and resignation in one of Mozart’s favorite keys. The Schumann quartet performed by The Lyric Piano Quartet with Marina Louw from Cape Town on viola was exciting and passionate with clean lines, flowing rhythms, and a rich sonority throughout. An excellent ending to a wonderful day!
Day three – Dwight Pounds and Paul Elwood
The third day of the Stellenbosch Viola Congress began as it usually has in past congresses—with a rehearsal of some forty violists come together to learn and play viola ensemble music at the hands of an American, Tom Tatton, and a South African, Eric Rycroft. Some of the pieces were totally unfamiliar to the South African students, but their willingness to learn new literature and be part of the group dynamic was quite remarkable. In another part of the building, Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot conducted a closed master class, an approach I have rarely (if ever) seen in previous congresses in that the instructional session was closed to the general public.
Although programming Paul Hindemith’s complete repertoire of viola compositions has been suggested for previous congresses, Stellenbosch can claim bragging rights to the first Hindemith Cavalcade. Today’s venue included three separate Hindemith Cavalcade programs: the string trios, the sonatas with piano, and a late-evening program of the Bratschenfimmel.
Csaba Erdélyi, in the featured lecture of the day, shared with a near-packed lecture hall his twenty-two years experience with the Bartók Viola Concerto and the rationale for writing his own version of the composer’s incomplete manuscript, which would be performed in the Gala Concert the following evening. Paul Elwood, one of the congress’s featured composers shares his thought on the lecture:
Erdélyi opened his lecture with a number of interesting facts and stories about the posthumously published Viola Concerto. The Viola Concerto is problematic in that it remained incomplete by the time Bartók died. The ending, no matter what version one hears, always seems abrupt and not as carefully worked-through as Bartók himself might have liked had he lived to finish the piece. Tibor Serly, an acquaintance of Bartók’s, was given permission to orchestrate and finish the piece from Bartók’s sketches. Erdélyi, who created his own orchestration of the work, discussed mistakes he found in Serly’s orchestration and some choices he himself made in orchestrating the piece.
Erdélyi delivered anecdotes about the work and about his own transcription. He himself sent Peter Bartók, Béla’s son, a copy of his orchestration for feedback and then heard from legal representation that Erdélyi didn’t have permission to do this orchestration. It turns out that Peter was planning his own version. Erdélyi’s criticism here is that Peter Bartók is not a musician, but a sound engineer, and not very well equipped to create his own version. In any event, it will be a while before Erdélyi’s version can be heard in wide distribution owing to the fact that there are still copyright restrictions.
Notably, in Erdélyi’s version, he changes incorrect notes, octave displacements, and a section featuring viola harmonics that Serly transposed into A from Bartók’s original composition in A-flat. Erdélyi placed that section back into Bartók’s intended tonal center. Erdélyi’s orchestration is very well thought out and works beautifully for the most part. He did what any good composer or arranger would do, he work-shopped the orchestration with ensembles in Illinois and at Butler University to try different instrumental combinations. “I cannot bear to hear the Serly version anymore,” Erdélyi states, “because it hurts me every time I hear a wrong note.”
Csaba Erdélyi discusses his version of Bartók’s Viola Concerto
In other activities, South African violists Renata van der Vyver and Valery Andreev collaborated with pianists Nina Schumann and Malcolm Nay, also South Africans, in a program of works by Vitali, Haydn, Ravel, Benjamin, and Brahms. This program was followed by a lecture-recital featuring the Sonata for Viola and Piano by Stefans Grové, performed by violist Elmarie van der Vyver and pianist Elna van der Merwe. Timothy Deighton (USA, New Zealand) presided over an afternoon open master class and the Rolf Klein String Quartet (SA) performed “Viola Café at the Wijnhuis.” The day concluded with an evening concert that featured new repertoire for viola and large ensembles. David Jason Snow’s Jakarta, for violin, viola, and percussion ensemble, was performed by Penny and Steven Kruse (USA, and to whom the work was dedicated) and a South African percussion ensemble. The evening’s second selection was Stefans Grové’s Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Chamber Orchestra, with South Africans Jeanne-Louise Moolman (viola) and Helen Vosloo (flute) as soloists. Korey Konkol (USA) was viola soloist in João Guilherme Ripper’s Concertino for Viola and String Orchestra and Sheila Browne was viola soloist in the second and third movements of Kenneth Jacob’s Approaching Northern Darkness, a concerto for viola and orchestra. I would be remiss in this commentary on the day’s activities without mentioning the excellent contribution by Finnish conductor Sasha Mäkilä throughout the congress in piecing together superb orchestral accompaniments of virtuoso pieces with little rehearsal time.
The concluding event of the day was another entry in the Hindemith Cavalcade. Paul Elwood reports:
Belying his stern pedagogical/compositional reputation, Hindemith also carried with him a somewhat Bohemian past in which he participated in experimental film and wrote plays for a series of house entertainments between 1913 and 1920. Die Bratschenfimmel (Viola Mania) is one of about eight plays he wrote during this time, a humorous presentation about a man who wished to kill his bank manager/boss with “anti-viola” playing. As per Hindemith’s stage directions, an offstage violist played fragments of Hindemith’s own Sonata for Solo Viola, op. 11, no. 5—intentionally badly. The stage sets were simple, but the acting was very good. Notable in his performance was Michael Segaud, who played Abdul, the disgruntled employee/proponent of “anti-viola playing.” But the whole cast is to be commended for the work they put into staging this hour-long farce.
Sheila Browne performs Kenneth Jacob’s Approaching Northern Darkness,
Sasha Mäkilä conducting
Day four – Carlos María Solare
I chose to start the day with the Hindemith Cavalcade’s latest installment, a talk by Luitgard Schrader on “Hindemith’s love affair with Bach Chaconne.” Drawing on research undertook for her doctoral dissertation, Dr. Schrader convincingly showed the influence on Hindemith of a seminal theoretical work, Ernst Kurth’s Grundlagen des linearen Kontrapunkts. This analysis of Bachian compositional nuts and bolts was published in 1917, just as Hindemith was preparing to write his first unaccompanied pieces for violin and viola. It was fascinating to inspect some sketches for the last movement of op. 11, no. 5 (In Form und Zeitmaß einer Passacaglia) and even more exciting to get to know a “new” piece by Hindemith: a sonata for unaccompanied violin that surfaced only a few years ago in its complete form and has been tentatively given the opus number op. 11, no. 6. Already at first glance, the music distinctly recalls Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. And yes, Hindemith did have a life-long love affair with Bach’s Chaconne, of which he played countless performances, both public and private, on the violin and on the viola.
The afternoon concert was dedicated to “Small Ensembles.” Kenneth Martinson presented with Valery Andreev two viola duets from his on-going edition of the viola music by Alessandro Rolla, and—with Wouter Raubenheimer and bass player Henrike Kovats—Telemann’s Partie Polonaise, a rhythmically rocking suite of dance movements. In complete contrast with it was Isang Yun’s atmospheric Contemplation, for two violas, played by Timothy Deighton and Peter Chun with an intimacy that made one forget the hall’s dimensions.
There followed my own contribution to the cause of that beautiful instrument, the viola d’amore. In a lecture-recital, I presented as much organological and historical information as could be crammed into forty-five minutes, ending with a performance of the Rondo from Friedrich Wilhelm Rust’s Sonatina, La Paysanne, in which I was ably assisted by my fellow IVS Executive Secretary, Max Savikangas. After my presentation, I managed to catch the tail end of a most enjoyable recital at the Wijnhuis, today in charge of the Bloemfontein-Bochabela Viola Ensemble, lovingly coached by Jeanne-Louise Moolman.
The long day ended with the orchestral concert, conducted by the indefatigable Sasha Mäkilä, who admirably managed to make the most of the extremely limited rehearsal time and presented very creditable renditions of four orchestral scores that are not at all easy to play. The evening started with Paul Wranitzky’s seldom heard Double Concerto, for two violas, with two highly contrasted soloists: Jerzy Kosmala and Wouter Raubenheimer, who made a good case for this early-Beethovenian, slightly long-winded piece, crowning it with an absolutely over-the-top cadenza by a contemporary Russian composer whose name I couldn’t catch (it reminded me strongly of Schnittke’s cadenza to the Beethoven Violin Concerto). South African copyright laws allowed a rare opportunity to hear Csaba Erdélyi perform his realization of the Bartók Concerto. Although we can of course never know how Bartók would have finished the piece had he lived a few weeks longer, many would agree that Tibor Serly’s version includes too many un-Bartókian traits (not to mention added music of Serly’s own devising). On the other hand, the “official” alternative by Peter Bartók and Nelson Dellamaggiore includes some readings that are very dubious indeed. All things considered, the Erdélyi version sounds most Bartókian of all, at least to my non-Hungarian ears, and it was anyway a pleasure to hear it in the uniquely authoritative interpretation of Csaba Erdélyi himself. This was never an easy piece to accompany, and the orchestra did become unstuck in a couple of places, but it didn’t detract from the excitement of the performance. In this version, the solo part accords exactly to Bartók’s manuscript and is considerably more recalcitrant than Serly’s player-friendlier adaptation. Erdélyi was completely on top of the many difficulties with crystal-clear harmonics in the last movement’s middle episode.
Advantage was taken of the availability of a choir to include Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Flos Campi in the program in a lovely performance by Jerzy Kosmala. The concert ended with what probably was the very first performance (after the 1917 world premiere) of Rosa Mystica, a half-hour concerto featuring a huge symphony orchestra and written in a luxuriant late Romantic idiom by William Henry Bell, the English-born long-time director of the South African College of Music. The soloist was Roger Chase, who had ferreted out the manuscript at the University of Cape Town Music Library, had a score and parts prepared from it, and recorded it a year ago (this, however, was his first live performance of it). Bell studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and inevitably came under the influence of the redoubtable Lionel Tertis, who played some of his pieces around the turn of the century. The idiomatic solo writing in Rosa Mystica indeed reminds one of other pieces written for Tertis at the time, like York Bowen’s Concerto or Benjamin Dale’s Suite. As he has repeatedly demonstrated in concerts and recordings, Chase is uncannily attuned to the music of this time. His rendering of the difficult solo part, appropriately enough using the “ex-Tertis” Montagnana, made light of the many virtuoso runs and passages in double stops, always pouring forth a sensually warm tone of which the Old Man himself would have been proud.
Days five and six – Dwight Pounds
The fifth day of the Stellenbosch Viola Congress began as the third day did, with a mass viola ensemble rehearsal. The pieces the ensemble played on the following morning’s program included “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” arranged for six violas by Michael Dennison and edited by John White; Adagio for Four Violas by Matthias Durst, edited by David Bynog; and, the first movement, “Dedication,” from the Suite for Eight Violas by Gordon Jacob.
Peter Chun (USA) conducted a closed master class and the Hindemith solo sonatas were performed by the RNCM students in the continuing Hindemith Cavalcade. Luthier Dawne Haddad (SA) discussed the Cremona masters prior to the official display of instruments. South African luthiers in addition to Haddad present for the congress and showing their wares included Kotie van Soelen, Vivienne Cowley, Brian Lisus, and I. Farida. An instrument from each of the participating luthiers was demonstrated by Roger Chase, who, with pianist Elna van der Merwe, had just performed an excellent program of pieces in many cases premiered or written for Lionel Tertis and edited for modern editions by John White and others working with The Tertis Project.
From left to right: Tim Deighton, Roger Chase (holding the ex-Tertis Montagnana viola), and Juliet White-Smith
Friday’s venue in the continuing Hindemith Cavalcade was devoted to the solo sonatas. Particularly noteworthy was the appearance of a young Scot, Michael Segaud, in full Scottish regalia with tartan colors, but playing a viola instead of a bagpipe.
Scottish violist Michael Segaud performs as part of the “Hindemith Cavalcade”
The concluding program for the day was “Composers’ Forum and New Repertoire: Kimber, Hawkins, van Dijk, Harding, Savikangas, and Elwood.” Comments by Tom Tatton, one of the forum participants:
The first work was On the Rocks by van Dijk for viola sextet, a very unsettling piece but well performed by Karin Gaertner, Piet de Beer, Marina Louw, Jan-Hendrik Harley, Camilla Driver, and Azra Isaacs; next on the program was Kranker Matthäus, for flute and viola, by Max Savikangas. I must report I enjoyed the piece somewhat; it seemed to have form and shape, he used the instruments well both in their timbre and balance, and I said so to the composer. The lecture “South African Viola Music,” presented by Elmarie van der Vyver, was followed by Four Canons for Two Violas by Michael Kimber, played with great skill and musicality by Juliet White-Smith and Timothy Deighton. I was taken by the close-knit dialogue, excellent balance, and musical awareness (phrase awareness is so hard in a canon) of the performers. I enjoyed the next piece by Paul Elwood and its unique instrumentation: Capricious Apparitions, for two violas and bowed five-string banjo. Five movements: Traffic, The Girl at the Spring, Nino Rota, Steambath with the Cardinal, and Spaceship to the Inferno. I really enjoyed these pieces, again featuring Juliet and Tim plus the composer Paul Elwood on the five-string banjo. It was well-played, exciting music with eyes glued to the banjo (and the bow) and fun from start to finish. Two problems—even after the discussion I had difficulty pairing the music to the movement titles, and since this is a boutique piece, it probably cannot be replicated without the composer on banjo. At the conclusion of the performance the composer talked about his relationship to the banjo, the exciting challenge of composing this particular piece, and bowing a banjo. He concluded with some improvised traditional banjo bluegrass licks. I concluded the Composers’ Forum with a ten-minute talk about Kenneth Harding, which preceded the performance of his Rondo Capriccio, for six violas. This ensemble was led by Wouter Raubenheimer, who performed the Wranitzky with Jerzy Kosmala on Thursday evening. I thought the performance sparkled; it was energetic, captured the capriccio character of the piece, and the rondo form through Harding’s multiple melodies unfolded nicely and became vividly clear. The composer would have been pleased.
The fifth day concluded with a sumptuous banquet and sumptuous entertainment in a light-hearted program called “Viola Passion” by Lizzie Rennie.
Violist Lizzie Rennie
On the final day, the afore-mentioned mass viola ensemble program was followed by a lecture-recital: Modern Brazilian Music for Solo Viola. The presenter, Carlos Aleixo dos Reis (Brazil), supported his lecture with well-selected slides and musical examples that he himself played most convincingly, despite the “handicap” of speaking and organizing his thoughts in his second (or third) language. Hopefully Carlos’s services can be secured for Congress XXXVIII next year. Viacheslav Dinerchtein (Belarus/Mexico) performed the final solo concert of the congress with a reading of Octavio Vazquez’s Sonata for Viola. The performance sparkled with both musical and technical excellence despite a very sparse audience. Just as they had begun the congress following the opening ceremonies, the RCNM students who prepared the Hindemith Cavalcade likewise concluded it on a light and very entertaining note with a performance of the composer’s spoof on military music, Minimax. The congress “Farewell Function” was a social occasion for people to reminisce, say goodbye, and look forward to congresses and viola events to come. The assembled delegates were both surprised and delighted with an unexpected curtain call.
Violist Louise Lansdown and students from the RCNM conclude the Hindemith Cavalcade in the final concert of the congress
The Soshanguwe Viola Octet was the featured musical attraction in the opening ceremonies. ABSA (Amalgamated Banks of South Africa, and with MIAGI, one of the congress’s main sponsors and underwriters) arranged to have T-shirts commemorating the congress made up for sale to delegates. Hester promised the boys each his own T-shirt if they fulfilled certain responsibilities during the congress, such as attending as many events as possible. As people were sipping their wine and nibbling their cheeses, the far-off sound of a viola ensemble gradually began to fill the foyer, ever increasing in volume until the same ensemble, marching in rhythm much like a military band and wearing their hard-earned ABSA T-shirts, entered the area and played a delightful, apparently impromptu program on the steps of the commons area. The tunes and rhythms were decidedly African, and the boys put their hearts and souls into the music. Two of the boys danced as the others played, using their violas and bows as props. These were moment of pure joy as can be seen in the photographs, both for the young musicians and the delegates. Their final appearance, as the first, was a pleasure to have seen and heard and a treasure as the parting memory of Congress XXXVII.
Members of the Soshanguwe Viola Octet close the congress with an impromptu session