it’s almost quartet season again…

We just had an Arnica Quartet dinner meeting the other night to nail down a couple of concert dates and also our repertoire for the coming season.

We’ve got two concerts lined up so far for the Fall, the first a noon concert at Pacific University on October 3rd, where we’ll be playing the Haydn “Lark” Quartet, Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet, and two short arrangements by Shostakovich of music from his staged works (The Golden Age, and Lady Macbeth).

We have another concert in Salem, Oregon on November 12th @ 3 p.m. which will comprise the Haydn “Lark”, Shosty 8, and Beethoven’s monumental op. 130 (with alternate non-fugue finale).

As for the spring, our repertoire will be the Janacek 2nd (Intimate Letters), Beethoven op. 18 no. 6, and the Debussy Quartet. We’re kind of hitting all of the stylistic genres this year, should be interesting!

orchestral inheritance

I read the most recent issue of Senza Sordino (the journal of ICSOM or the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) at work yesterday, just before our second of two Garrison Keillor concerts (great fun, and absolutely worth the money if he’s coming to an orchestra near you soon – in this case I think the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony are his two other orchestral gigs this fall), and one article really caught my eye. It referred to the three main groups of musicians who make up the symphony orchestra. Not “strings, winds, percussion” or that sort of arrangement, but rather the age groups.

They are (and I’m paraphrasing, as the issue did not make it home with me last night): the newcomers, the middlers, and the veterans.

The author talks about the newbies and the veterans as the technical and historical authorities of the orchestra, but it’s what he said about the largest of the three groups, the middle-agers, that caught my eye.
The middlers (my expression, actually, more accurately is middle-farts) are who the author asserts really own the orchestra. They are between the ages of 30 – 50 (with some outliers), and they have made a committment to being in the group they’re in, and are those who take up most of the workload of committees and other grunt work that keeps the rest of the orchestra relatively happy. I hadn’t really thought of coming into this position of ownership, at least not in this way. It makes a lot of sense, and now I feel a bit daunted by the responsibility. It is this group, into which all of my closest friends in the orchestra fall, which now takes the task of stewardship of the orchestra, and it’s a bit scary! We as a voting bloc and largest group of people who form the pool of service for the orchestra now face an uncertain future: where will the orchestra go from here? How will we keep these phenomenal young talents that win our auditions each year? How can we motivate an already “asked to death” set of donors and audience members to dig a bit deeper and help us get to the next level? How do we stay relevent to a fast-moving and attention span deficient society?

I hope that some answers come to our collective minds in the near-term, and that some great music is made in the meantime. Well, welcome to a new season, one that will be one of our best yet, and enjoy yourself.

the william primrose legacy (cont’d)

If you’re into hearing state-of-the-art viola playing, look no further than the newly-released second solo album of William Primrose transcriptions played by Roberto Diaz and pianist Robert Koenig. Diaz’s first CD was a collection of works by Henri Vieuxtemps, also with pianist Robert Koenig. The Vieuxtemps CD was performed on his Camilli viola of 1739, which was a great instrument (purchased shortly after he was appointed to the principal viola chair of the Philadelphia Orchestra).

The Primrose CD has the added advantage of a new acquisition: the ex-Primrose Brothers Amati viola of 1595 which was owned by and performed on by William Primrose early on in his career, and upon which many of these works might have first been performed!

His [William Primrose’s] father owned several fine instruments, including a c.1600 Brothers Amati viola which was kept locked in a cupboard. This must have been part of its attraction. Willie, as the family called him, described his naughty moments thus: ‘As a youngster, when he [father] wasn’t around, I found a way to open the latch on the cupboard where the Amati was kept and played it with considerable satisfaction. I preferred its sound to the sound of the violin. [1]

This instrument has a remarkable sound, all the more considering its small size of around 15.5 inches. I had the opportunity to play and listen to each of these instruments in Verizon Hall and was consistently amazed at the projection and power of the C-string on the Amati. You get what you pay for!

Diaz served as the Principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 10 years, succeeding his teacher at the Curtis Institute, Joseph dePasquale, who was a pupil of William Primrose. Diaz’s father, Manuel, was his first teacher, and he himself studied with Primrose at Indiana University, so the Primrose pedagogical bloodline runs deep through the Diaz family. After leaving the orchestra in the spring of 2006, Diaz succeeded Gary Graffman as the President of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

I’ve only done the most preliminary listening to this new CD (available at, the Naxos site, and the iTunes music store, among others), but it is exemplary in almost every conceivable fashion. The artistry is first-rate, with beautifully spun phrases, and the virtuosity is breathtaking. Add to this the wonderfully clear sonics of the Naxos recording, and the able accompaniment of ace pianist Robert Koenig, and you’ve got a great disc for anyone who’s interested in hearing what the viola at its fullest potential can do. Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was a student of Roberto Diaz at the University of Maryland and the Peabody Conservatory of Music from 1991-1995.
Music for Viola & Piano

William Primrose: Viola Transcriptions
[1] Claudine Bigelow “No time for snobbery” The Strad, August, 2004.