Basil Vendryes Premieres William Hill’s Viola Concerto

June 12, 2023, 1:35 PM · Talk about big things in small places. In its final masterworks concert of the season, the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra presented the world premiere of William Hill’s Concerto for Viola, Strings, Harp, and Percussion, featuring Colorado Symphony Principal Violist Basil Vendryes. This polished performance, under the composer’s baton, gave the oft-maligned moniker of "community orchestra" an entirely new spin. Bookended by Bruch and Beethoven, the ensemble delivered a succinct rendering of Hill’s latest opus – a concerto that will most likely garner serious interest in the viola world.

Violist Basil Vendryes.

Hill is a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee whose works are frequently performed by the Colorado Symphony, where he serves as Principal Timpanist. Most recently, his Renaissance for Choir and Orchestra closed Colorado’s season. He is the Music Director of the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra and recently retired from The University of Denver after a distinguished career on the composition faculty.

While Hill’s viola concerto has its share of virtuosic moments, the concerto is extremely playable and, perhaps more importantly, extremely "listenable." Hill’s stature as both timpanist and percussionist ensured the rhythm section was the perfect complement to the stunning legato lines in the solo viola. Percussiveness and lyricism were often at odds – in a good way – during this charming, disarming, and absolutely engaging work.

The heavy lifting belongs to the violist, in this case, played with a remarkable depth of feeling by Vendryes, for whom the piece was written. Vendryes seemed completely comfortable standing in front of an orchestra. Yet his ability to listen, honed over decades as a professional orchestral musician, created a wonderful sense of connection with the musicians seated behind him. In notes written about the piece, Hill says his inspiration came from being a colleague of Vendryes’ for decades and bearing witness to his "phenomenal technique, gorgeous tone, and stunning musicianship." Amen!

Hill uses traditional forms, then sets them on their head. There are jazzy passages that recall a group of heavy-booted Eastern European soldiers letting loose. And an off-center waltz that conjures up Tim Burton characters lopsidedly dancing, perhaps on a frozen lake. This 14-minute work is a terrific dance between soloist and orchestra, making it feel more like a conversation than a traditional concerto.

Violist Basil Vendryes in the opening live performance of Hill's Concerto for Viola, Strings, Harp, and Percussion.

On hearing the work, I immediately texted Laurie Niles ( Editor) to express my enthusiasm. Her initial question was such a good one: "How was the balance? That seems to be the trick with viola. It can be hard to hear." I responded that the balance was terrific without requiring the violist to spend the bulk of the piece high up in position in violin territory. Rather, Hill exploited the viola’s rich, creamy, luxurious tone, which Vendryes has in abundance. His vibrato is a warm blanket that one wants to be wrapped in forever. Yet he seems to know there actually can be too much of a good thing, so he portions it out in a manner that has one eagerly anticipating that next gentle hug.

The program included Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture and Symphony #6, as well as Bruch’s Romance for Viola and String Orchestra, also beautifully performed by Vendryes.

This concert is an example of what can be accomplished when an artistic vision is coupled with a commitment to using community musicians in a less formal, less expensive manner. And I say that with the deepest respect for professional symphony orchestras. My sincere hope for them is that they thrive and prosper. But the role of the community orchestra is one that should also be taken seriously and not underestimated by those who love classical music and strive to keep it alive and well.

You might also like:

* * *

Enjoying Click here to sign up for our free, bi-weekly email newsletter. And if you've already signed up, please invite your friends! Thank you.


June 13, 2023 at 04:09 AM · William Hill is a talented and interesting composer, and Basil always has a great sound and is a joy to watch! It's a cool piece.

June 13, 2023 at 01:23 PM · This is stunning! I’m so glad you brought this wonderful composition, composer, community group, and soloist to us! After reading your sumptuous description, I was so happy to see the video with excerpts. You’re right! It sounds like a conversation—which is surely one component of the beautiful balance throughout. Brilliant work by all!

June 13, 2023 at 02:36 PM · Christian, Thanks for listening! I remember now that you are in Colorado!

Christina, Your comment is greatly appreciated! The video actually includes the full concerto, but the editing does make it feel seem like it could be excerpts. Glad you enjoyed it!

June 13, 2023 at 06:35 PM · Yeah, Diana, thanks for spreading the news about good local music! I heard the Colorado Symphony play Hill's "Renaissance" a few weeks ago when Hadelich played the Brahms concerto. It was an interesting piece and a great overall concert.

June 14, 2023 at 05:33 PM · It's wonderful to see what can happen when there is energy and devotion put into a community orchestra. This occasion seems like it truly celebrated the Colorado community in which it was performed, also: bringing to life a work written by a Colorado composer and conductor, performed by a Colorado artist.

June 14, 2023 at 07:02 PM · Christian, I heard that was an amazing concert!

Laurie, Thank you for the opportunity to write about music in my/your home state!

June 15, 2023 at 12:25 AM · Compliments to Reviewer, Diana Skinner on a terrific Write Up of a New Work All Locally Focused! {#7}

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky, Carrier of the Heifetz-Milstein Violin Legacy and brought up in a 'Community Orchestra'!!

Reading about the Colorado Composer's Concerto for Viola, Strings, Harp and Percussion of William Hill, 'Local' Composer, aka, Colorado's Evergreen Chamber Orchestra and its Principal Typanist/Music Director, gives me chills due to a late night in wee hours telephone conversation at 1:00 AM with a longtime close friend, Promoter of The Arts in a City close to San Francisco, R.O., {name with-held for privacy}, which concerned his enthusiasm for & over a Concert in a suburb of his City, which was obviously thrilling and beyond well received by the Public and Orchestra with All Members knowing my friend & 'local' Champion of The Arts for Decades honoured by the City in which he resides with a rare Award Ceremony for his just turned 85th Birthday and continuing to help other young aspiring musicians inspiring them to practise daily on their chosen music instruments and to a Youth Ballet which is now garnering Honour's, as of late due to their Local 'Cheerleader', my own also, R.O.!!! In our phone chat, the idea occurred to me to put on a Special Summer Concert of the same Programme he had just heard on Saturday of last Weekend with a Litany of Raves about the 'local' Concertmaster, longtime 'buddy' of R.O., and my off the top idea and suggestion it be repeated much later in Summer of 2023, despite the high profile of the Music to be played referencing its Birth Place and some who truly delight in their own Soil becoming Composition Master's ...

Reading this truly 'A First' call it for argument sake, 'Community Orchestra' Review is stunning and a welcomed bit of New Daylight provided by Ms. Skinner's well written and very fine portrait of the William Hill Viola Work newly performed by the Colorado Symphony Principal Violist, Basil Vendryes, and whom I suspect, spent much more time preparing for this Premiere than he would need 'regular' practice time and Soloist/Orchestra w/Conductor Rehearsals for a National US Premiere!! There are so many positives coming from Diana Skinner's Review and excitement herself, that I am truly curious and wish to hear William Hill's 2 Pulitzer Prize Winning Compositions and Now!!

Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, CA, which later became known as Watts, it was a task for any musician and with my own Father, Ralph Matesky's, rare pedigree as a Violinist Pupil of both Michel Piastro, and at The Juilliard School, pupil of Ysaye 'Apostle', Eduoard Dethier, of Brussels, with Dad's many honors upon his graduation with the Calvin Coolidge Award, and Top of his Class, plus known as a fine Leader of his String Quartet which was invited by Foundress of 'The 92nd Street Y', Helen Kaufman, to perform Chamber Music String Quartets every Friday evening in her NYC home for her fellow donors to Juilliard and other musical philanthropic organizations, having Dinner, and rewarding my father and his 3 fellow String Cousin Friends, a dinner amongst her favorite friends!!! Such was my father's background, he did seem forever attracted to smaller musical work environments, although he was invited to Conduct his Orchestras in almost every major European Capital City and Venue later on ... Growing up and learning Violin with Poppa, was an omnibus experience due to my Dad's insistence I play in his Founded Compton Civic Symphony Orchestra, which had a mix of 'local' musician-teachers w/very fine professional players from downtown LA and the Hollywood Studio Orchestras plus Globally known Concert Artist Soloists, yet Poppa, knowing much of the vast Orchestral Symphonic Repertoire, always featured a new unknown often from neighboring Long Beach or Lynnwood, or even downtown LA Composer to give a chance to be heard and by often fine 'Local' Musicians, many of whom became richly kind & cultivated thanks to my father's welcoming attitudes of 'All Can and Should Play Great Music'!

In my next telephone conversation with R.O., I will tell him of this marvellous New Write Up of a Local Composer from Colorado; Viola Principal of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra & fine Basil Vendryes, newly premiering The William Hill Concerto for Viola, Harp, Strings and Percussion w/Chamber Orchestra receiving accolades on, interested enough to feature usually shadowed local community music groups including The proverbial 'Community Orchestra' of this place and That Place few pay too much serious attention to ~ A New Day has Arrived and I am Thrilled to read of this and encourage my friend to go ahead with the Idea mentioned to him which did 'throw' him a bit on the phone, yet I told him,'it doesn't matter Where because the Music to be performed is Great and of its own Country born, and for a very fabled person who Loves Music which if presented correctly will attract numerous new people as an audience and continue the Fight for The Arts' of well known and beloved R. O., out in Northern California!!!

Sending Thank You's to Diana Skinner and Editor of, Laurie Niles, for 'A First' Knock Out Review ~

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Yours musically and humanly from Chicago ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

..................... Thrilled Elisabeth Matesky in Illinois .....................

Fwd ~ dmg {#7} 14th of June, 2023 ~

June 15, 2023 at 03:30 PM · Ms. Matesky, Thank you for your lovely comment, which is greatly appreciated by all of us whom you so graciously mentioned!

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine