A viola weekend past and a violin decision coming up

April 27, 2009, 3:35 PM ·

Yesterday was the "Sponsors' Concert" for the Arlington Philharmonic.  This means it's a big fundraising concert, inviting all the sponsors.  We also had a soloist, Er-Gene Kahng, playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto, in honor of Mendelssohn's 200th birth anniversary.  She won the Young Artists' Competition last year, and for this concert flew in from Arkansas, where she is an Assistant Professor of music at the University of Arkansas.  We didn't get much time with her, just one rehearsal.  She's very humble and unassuming in person, but when she plays--wow.  Her violin itself is also amazing-sounding. The other soloists have been kids, but she's a mature musician who I think would be comfortable and successful performing anywhere, not just First Parish UU church in Arlington.  It's very neat, and we are very lucky, to have soloists of this caliber performing with us.  My daughter came to the concert too, to hear the violinist.  She filmed the whole thing.  

I played the viola in this concert, not wanting to switch back and forth between two instruments with my viola recital earlier this month.  It was the first time I'd played viola in an orchestra for an entire concert cycle.  I enjoyed it.  At first I thought it was going to be really hard; the sight-reading wasn't too good.  I had violin moments when I was in the wrong clef.  But those decreased in number over time, and it was fun sitting there in the heart of the orchestra, next to another Karen, who plays the oboe and gives us our tuning note.  I had a busy weekend, as usual.  When I wasn't playing the viola, I was painting the kids' bathroom.  Blue.  I still had a little paint in my hair at the concert, in spite of a vigorous washing, so there were several reasons it was probably good I was sitting in the back. 

I spoke with the conductor about which instrument to play for the next concert.  And after all this back and forth, after my saying how much I like the inner voices, and all that--after buying a viola for goodness' sake--I felt awkward saying aloud that even thought I'd enjoyed the viola part, I wanted to go back to the first violin section.  I miss it.  I like the first violin parts.  And, I like sitting up front and leading the section.  He not only let me go back, but is happy about that decision.  I'm glad.  It's important to me to feel like I'm doing something that will help the orchestra be a better orchestra, not just to feel like I'm doing something to satisfy my own personal musical whims.  

So I'm getting to the point of having to make a decision about the violin I have on trial.  I like it pretty well and my teacher likes it too.  She thinks it's a great value at the price, which is very reasonable.  I was supposed to go to at least one more violin shop in the past week, but it's just not happening.  A couple of days ago I was messing around with it and just decided to play the opening of the 1st movement of the Bruch concerto.  I hadn't played that in 20+ years, and hadn't done very well with it when I tried back then, but it sounded really quite nice on this instrument.  I played it for my teacher too and she was impressed.  She said the instrument had clarity and projection without sacrificing warmth of sound on all 4 strings.  Another friend of mine liked the instrument too except for the E string.  I also am skeptical about the E string.  I'm just a little concerned that, in trying to get what my current violin lacks (the rich warm G and D), I might be sacrificing a little E string sparkle.  What's on there now is a set of Thomastik vision strings.  The apprentice offered to send me an Infeld Red E-string so I could try that one instead (I have that on my current violin and like it).  If this violin can make me playing the Bruch sound good, it must have something going for it . . .

Replies

April 27, 2009 at 09:05 PM ·

There is an awesome joke involving a violist and an oboist and tuning.  Let me know if you are interested.  And good luck in the violin hunt.  Keep us informed!  (Insert smiley face here).

April 28, 2009 at 08:13 AM ·

Sure, I think we'd get a kick out of it.  (Is it not printable? ;-)

April 28, 2009 at 10:50 AM ·

G rated.

Right before the orchestra rehearsal started, one of the violists suddenly stood up and started weeping.  The personnel manager came over quickly, and asked what was wrong.  The tear-streaked violist pointed at the principal oboist, and said "He attacked me".

The oboist jumped up and excaimed "No, he attacked me first".  The violist said "The oboist is always making fun of me and picking on me, just because I play the viola.  So I decided to teach him a lesson-- I reached over and snapped the reed right off the oboe."

The personnel manager said "But that is a terrible thing to do.  A good rehearsal reed is a precious thing!"  The violist replied "Well, he retaliated.  He reached over and unwound one of my pegs, and he won't tell me which one."

 

(Not good, I know.  I didn't make this one up...)

April 28, 2009 at 04:03 PM ·

 Hee hee!

But I think violas are actually harder to tune than violins, at least I have that experience.  When a peg slips (or is turned by the oboist) it takes a while to get the whole viola in tune again, because once you change the tension on one string it really affects all the others.  (It seems to be a smaller effect on violins.)  And if you tune a viola by 5ths from the A , by the time you're down to the C-string, you're going to be flat relative to a piano that's tuned to equal temperament.  So you have to tune every string to the piano.  

April 28, 2009 at 04:09 PM ·

A random viola frustration:  how is it that my teacher can hear me play the first note of a piece, once, and diagnose what's wrong with it and tell me how to fix it; while I've been hearing it and playing it all week and don't even realize there's a problem? 

April 29, 2009 at 03:02 PM ·

Anne/Karen - And now, a true story involving almost the same players and problems and a nutty third party.  The composer, Anton Reicha, who was at the time a teenager if I recall, was quite nervous about the first performance of his symphony by the local orch.  He was running around among the musicians as they warmed up, making trouble.  During his peregrinations, he managed to cause the bassoonist to swallow his reed and tore the bridge off of the viola of one Ludwig van Beethoven who was playing viola in the orch. 

 

April 29, 2009 at 03:48 PM ·

 Wow--I didn't even know Beethoven played the viola.

April 29, 2009 at 07:25 PM ·

Karen - the great composers who were string players (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Dovrak) all played viola and preferred it to violin.  The problem was that none of them really wrote solo stuff for viola until the 20th century with Hindemith.  Hope your tendinitis is improved.

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