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Karen Allendoerfer

The Underachiever's Concerto

May 7, 2010 at 8:04 PM

Since I last blogged, I've had 2 concerts, a vacation, and a viola recital, changed my lesson arrangement, and begun a viola hiatus.  I missed blogging the entire month of April 2010, the first month I've missed since I started this blog in 2006.  I would have half-formed blogs in my head, think "I should write that down," and then something would happen that seemed more important.  I mean, if your recital is coming up, you should be practicing, right?  Not blogging about practicing (or blogging about not practicing)!

Watching my daughter cringe at the prospect of her first real recital, coming up in two weeks, brings back some uncomfortable memories.  At her age (10), I enjoyed playing violin for myself, but was terrified to play alone in front of a group.  I didn't play particularly well in that situation, either.  Everyone says that they don't, but with me it was really true.  I sounded and looked as uncomfortable as I felt.  I finally seem to be getting over this as an adult, but the inconvenient truth is that it's still a slow process.  Apparently one doesn't get over 30 years of industrial strength stage fright in 2 or 3 years of trying.  I still get nervous and it still wreaks havoc on my intonation and my vibrato.  

The night before the recital, our church had a talent show, and I decided to do a run-through of my recital piece there, the first movement of Anton Stamitz' viola concerto in D.  My teacher thought this was a great idea, to be able to perform the piece twice.  

Anton Stamitz seems to have been overshadowed by his older brother Karl, his father Johann, and his famous violin student, Rudolphe Kreutzer.  The Stamitz family were very active in the Mannheim school in the 18th century court of Charles III Philip.  According to Gary Smith of the online Mozart forum, Wolfgang Mozart wrote to his father Leopold in July 9, 1778, from Paris, "Of the two Stamitz brothers only the younger one [=Anton] is here, the elder [=Carl] (the real composer a la Hafeneder) is in London.  They are indeed two wretched scribblers, gamblers, swillers and adulterers - not the kind of people for me.  The one who is here has scarcely a decent coat to his back."

Even Anton's birth and death dates are not known exactly.  He is listed in wikipedia as (1750 or 1754) - (1798 or 1809). So he could have lived as briefly as 44 years or as long as 59.  (I find myself hoping that it was 59).

 I first heard this concerto when I was 17, living in West Berlin between high school and college.  My father, a chemistry professor, was doing a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet.  I was playing violin and studying at a Musikschule, who had a chamber orchestra accompanying a soloist.  I don't remember the name of the soloist; but I do remember that I played first violin in the orchestra accompanying her.  I'm not sure why the piece impressed me so much at the time.  I'd heard soloists before, but maybe not a viola, or maybe not someone who was essentially a peer of mine.  And I found the piece very hummable, it stayed in my head long after rehearsal was over.

Many years later, when I was learning the viola myself, I thought I'd just come back to it, and that it would be easy to find.  I knew that violists frequently played a Stamitz viola concerto in D, I assumed it was that one from Berlin.  So I went on YouTube, but it wasn't there.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  Finally I took a chance on sheet music for a viola concerto in D by A. Stamitz that Shar had for sale, and got the right thing.  I blogged about that, back in 2006.  At the time I thought it was too hard for me, but maybe I'd be able to learn it in a year or two.  Well, I'm not too far behind schedule!

I introduced it at the talent show by pointing out that it wasn't on YouTube--yet.  Now it is:

At the recital, the violinist who performed after me played a Grieg sonata for violin and piano, which was very different.  Watching him, I felt a little nervous.  I'd already decided, and announced to everyone who cared (as well as to some people who didn't), that this recital was going to be my farewell to the viola for an indefinite period, in order to concentrate on violin.   Was that decision a mistake?  I had gotten myself to the point of being able to perform Anton Stamitz on the viola, but something like the Grieg on the violin?  I could never do that.  It was complicated, confusing, and passionate.  Unlike the Stamitz, there were some parts of the piece that I actively disliked--even as the soloist, who was another adult amateur like me, did a great job. 

But honestly, I think I'm finally done with this piece, in a good way.  It was more fun than a Kreutzer etude, but once I'd memorized it and performed it more than once, I started to see its limitations too.  Except for that high A, it's pretty comfortable.  It's full of arpeggio's.  It's all in D.  It's linear.  There's a lot more music out there, and I have work to do.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 1:27 AM

Nice job on the Stamitz.  I had not heard that before. 

We are glad to hear that you are not suffering overly from that well-known condition, "viola withdrawal."  We are so glad to have you  back.  How much fun could you really have had on vacation being unable to blog here?

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 7:15 AM

Brava! Brava!

From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 12:53 PM

Nice job.  I don't know this Stamitz concerto either, but it sounds like a fun piece.  Why call it an "Underachiever's Concerto?"  So it is not the Walton, or the Bartok, but it is a nice concerto, suitable for your chops, and you did it justice.

So, now that the vla is going back on the shelf, what's next for the violin? 

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 2:30 PM

 The underachiever reference was just kind of a tongue-in-cheek reference to Anton's being overshadowed by Karl and Johann (and being called a "wretched scribbler" by Mozart), and the viola's being overshadowed by the violin.  And to me, finally playing it in recital a full 27 years after I first heard it.  But I mean it affectionately--I really enjoyed learning this movement, and there are still two more movements to learn some day.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 8, 2010 at 2:42 PM

 For the violin, I am playing violin 2 in a Beethoven string quartet in about a week and a half (a spring concert also with the Arlington Philharmonic Society Chamber Chorus), and the POPS concert with full orchestra and full chorale is coming up on June 11.  And there was this crazy idea I had of getting back to the Franck sonata. . .

From Heather Meisner
Posted on May 11, 2010 at 7:21 PM

Beautiful!  And no sign of any industrial strength stage fright that I could see:).

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 12, 2010 at 3:05 AM

 Thanks!  I've definitely gotten better about nerves as an adult.  And church talent shows are new to me too--I never had those as a kid either!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 14, 2010 at 4:38 PM

 Karen, how cool! And congrats on being "done" in myriad ways. Closure can be such a great feeling. As is successfully finishing a performance.

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