Viola Day 2.0!!!!! It’s tomorrow!

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, here’s what we recommend!

Tonight:  Fry Street Quartet in concert with Roger Chase, Utah State University, 7:30pm. Costumes welcome!

Tomorrow: VIOLA DAY 2.0!!!!!! Viola events at the University of Utah from 9am to 5pm, including but not limited to: Two Utah premiers, two viola trios, two viola quintets, one DMA Lecture recital, one amazing masterclass with Roger Chase,  lots of violas on display, lots of violists and lots of violas! And…wait for it….ALTO CLEF COOKIES!

(And don’t forget to set your clocks back so you can be on time for:

Sunday night: Roger Chase and Michiko Otaki in recital. The Tertis Project: works written for the great violist Lionel Tertis, including works by Bliss, Dale, Bax, and Bowen.

Members get in free to all events, so please join UVS today!

Violist Roger Chase Portraits at Studio. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010

Violas, Violas, VIOLAS

Violas (6 of 17)

Daniel Prier shows me just a few of the violas that Peter Prier & Sons Violins will be bringing as samples.

One of the most unique things about Salt Lake City is the presence of the Violin Making School of America. Salt Lake City is home to so many fantastic luthiers. Tomorrow at Viola Day 2.0, you will have a chance to meet several local makers, play examples of their instruments, and hear Utah Symphony’s principal Violist Brant Bayless demonstrate just how lucky we are to have such a variety of great viola makers in town.

Here are some examples:

Daniel Prier of Peter Prier and Sons Violins will be bringing several violas and bows, notably a Gennaro Testore Viola from 1768, a Chardon viola, an Ada Quanranta viola from 2002, and a viola that was made by Peter Paul Prier for former Utah Symphony Music Director Joseph Silverstein in 1988. While I was there, Daniel gave me a tour of the shop. There are violas EVERYWHERE! Literally hanging from the rafters. Daniel says that if there’s a viola you want, he can get it for you.

I dropped by John Moroz‘s studio earlier this week and played a fantastic viola that he will be bringing. It’s a nearly perfect size and has a really powerful, yet still warm, big sound.

Carrie Scoggins has recently finished a viola and will be bringing it for sampling as well. I played it a couple months ago, it’s a smaller very comfortable viola but you’d never think so by the sound that it puts out. Robert Dow will also be bringing some bows to try. (Side note: I play a Robert Dow bow exclusively in the Utah Symphony, it’s a great bow that draws a great sound, and bounces effortlessly. You should get one!)

Summerhays Music will be on hand with instruments to sample. They will also have supplies on hand, so if you find yourself in need of viola strings, rosin, or shoulder rests they should be able to set you up!

Daniel Salini has a viola started that will be finished in the next couple months, can’t wait to see it Dan!

In other words, Violists, bring your checkbooks, you just might meet your next maker!

Join us on Saturday, November 1 Viola Day 2.0 at 12:45 in Thompson Hall at the University of Utah for this exhibition and demonstration of local makers and violas.



Another day, another Utah Premiere

Photo Credit: Tanya Solomon

Photo Credit: Tanya Solomon

We are so lucky to be living in a time where there is so much great contemporary viola literature. We are especially lucky to be able to present what we believe to be two Utah premiers. White Roses for String Quintet by Christopher Burns, and a viola trio entitled “Capricious” by Scott Slapin.

Scott writes about the piece, “I studied with Emanuel Vardi from the age of 12 to 18. Mr. Vardi was the first person to record the 24 Paganini Caprices on viola (I was the 2nd.) Mr. Vardi was obsessed with the Caprices, and when the American Viola Society commissioned me to write a piece in his memory, of course I had to reference them in some way. Capricious is my own music, but there are short quotes here and there of half of the Caprices. Most recently, Capricious was performed on my 40th birthday in London, England. It has been performed by other groups around the U.S. at viola events and on the radio. Tanya Solomon (my wife), Ila Rondeau, and I premiered the piece at the Viola Congress in Rochester, NY a few years ago.”

I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Scott Slapin in real life, but I am familiar with his viola playing and composing from the internet. He plays a viola made by Hiroshi Iizuka, and when I was viola shopping and waiting, waiting, WAITING for my Iizuka viola to be finished, I watched many of his youtube videos hoping that my viola would sound as wonderful as his. He is a self-described “beer-drinking, Yiddish-speaking, bug-killing, vegan.” Not to mention a wonderful composer and violist. He and his wife Tanya are the Slapin-Solomon Duo and Studio.

Join us for the Utah premiere of Scott’s piece “Capricious” on Saturday, November 1, 3pm, Dumke Recital Hall at the University of Utah.

Another Day, Another Viola Trio



VlaTrio (4 of 15)

Meet Whittney, Joel, and Silu. They are Capricious.


One of my favorite parts of the Utah Viola Society’s Viola Day is our signature Viola Ensemble concert. Last year we featured a quartet of violists from the Utah Symphony performing the lovely York Bowen Fantasie for Four Violas. This year we are honored to present our three newest members of the Utah Symphony, performing a Utah premiere of Scott Slapin‘s viola trio “Capricious.” Joel Gibbs, Whittney Thomas, and Silu Fei will perform “Capricious” as part of Viola Day 2.0 on November 1, 2014 at the University of Utah.

Utah Viola Society members are certainly familiar with violist Joel Gibbs, as he made his stunning UVS debut last year performing Reger’s Suite #2 for Solo Viola. He’s from St. Louis, loves hiking, and has recently taken up rock climbing. (Beware those viola playing hands, Joel!)

Whittney joined the Utah Symphony viola section last fall. She’s originally from San Diego. I love her story about how she picked the viola. She says, “I played violin from the age of 8 years old and I grew up with a hardcore stage mom who attended my lessons, tape recorded and took notes during my lessons, and practiced with me. I absolutely hated that I had a lack of freedom and independence within my music. But one day I tried the viola and began viola lessons in addition to violin lessons. Much to my surprise, I noticed that whenever I practiced viola my mother would stay away and leave me to practice viola by myself. Later on I learned that my mother had a disdain for the viola and wanted me to solely pursue the violin, but I didn’t care because I loved my new independence and switched to viola permanently.” Viola as rebellion, who knew?!

Silu Fei is our newest member in the viola section, joining us just this September. Prior to joining us here in Utah he was a member of the Oregon Symphony. He’s an avid fly fisherman, he loves spicy food and sushi, and he’s married to violist NingNing Jin who plays in the Buffalo Philharmonic. When I asked him what animal he thought he most resembled he replied, “A pig ? My wife said I can sit on couch for whole day.”  Well, I don’t know about all that, but what I can say is that I’ve never heard a piggy sound that fabulous on the viola, so perhaps that is not the most accurate assessment!

Join us as this trio of violists present the Utah premier of Scott Slapin’s viola trio “Capricious” on Saturday, November 1 as part of the Utah Viola Society’s Viola Day 2.0!


Adventures in Tuning: a Lecture Recital by Utah Viola Society member Leslie Richards


She’s a Star Wars fan. She has a beautiful rescue Brittany spaniel named Harley. She grew up in Vernal, Utah.  And she’s an awesome violist who is pursuing a DMA at the University of Utah.  As part of Viola Day Leslie Richards will be making her Utah Viola Society debut when she presents her Lecture-Recital “Scordatura: Adventures in Tuning,” where she will perform the Prelude and Gavottes from the c minor Suite for Solo Cello by J.S Bach, her own transcription of Sonata XII “The Ascension” from the Mystery Sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, and the first movement of the Sinfonia Concertante by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Leslie moved to Vernal, Utah when she was six, and at that time there was a successful orchestral program in the public schools.  She begged to be allowed to play a string instrument, but since her sister already played cello, and she was too young to start on bass at that time, she felt she had to choose between violin and viola. Her orchestra teacher told her that if she played the viola “the red carpet would be rolled out for her.”  And with that a violist was born. In a sad and unfortunately all too common decision, the school board in Vernal cut the school orchestra program, but luckily her parents realized how dedicated Leslie and her sister were to playing and started driving them to the Wasatch Front for lessons and orchestra. She continues to be amazed that her parents went to such great lengths for her and her sister.

This lecture-recital about scordatura is related to Leslie’s DMA dissertation. As part of her dissertation she will be transcribing all of the Biber Mystery Sonatas for the viola. (What a wonderful addition to the repertoire that will be!) Don’t let the word scordatura intimidate you; all it means is that the instrument’s strings are tuned differently than what is normal.  Sometimes it means all the strings are tuned in 5ths at different pitches, sometimes just one string is tuned differently; sometimes it even means that the strings are crossed over one another.

When I asked Leslie what she found most interesting about scordatura she said, “I was surprised to learn how differently violas act when tuned differently. Playing my own viola tuned differently I still essentially put my fingers in the same places as when it’s tuned normally, but changing the tuning changes the whole feel of the instrument. The tension is totally different as far how the bow reacts to the string, and hearing the different sympathetic resonances in the background can be very distracting. But it’s also part of why scordatura is so interesting and satisfying to play.
I hope that violists will take away from my lecture an interest in exploring the world of scordatura, and also to be a little less afraid of it. I think it scares a lot of people to play tuned differently for a variety of reasons, but different tunings can create such amazing sound worlds if we’re willing to deal with being a little uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the instrument at first. It was that radical change in an instrument I thought I knew so well that drew me to scordatura in the first place.”

On a personal note, I would like to say that Leslie is such a fantastic addition to our viola community here in Utah, and we are so lucky to have her as part of our Viola Day! (I saw her perform in a masterclass when she was still in high school and even back then I was amazed by her rich sound, her passionate musicianship, and her colorful playing.) Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to see and hear Leslie Richards as part of Viola Day 2014. Her Lecture-Recital will begin at 1:15 in Dumke Recital Hall at the University of Utah, Saturday November 1.


FSQ+BB=White Roses

Brant and Anne

As part of the Viola Day 2014 festivities, the Utah Viola Society will feature a short program entitled “Viola Quintets, Old and New” featuring the Fry Street Quartet with two special guest artists. Guest violist Roger Chase will join FSQ for a movement of the  Mozart C Major Quintet (which they will perform in its entirety on Halloween night in Logan), and the Utah Symphony’s Principal Violist Brant Bayless will team up with the FSQ for a premiere of a piece written for that group entitled “White Roses.”  I’ve invited Brant Bayless to write about the piece and what it’s like to have married into a string quartet.

“The new viola quintet is called “White Roses,” and it’s a wedding present to me and my beautiful wife Anne, who is the cellist in the Fry Street Quartet, from our brother-in-law Christopher Burns. Chris is a composer currently teaching at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

The piece grew out of a conversation that Chris, Anne, and I had. I was wondering out loud why the great viola quintets of Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, and even Bruckner didn’t have “living heirs.” These composers loved the instrumental combination, why did it essentially die off with Brahms? And having just essentially married into a string quartet, it seemed to make sense to see if I couldn’t begin to do something about it!

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do a thing. Chris gave us this piece when we visited him and Anne’s sister Mary in the summer of 2012 in Milwaukee.

Structurally one can see that it uses the 5th voice to create some fascinating textures. Obligato lines appear in various pairs of instruments throughout: the violas have one in pizzicato that is particularly wild. Of course since it was written with Anne’s and my relationship in mind, we have some great moments together–some sweeping and lyrical, and others a bit thorny and argumentative. Perhaps Chris had a 21st Century version of Strauss’s Sinfonia Domestica in mind?

Working with the Fry Street Quartet is always a pleasure. We’ve collaborated on other viola quintets in the past, but this is an undertaking of a different magnitude than Mozart or Brahms! They are so thoughtful and conscientious in rehearsal, often it can take me a bit of time to shift gears from orchestra mode…faster, slower, shorter, longer, softer (never!), LOUDER…but once that shift happens it’s very easy to get swept up by the group’s energy. They’ve been doing quite a lot of new music in the last couple of seasons and are fearless and totally professional in their approach. It’s awesome.

As far as writing something about myself, there’s not too much that the Utah Viola Society audience probably hasn’t already heard about a million times over. I feel like the recent developments in my life, such as getting married and having a kid, have given a new balance to everything. So instead of going through phases where I’m only focused on the viola, or skiing or biking or cooking or wine collecting, there’s sort of a constant slow-motion juggle of hobbies and family life where the viola is the fulcrum. Viola supports my soul and my family, but it also turns out to be a refuge and is endlessly stimulating.”

As part of Viola Day 2014 the Utah Viola Society is proud to present this premiere of a new work for viola quintet. Viola Quintets, Old and New will begin Saturday, November 1 at 2:30pm in Dumke Recital Hall at the University of Utah.

The Tertis Project Recital

Utah Viola Society presents:

“The Tertis Project” – Roger Chase, viola, with Michiko Otaki, piano



The Utah Viola Society is pleased to present internationally renowned violist Roger Chase in recital with pianist Michiko Otaki on Sunday, November 2, at 7:00 PM in Libby Gardner Hall at the Univeristy of Utah.

Mr. Chase will be presenting “The Tertis Project”, an ongoing endeavor devoted to performing and recording works by important U.K. composers of the last century which were written for the legendary violist Lionel Tertis (1876-1975).  Mr. Chase worked with Tertis as a young man, and studied extensively with his protege, Bernard Shore.  He now performs on the Monatagnana viola made famous by Tertis in his legendary recordings.  This recital is an opportunity to hear one of the world’s great string instruments and a wonderful example of aural tradition come to life.

Among the late romantic–style works offered are the Sonata by Sir Arthur Bliss,  Concertpiece by Sir Arnold Bax, the Romance by Benjamin Dale, and Two Melodies by York Bowen.

Mr. Chase has been a member of many major ensembles including the Nash Ensemble (for more than 20 years), the London Sinfonietta, the Esterhazy Baryton Trio, the Quartet of London, Hausmusik of London, and the London Chamber Orchestra.  He has been invited to play as principal viola with every major British orchestra and many others in North America and Europe, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He has recorded for EMI, CRD, Hyperion, Cala, Virgin and Floating Earth Records, demonstrating his diverse interests by playing with a folk group on an amplified viola, as a soloist on an authentic instrument and as an exponent of the avant-garde.  Mr. Chase has taught at the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School and the Royal Northern College of Music. He has been a professor at Oberlin College, and now teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Michiko Otaki at keyboard 2009 150 dpi

Michiko Otaki has been a frequent chamber music partner to Roger Chase.  Otaki performed previously at the National Gallery with the Warsaw Wind Quintet and has toured the USA this spring with the Graffe String Quartet from the Czech Republic. She has also toured and recorded with the Brno Chamber Soloists and with many other orchestras and chamber ensembles from Central and Eastern Europe.

“The Tertis Project” is the final presentation of Utah Viola Society’s “Viola Week”, a series of concerts and educational events at the University of Utah and in Logan at Utah State University.  Events will include a master class by Mr. Chase, and exhibition of local instrument makers, and performances by the Fry Street Quartet, Utah Symphony Principal Violist Brant Bayless, and students from across the state of Utah.