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.


One thought on “Adventures in Tuning: a Lecture Recital by Utah Viola Society member Leslie Richards

  1. […] is very grateful to Emily for her work and time putting together this recital! Performers include Leslie Richards, Emily Barret Brown with Melissa Heath, soprano, Caryn Jackson Bradley, Megan Mason, LeeAnn Morgan. […]

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