We have a teacher-student bond that’s like family-Thula’s reflections on studying with Alan de Veritch

This week’s Utah Viola Society guest blogger is violist and composer Nokuthula Nwgenyama. Not only is she one of the viola superstars of next weekend’s Alan de Veritch Tribute/Primrose Memorial Concert, but she will also be presenting a Utah Viola Society Masterclass on September 21 at 6pm in Dumke Recital Hall at the University of Utah. See you there!

I worked with Alan de Veritch from 1989 to 1993. He was my first viola teacher after I switched from violin, and he put in tremendous effort in teaching me ‘the system’: reworking my bow arm and hold to the Franco-Belgian school. It’s all about tirez and poussez [pull and push] and contact point. He had a great ability to communicate how to draw sound from the instrument, exemplified by the sounds he would create during lessons. I learned just as much from the demonstrations as from his guidance, including the occasional “Do as I say, not as I do!”

I worked with him through the Colburn Community School for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Lessons would either be in South Central at the annex or at his home in Valencia, CA. Sometimes we’d have a lesson in Port Hueneme, which was always a nice drive up the coast and through the strawberry fields.

The structure of my lessons with Alan depended on what was coming up. Initially it was training, so we focused on a lot of technique and less on repertoire work. As the technique solidified and I was able to manage it without as much supervision, we began worked on building the repertoire.

Tasks set for the week were expected to be accomplished. It’s not that Alan was strict, but we both knew we had work to do and did it. My lessons with Alan were long, 2-3 hours at times. If I was working on a piece it was generally practiced and ready. There was a lot of playing in my lessons. Exercises were prepared and scrutinized; phrases were equally scrutinized. The goal was always to be a more relaxed player, a better musician, a clearer performer, to continue to grow and build, to not let the little things slide, and to be ready for the next opportunity, whatever it might be, a la Walk on the Northside. His fingerings are the perfect combination of expression and function with inside Primrose-isms!  Alan had the ability to effectively analyze Primrose’s flair, from shifting, to vibrato, to bow contact, to living in the upper third of the bow. He shared his observations freely and with such loving humor. It’s a fun and deeply meaningful legacy to be a part of. The Walton fingerings and bowings are the best and only, they are true war horses! And Alan’s story behind them are priceless.

I rely upon ‘the system’ with a few additions to maintain the machinery. Schradieck, Flesch scales, especially the scales on one string, are great ways to center the playing. Everything is built on basics, and those he gave me remain a huge part of playing and teaching life. “Lead with the wrist,” “pinky flexibility,” “flat hair on the down bows,” “weight in the string,” “bow division,” “contact point,” and “breathe” forever!

What I admire about Alan’s teaching is its logic, intelligence, and his directness. It’s all about the basics!

We have a teacher-student bond that’s like family. It’s been like that from the beginning, and that is very Alan.

Paul Neubauer, Alan de Veritch, and Nokuthula Ngwenyama. Photo courtesty of Dwight Pounds

Training and preparing for the Primrose Competition is a particular highlight of our relationship, and a testament to his nurturing and intelligence. He was a complete teacher and mentor, in the sense that he thought about the cultivation of the entire person, not simply the approach to the instrument. The great teachers are like that. No discussion about it was really had until witnessing the 1991 Primrose Competition, which he brought me to with his lovely wife Evie. Afterwards he asked if I thought I could be ready for 1993. When I replied yes, the preparation program flashed in his eyes, and in that moment I knew there was work to do! We’ve gotten to share some profound musical and professional experiences.

Thula in 1993 after winning the Primrose Competition. Kathryn Lockwood, the Second Prize winner, looks on. Photo courtesty of Dwight Pounds.

I look forward to seeing Alan and sharing stories, of which there are so many! It’s also wonderful to commune with fellow students and brethren from LA. Both Jim and Paul are inspiring artists, pedagogues, and people I’m proud to call studio mates. We’re rarely in the same place at the same time. Doing so to celebrate Alan, whose personality may eclipse us all, ensures Provo is in for a real treat!

Schedule of Events for Alan de Veritch Tribute Weekend

All events will take place at Brigham Young University and are free and open to the public. Please join us for this historic viola event. If you haven’t had a chance to take a tour of the Primrose International Viola Archive, don’t miss this opportunity! See you there!

Thursday, September 21

7-9pm E-400 in the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU

  • Rehearsal of Zwei Gesange by Brahms, arranged by Alan de Veritch for viola choir and piano. (All violists are invited and welcome to play, bring your violas if you want to participate!)

(NOTE: If you aren’t intending to attend this rehearsal and will be in Salt Lake City, please come join us for a Utah Viola Society masterclass with Nokuthula Ngwenyama from 6-8pm in Dumke Recital Hall at the University of Utah!)

Friday, September 22

3:00 pm Harold B. Lee Music Library

  • Alan de Veritch PIVA Collection Dedication Ceremony

3:15-5:00 pm Music Library/PIVA

  • Alan de Veritch Exhibit and PIVA opens for viewing

7:30-9:30 pm Madsen Recital Hall (Harris Fine Arts Center) 

  • Alan de Veritch Tribute Concert, featuring James Dunham, Paul Neubauer, and Nokuthula Ngwenyama. The recital program features works that have a connection to Mr. de Veritch. For instance, Ms. Ngwenyama will perform a piece written by Mr. de Veritch’s grandfather, and Mr. Neubauer will perform a piece dedicated to Mr. de Veritch when he was still a teenager.  The recital includes works by von Winterfeld, Nwgenyama, Dale, Benjamin, Mana-Zucca, Valdez, and Brahms. The viola ensemble arrangement of Zwei Gesange will be conducted by Alan de Veritch as part of this recital.

Saturday, September 23

10:00-11:30 am Lee Library Auditorium

  • Masterclass with James Dunham, Paul Neubauer, and Nokuthula Ngwenyama

11:30-12:15 pm Lee Library Auditorium

  • Panel Discussion with James Dunham, Paul Neubauer, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and Alan de Veritch

12:15-1:00 pm Break

1:00-3:00 pm (Music Library/PIVA)

  • PIVA Tours, Alan de Veritch will sign copies of his books, Exhibits

    Alan de Veritch

Save These Dates – Upcoming Utah Viola Events!

We have a great series of Utah Viola events heading your way this season –

Please mark your calendars, and help to spread the word: share this information with your students, colleagues, and friends.

Looking forward to seeing you there, Viola Friends!

Nokuthula Ngwenyama

Alan de Veritch

Peter Slowik

An Alan de Veritch Memory-by James Dunham

Utah Viola Society’s guest blogger this week is the fabulous violist James Dunham. (Many of you will remember that UVS President Brad Ottesen studied with Mr. Dunham, and he was our distinguished guest for Viola Day!!! 2015!) Mr. Dunham is Professor of Viola at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. He worked with Alan de Veritch later in his viola studies, and considers him a dear friend and mentor. You’ll have an opportunity to see Mr. Dunham pass on the knowledge that he learned from Mr. de Veritch as part of the Primrose Memorial Concert/Alan de Veritch Tribute events September 22-23, 2017 at Brigham Young University!

“The path I took to studying with Alan de Veritch was not the usual one. As described in his just published autobiography “Malibu Man”, Alan was “the very first young virtuoso of the viola while still a teenager.” Unlike Alan, I was no young virtuoso of the viola nor, for that matter, of the violin! I was just a guy from a musical family who played violin with some success. It wasn’t until the viola discovered me that my thoughts turned to music as a lifetime profession!

Once that decision was made, the result of a most wonderful summer at Tanglewood as a full Fellowship violist following my freshman year of Liberal Arts study, I made a seemingly surprise decision. I opted to transfer to the just-opening California Institute of the Arts, founded by Walt Disney on property north of Los Angeles in Valencia, California! I actually went out to study with the well known Curtis trained violist David Schwartz, longtime Professor of Viola at Yale University and violist of the Yale String Quartet. As I soon discovered, Mr. Schwartz was also one of the main violists in the New York free-lance scene, and his eyes were on Hollywood! I had 3 very successful years with Mr. Schwartz, from my Junior year of undergrad study through the first year of Masters work. By this time, David (as I was then allowed to call him, as per Southern California informality) had built his career into that of first-call violist in the flourishing L.A. studio scene of the 1970s. He left Cal-Arts, and my fellow students and I needed a teacher!

Alan to the rescue. Young, charismatic, prize-winning, co-principal violist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: what could be more perfect? He also lived IN Valencia, just down the hill from our school: ideal! So my final year of Masters study was with Alan de Veritch, just a few years older than I, but with a lifetime of difference in experience as a violist, performer and musician. And let’s not forget: pilot, flight instructor, businessman and real-estate expert!

What changes did I encounter at the beginning of this relationship that soon grew into friendship? Interestingly, after receiving many years of very “correct” teaching, it was a big surprise to encounter someone with tremendous facility and the great imagination to look for solutions in surprising places. Colors, timings, and especially fingerings that need not be about convenience, but were all about character, quality, charm and, not infrequently: daring! It was a great and wonderful invitation, and of course, these were things I took to heart, learned to love and seek out, and continue to use and pursue today!

As expected, I graduated on time after this final single year of “official” study, yet Alan continued to look after and mentor me. His dear friend (and later mine) Jan Hlinka, the elder co-principal in the Philharmonic, became ill and was out on sick leave for a month. Thanks to Alan, I was invited to fill out the back of the section for those four weeks. Talk about eye-opening! I had certainly played plenty of large orchestra in my life: two summers at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan plus two academic years at the Interlochen Arts Academy, and even two summers at Tanglewood. But this was very different, with multiple programs per week, truly limited rehearsal schedules, not to mention a busy life in every spare moment!

By this time, the Sequoia String Quartet, of which I was founding violist, was well established, and we even had started a limited residency at Cal-Arts. I was also principal violist of Henri Temianka’s California Chamber Symphony and a section member of Neville Marriner’s L.A. Chamber Orchestra, with steady studio work coming my way, too. Even so, I still felt in need of “something.” Enter Alan again: William Primrose, his teacher and mentor, came to L.A. for a masterclass. As I was no longer a student, I was therefore ineligible to perform, so I pleaded for a private lesson with Mr. Primrose, which was granted. It lasted almost two hours and was life changing for me. Each question Mr. Primrose asked – “Can you do this?” – was followed by my reply: “Why…yes I can!” with a simultaneous and enormous “AHA” moment for me! At the end of our time together, Mr. Primrose suddenly looked startled and said: “I have told you too much at one time!” I protested, and he then instructed me to go home, write everything down, and come to Alan’s house that very evening so that he could confirm that I heard him correctly and understood all that he had shared. I still have these notes, and consult them on a regular basis!

Pg. 301 from Malibu Man by Alan de Veritch This is about the time of my single, pivotal lesson with the great William Primrose!

In the years to follow, Alan and I remained in touch on many levels: he as mentor to me, I occasionally as flying “partner” to him if he had to get in some hours flying around Southern California, or to Catalina Island and back. We even incorporated musical topics!

James & Alan, Van Nuys Airport in the ‘70s

As the years proceeded, I left California to join the Cleveland Quartet at the Eastman School of Music. Alan’s attention also moved eastward when he accepted the Professorship once belonging to William Primrose at the Indiana University School of Music. Still keeping me in the back of his mind, when IU sponsored the 1995 Viola Congress (just as the Cleveland Quartet made the difficult decision to disband) Alan called me and said I should really stay visible in the world of violists: “You must come to the Congress!”  And he offered me several prominent roles to keep me front and center!

Well, now many years later, he’s continuing his thoughtful caring for his former students, notably Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Paul Neubauer and me. On the surface, the upcoming event at the Primrose Archives at Brigham Young University is all about Alan, his career and legacy. But leave it to Alan to include us, both to shine some light on his pedagogical impact, and at the same time to salute the achievements of three of his protégés.

If I may, in keeping with this time-line of history, I am also delighted to be returning to the Primrose Archives that I visited not long ago with my own former student, Bradley Ottesen. Now Associate Professor at Utah State University and violist of the Fry Street String Quartet, Brad is also President of the Utah Viola Society! So much to be proud of on all sides.

A recent visit to the Primrose Archives with MY former student Brad Ottesen! Here we are with Archivist Myrna Layton and BYU Professor of Viola Dr. Claudine Bigelow.

I eagerly look forward to the festivities at BYU in September. See you there!!

        James”

 

 

Paul Neubauer on Alan de Veritch

In anticipation of this year’s Primrose Memorial Concert honoring Alan de Veritch, Utah Viola Society will be presenting visiting guest bloggers! This week’s guest contributor is the distinguished violist Paul Neubauer. As a young man, Mr. Neubauer worked with Alan de Veritch, and will be participating as a panelist, teacher, and featured performer at the Primrose Memorial Concert/Alan de Veritch Tribute events September 22-23, 2017 at Brigham Young University.

 

“I first met Alan de Veritch because Alan’s father and my mother both taught at a school in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. They became very good friends, and our families grew quite close. When I was 10 or 11, my godfather, Paul Doktor, suggested to my parents that it was time to leave my local viola teacher to study with Alan. I wasn’t keen on the idea since I really liked my teacher, but move on I did, and it was a great decision. I recall Alan’s teaching style as very confident and decisive – he always had a great deal to say. How much I absorbed at the time I’m not sure, but I am extremely grateful for the solid foundation that he instilled in my playing.

I have memories of Alan trying to get me to work on scales, exercises and etudes. I must have done a considerable amount of work on these studies as I still have numerous study books by Flesh, Schradieck, Kreutzer, Campagnoli, Sevcik and others with various exercises marked for my attention. Alan worked with me on numerous pieces and his knowledge about the repertoire and Ysaye-Primrose pedigree was very helpful in my music education. After I left Los Angeles to study with Paul Doktor in New York, Alan was always available to offer his advice on any questions that I had, and there were occasions when I would return to play for him since his counsel was always appreciated. One of the most helpful couple weeks was when I was preparing for my New York Philharmonic audition. I had auditioned for Zubin Mehta to be a soloist with the orchestra and the word back from the Philharmonic was the question of whether I would have interest in auditioning for the Principal Viola chair. I had known that the orchestra was looking for a new principal but had never thought about it due to my lack of orchestral experience and not to mention my young age. With an invitation from the Philharmonic to take the audition, I of course was flattered and thought I would give it my best shot. I think I had 4 weeks’ notice to prepare for the audition. I was familiar with all the solo and chamber pieces that they wanted but was pretty much clueless on the very long list of excerpts that were asked for. I contacted Alan and he agreed to work intensively with me for a couple weeks during that time. His guidance (and knowledge of Zubin’s preferred way of approaching certain pieces) were incredibly helpful in my preparation for that audition and I think it’s fair to say that Alan had a tremendous amount to do with my being asked to join the orchestra.

There were some amusing moments in our lessons that stand out in my mind. Alan was not happy with my strolling around the room when I played for him so he made me play for him while I was standing on a chair. Needless to say, it worked. (These days I have been known to stroll around audiences playing so he wasn’t entirely successful on this count!) Alan also complained about my high left thumb (courtesy of my first teacher) and claimed that he could throw horse shoes on it! Alan was not particularly happy that I would yawn in my lessons. My father took care of that by paying me 10 cents for every lesson that I didn’t yawn in. For a kid who didn’t have an allowance, this dime a week did the trick. If only I had invested those dimes in a wise way… Alan likes to remind me that I would come in and play show tunes instead of my assigned repertoire. This part is a bit hazy for me but I know that I did like to fool around by playing show tunes and any other tunes that I was interested in. I certainly learned a great deal of repertoire with Alan so it’s fair to say that I couldn’t have just played show tunes.

Whenever I have the occasion to visit Bloomington, I always try to meet up with Alan and Evie. Alan also invited me to take over his viola studio on a couple of occasions while he was on sabbatical. I’m thrilled to take part in this tribute concert for Alan and to return to the epicenter of all things viola – Provo, Utah, the home of the Primrose International Viola Archive!”

Please join us for the Primrose/de Veritch weekend at BYU September 22-23, 2017!

Save the date! Primrose Memorial Concert/Alan de Veritch Tribute Weekend September 22-23, 2017

If you’ve ever wanted to attend a Primrose Memorial Concert event at Brigham Young University, this year’s festivities may entice you to take a fall road trip to Provo, Utah.

Every year we are lucky to have a distinguished guest violist come to Utah and BYU to perform, teach, and honor the memory of the great virtuoso of the viola, William Primrose. This year’s event is a celebration of world renowned violist and pedagogue Alan de Veritch on the occasion of his 70th birthday, and the dedication of his collection to the Primrose International Viola Archive. Mr. de Veritch was one of Primrose’s youngest students, beginning his studies with him at age 12. The weekend will also feature Mr. de Veritch’s illustrious former students James Dunham, Nokuthula Ngwenyama, and Paul Neubauer in a recital honoring him. Other events will include a masterclass with Mr. Dunham, Ms. Ngwenyama, and Mr. Neubauer, a book signing of Mr. de Veritch’s recently published biography Malibu Man, an exhibition of his collection, a panel discussion led by Mr. de Veritch, and tours of the Primrose International Viola Archive.

The recital will feature repertoire that Mr. Dunham, Ms. Ngwenyama, and Mr Neubauer had studied with Mr. de Veritch. After intermission there will be a viola ensemble play-along of Mr. de Veritch’s arrangement of the Brahms songs for Viola and Piano. (Audience members are encouraged to join in!)

Some of Mr. de Veritch’s interesting memorabilia that will be on display include photographs from his outstanding career, his grandfather’s 1903 Graduation Diploma from the Prague Conservatory bearing Anton Dvorak’s signature, and Mr. de Veritch’s working copy of the Walton Concerto, which contains the handwritten notes and signatures of Sir William Walton.

Mark your calendar and make your travel plans so you don’t miss this exciting Viola celebration!
Friday and Saturday, September 22-23, 2017.
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Erwin Schuloff Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Double Bass

Utah Symphony Flute/Piccolo Caitlyn Valovick-Moore and Principal Bassist David Yavornitzky at Abravanel Hall.

On Sunday, February 26, the Utah Viola Society is proud to present our guests Caitlyn Valovick-Moore, flute and piccolo, and David Yavornitzky, double-bass, in a performance of the Erwin Schuloff Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Double-bass.

Erwin Schuloff (1894-1942) was a Czechoslovakian composer and pianist. He showed musical talent from a young age, and at age 10 Antonin Dvorak recommended him for study at the Prague Conservatory where he studied composition and piano. He continued his musical education in Vienna, studying composition with Max Reger. (He later studied briefly with Claude Debussy, and though their teacher-student relationship was short lived, one can hear the influence of Debussy’s music in Schuloff’s style.)

Schuloff’s compositional career is generally divided into four periods. The Concertino, written in 1925, falls in the middle of his third period which is marked by the influence of Debussy, his exploration of jazz, and interest in folk music. Schuloff’s synthesis of these styles can be heard in the Concertino. It was premiered in 1926 by a group comprised of the flautist for whom the piece was written, Hermann Wilber Drauber, and the Hindemith brothers, Paul Hindemith playing viola, and his brother Rudolph Hindemith playing double bass.

Schuloff’s later compositional period is known as “Socialist Realism” and included a cantata setting of the Communist Manifesto. His compositions were labeled “degenerate” by the Nazi party, and he was no longer allowed to perform in Germany. He applied for citizenship to the Soviet Union, but before he could leave Czechoslovakia, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Wülzberg, Bavaria, where he died of tuberculosis in 1942.

The Concertino is in four movements: Andante con Moto, Furiant, Andante, and Rondino. Throughout the trio one hears the influence of folk music, the freedom and counterpoint of jazz, and the textures of Debussy. The first movement opens with a viola bass ostinato under an exotic-sounding flute melody reminiscent of Debussy. The second movement is a folksy and rustic dance in 5/8 time. The third movement has some of the most interesting counter point of the piece, with each instrument getting a turn at a Ruthenian folk song, with the accompanying instruments dovetailing the melody. The final movement is another folk dance and includes a piccolo melody described by Schuloff as a “Moravian seller of shepherd’s flutes in the streets of Prague.”

We’ve enjoyed putting together the Schuloff Concertino. Caitlyn, David, and I agree that the most interesting thing about the trio is the range, reaching at times a 4-octave span between the bass and piccolo, with the viola sandwiched in between. One would think that working with such a large range would be challenging, but Schuloff’s writing for each instrument is so idiomatic that each voice works well independently and yet pairs beautifully with the others.  We love that Schuloff’s compositional voice is unique; while he’s been influenced by many types of music and compositional techniques, his synthesis of those influences creates a very personal style. We also enjoy how he writes counterpoint. The melodies are very clearly written, but the accompanying lines help take the listener in a different direction.

My favorite part about working on the trio has been getting together with my wonderful Utah Symphony and University of Utah colleagues Caitlyn and David. Playing chamber music is a highlight and delight for us, but I am deeply honored to be able to perform with such high caliber musicians as Caitlyn and David. In case you miss this performance, you can catch us again on March 26 at 7 pm in Libby Gardner Hall for a Sundays at 7 program.

Utah Viola Society Spring Recital
Sunday, February 26, 3pm
University of Utah, Dumke Recital Hall