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.