History of the Utah Viola Society

In 1994 Dr. David Dalton from the Brigham Young University School of Music, and Dr. Michael Palumbo from The Department of Performing Arts at Weber State University collaborated to form the Utah Viola Society, with Dr. Palumbo serving as its first president.  The New York Viola Society holds the distinction as the oldest viola society in the United States, but the Utah Viola Society is the first society to be formed as a chapter of the American Viola Society.

After a year of careful planning it was determined to launch a two-day UVS Hindemith Festival in 1996.  The festival was funded and hosted by Weber State University.  The chapter was formally chartered at this event and for this festival the internationally known violist Marcus Thompson agreed to perform a recital and give a master class.  Additionally David Dalton and Clyn Barrus performed on the Monday evening concert with Mr. Thompson; Dr. Barrus also adjudicated one of the master classes.  The second night Leslie Harlow and Lynn Rilling, two well-known Utah violists, performed an excellent recital.  All music from both recitals were works of Paul Hindemith.

In addition to the performances noted above there were two student recitals performed by students from the local universities, and instrument exhibits by several Utah luthiers.

The success of the first festival encouraged Utah Viola Society to hold another festival in 1997.  This festival was again funded by Weber State University, and was held at Bingham High School in Salt Lake City.  For this festival Patricia McCarty, another internationally known violist, agreed to be the guest artist.  For this festival Clyn Barrus again stepped up, this time agreeing to have the BYU Chamber Orchestra, which he conducted, accompany Ms. McCarty for a wonderful performance of the Walton Concerto for Viola and Orchestra.  In addition the orchestra performed the Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Opus 80 and the Dvorak Slavonic Dances, No’s 1, 2, 3, & 4, Opus 46.

In addition to the featured Saturday night concert there were other excellent performances on the Friday night concert by Leslie Harlow, Mario Ortiz, and Andre Gaea.  On Saturday David Dalton gave an inspiring lecture “Crossing the Rubicon,” Scott Lewis, a violist with the Utah Symphony, adjudicated a master class, and there was a student recital featuring outstanding university students from the local universities.

In the second week of March, 1999 a Violafest was held at BYU, and later in the week at Abravanel Hall.  At this event Paul Neubauer gave a free performance in the Madsen Recital Hall in the Harris Fine arts Center.  The concert was the Annual Primrose Memorial Concert, and was in conjunction with the Utah Viola Society’s Violafest, which took place the same week. The Primrose Concert is in honor of violist William Primrose, who served on BYU’s faculty for the final three years of his teaching career, and who David Dalton recalls as one of the great music professors at BYU. Mr. Primrose died in 1982. The Violafest was sponsored by BYU, the UVS, and Weber State University.

When Dr. Claudine Bigelow took over the presidency, the  Utah Viola Society continued to present festivals, mostly in conjunction with BYU’s Primrose Memorial Concerts.  Beginning in 2012 when Michael Palumbo was again elected president of the society the festivals took on a new face.  For 2012 and 2013 “Day of the Viola” I and II were sponsored by the University Of Utah School Of Music, thanks to the society’s ardent supporter and Utah Symphony Associate Principal Violist Roberta Zalkind.  Roberta was able to arrange space and funding to support these two festivals.  The 2012 festival featured Yitzhak Shotten as master class clinician and was sponsored by The University of Utah School of Music.  The highlight of the festival was a special concert by the Utah Symphony Orchestra on which Brant Bayless, the Utah Symphony’s Principal Violist, performed A String Around Autumn by Toru Takemitsu.

Other notable highlights of the festival included a performance by members of the Utah Symphony Orchestra viola section, a mass viola sight-reading session, a recital by UVS members and guests, and a special question/answer session with Brant Bayless on the Takemitsu piece.

The new format adopted in 2012 continued in 2013 with Day of the Viola II.  Again the UVS relied on the support of the University of Utah and Roberta Zalkind to help make the festival a success.

There was a full day of events on this March 23 festival, beginning with the General Business Meeting, where a nominating committee for the election of a new president and treasurer was determined.  The winner of the election was Brad Ottesen, professor of viola at Utah State University, and violist with the Fry Street String Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at USU.  The schedule for the day included a master class by Brant Bayless, a recital by Utah Symphony Orchestra violists and university faculty, a student recital, and a lecture titled “The development of the viola in orchestral literature” by Dr. Carey Campbell, professor of Musicology at Weber State University.  The day ended with a massed viola sight-reading play-in.

With the election of Brad Ottesen to the position of president the UVS has continued to develop as an important resource for violists in Utah and beyond.

The Utah Viola Society hopes to continue to bring the very best viola events to Utah. We have continued the Giorno della Viola tradition with our annual Viola Day activities by presenting excellent recitals, master classes by world renown violists such as Roger Chase, and by creating new traditions of our own. (Alto clef cookies, anyone?) The Utah Viola Society hopes to continue to build on our rich history and heritage, and continue to connect all the violists in Utah with one another through camaraderie, friendship, and a shared love of all things viola.

-Dr. Michael Palumbo, past president of Utah Viola Society, and President-Elect of the American Viola Society