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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 11, No. 9 August 2008

34th International Viola Congress

August 7, 2008

For five days in June (7-11), the viola community will gather in Montréal for the 34th International Viola Congress, which celebrates the instrument’s unique voice and cultivates awareness of its vibrant and varied capabilities. This annual event presents a forum for exchange, exposure and education, provides access to resources and information, and offers an occasion to promote everything viola.

This year’s Canadian stop presents local violists a rare opportunity; last year, it was held in Iceland, and next year, the community travels to Australia. “Coming to your first congress is like trying a new fruit,” encourages Congress organizer Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot. “Once you have tasted it, you will always come back.”

As a solo instrument, the viola is underestimated and is seldom featured in concert programming, making the congress a rare opportunity to experience this distinctive timbre and repertoire in concert. New music is featured prominently, with a maximum number of performances of contemporary and little-known works.

Fostering a supportive environment and rallying the good-natured team spirit characteristic of violists is a priority. “The big family feeling is important to the congress,” asserts Austrian-born Puchhammer-Sédillot. “That’s why violists are what we are, and that’s what should come first.”

Professor of viola and head of the string department at the Université de Montréal, with 20-years of North American teaching and performing experience under her belt, Puchhammer-Sédillot undertook preparations for this event in 2003. The congress, funded through registration fees and exposition tables, corporate sponsors and embassies, relies on performers and presenters to volunteer their time. The Université de Montréal provides all facilities and stage support.

The congress’s theme “Where Europe and the Americas meet”, grew out of the violist’s desire to bring together the international viola communities. “This is the first congress where so many European artists are represented,” she says.

As the host country, Canadian music will have special prominence. In addition to performances by Canadian soloists and young professionals, the winners of the Canadian Music Centre student competition will present their interpretations of Canadian works for viola. “It is very important for the youth to get interested in their times.” Puchhammer-Sédillot says.

Montréal-based violists Bojana Milinov and Elvira Misbachova will perform Canadian viola concertos by Andrew MacDonald and Airad Ichmourtatov, the viola section of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra will play and I Musici de Montréal will accompany soloists Lars Anders Tomter (Norway), Roberto Diaz (USA), Antoine Tamestit (France) and Steven Dann (Canada) in a gala concerto concert. Puchhammer-Sédillot, who worked to have women involved at all levels of programming, will premier three pieces she commissioned from Québec composers Ana Sokolovic, Isabelle Panneton and Rachel Laurin. “I was interested in the communication process between women composers and performers,” she explains.

World-class performers Kim Kashkashian, Michael Kugel and Barbara Westphal will give concerts, as will the latest international competition winners and soloists from Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Highlighting the viola at its best in chamber music, the Alcan Quartet will perform with guest violists Bruno Giuranna and Siegfried Führlinger as well as pianists Jean Saulnier and Paul Stewart, clarinetist André Moisan and cellist Denis Brott. Trio Lyra (flute, viola, harp), Quatuor Claudel, and the Alturas Duo (viola, guitar) will also perform.

Masterclasses on solo repertoire, orchestral excerpts and improvisation will be given by soloists and pedagogues from around the world, including Juilliard School professor Heidi Castleman, who will receive an honorary doctorate from the Université de Montréal at the congress.

Seminars on performance anxiety, practice techniques, the Feldenkrais method and osteopathy will take place, as well as presentations on Bach, Primrose and viola pedagogy in France. Other events include the opening ceremony and cocktail with music by violist/composer Martha Mooke and Mads Tolling of the Turtle Island String Quartet, morning workshops for viola enthusiasts and “Anecdotes from old times” with viola elders Emanuel Vardi, Bruno Giuranna and Robert Verebes.

Nearly forty luthiers will exhibit at the congress, providing an ideal setting to compare and purchase instruments. Roberto Diaz will demonstrate violas and bows for sale and a panel of luthiers will discuss issues of viola sound and construction. Rare editions will be accessible, including Billaudot of France and Doblinger of Austria. Among recordings available will be Puchhammer-Sédillot’s recent recording of German Romantic Sonatas.

The 34th International Viola Congress is cosponsored by the Université de Montréal and the Canadian Viola Society. Day passes and concert tickets are available as well as complete congress registration. Full details are available at violacongress2006.ca.

(c) La Scena Musicale