Putting the viola in the spotlight – Helen Callus presents a rare full length viola recital at Town Hall

Melinda Bargreen – Seattle Times critic

That often-unsung hero of the orchestra and chamber ensemble – the viola – gets a room of its own tomorrow night.

Helen Callus, the faculty violist at the University of Washington and a member of the highly regarded Bridge Ensemble, will perform an April Fools’ Day recital with pianist Rachel Matthews at 8p.m. in Town Hall. It’s the second concert in the inaugural series of City Music, a chamber series devoted to “drawing connections between the arts and other social and environmental concerns.” What this mission statement means is that 100 percent of tomorrows ticket proceeds will go to the University District Food Bank (there will be an information table in the Town Hall lobby at intermission, with materials describing the Food Bank’s programs).

The viola program is called “Chiaroscuro: music of Darkness and Light,” and it features three major viola-piano works: Schumann’s “Fairy Tales” (“Marchenbilder”), the Rebecca Clarke Viola Sonata and Shostakovitch’s Sonata for Viola and Piano (the last completed work of the Russian master).

The English-born Callus is an activist for her instrument: the founding president of the Seattle Viola Society, and the founding director of a highly successful outreach program that Callus described in a recent article in Strad magazine. She has been heard extensively this season in chamber programs, a concerto performance with the University of Washington Symphony (under the direction of Peter Eros) and in an international tour with the Bridge Ensemble. Opportunities to hear her in a full length recital, however, are rare.

Callus met Matthews for the first time when both were graduate students at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and the two have been frequent collaborators since then. Matthews is director and founder of City Music series, which will conclude its season June 10 with a trio program benefiting PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Town Hall, the remodeled former Christian Science Church, has been thriving this season as the home of orchestra, choral, chamber, early music and recital programs. It is located on the corner of Eight Avenue and Seneca Street, between I-5 and the Virginia Mason Clinic, just a half block from Freeway Park.