Violists will play a global repertoire

By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times music critic

More than 350 professional and amateur violists from as far away as China, Australia and Europe are converging on Seattle this week.

No, this is not a "viola joke," that perennial staple of musical humor; violists are frequently and unfairly the butt of orchestra jokes for their supposed ineptitude (a vile canard, as any violist will tell you). This is the 30th International Viola Congress, held tomorrow through Sunday at the University of Washington, with Helen Callus, UW prof and president-elect of the American Viola Society, presiding.

"We have broken all attendance records," reports Callus, "and we will have 40 of the best violists in the world — and 35 luthiers (instrument makers). All in all, it's a first for the Pacific Northwest."

Planning the event has meant "an extra 40 hours a week for the past 11-12 months" for Callus, the young British-born violist who will be among the scheduled performers. It's open to the public, too.

Most of all, Callus wants the local community to know about the Community Outreach Day, which costs $20 for a student with an accompanying parent and offers a master class with Susan Gulkis Assadi (principal viola of the Seattle Symphony), a class with Joyce Ramee (director of the Max Aronoff Viola Institute), joint rehearsals with teacher Sharon Olsen, and a 3:30 p.m. joint concert with all the young players and the UW Viola Ensemble.

There will be cookies, prizes, awards and lots of incentive to practice. The Community Outreach Day is Sunday, starting at 10 a.m.; for details, visit,

The Viola Congress offers some enticing concert activity in the afternoons and evenings. Tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. concert in Brechemin Auditorium, for instance, has violists from 10 countries, including the entire viola section of the Oregon Symphony, performing chamber works, solos and transcriptions from Turkey, Germany, China, Hungary and several other countries.

Noted Scottish-born violist Paul Coletti, one of Callus' predecessors at the UW faculty, will present his "Dreamocean Video" in a lineup that extends from unaccompanied viola pieces to the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. (The hall is likely to fill up very fast, because it's only about one-fourth the size of Meany Theater, where the other evening concerts will be held.)

On Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Brechemin, the renowned violist Barbara Westphal performs the Bach Cello Suite No. 6; Seattle's Margriet Tindemans plays more Bach — and Csaba Erdelyi performs a reconstruction of Bach's Concerto in E-Flat.

The 7:30 p.m. concert in Meany has Callus playing repertoire from her new CD of works by British women composers, including Rebecca Clarke and Pamela Harrison; Coletti plays more Clarke and also one of his own compositions.

Friday's 1:30 p.m. concert at Brechemin has several Seattleites in the spotlight, including UW composers Richard Karpen (whose new work for viola and computer will be premiered) and Diane Thome (whose "Like a Seated Swan" will be played by Dorothy Shapiro). The late UW professor William Bergsma will be represented, too, with Roberto Diaz performing his "Fantastic Variations on a Theme from 'Tristan.' "

The 7:30 p.m. concert at Meany features Hsin-Yun Huang playing works of Hindemith, Kodaly and Kreisler; Misha Amory performing Vieuxtemps, Hindemith and Weber, and the young prizewinner Roland Glassl playing the music of Atar Arad and Paganini.

On Saturday, the afternoon concert starts at 1 p.m. in Brechemin Auditorium, with the Seattle Symphony's viola section performing Jacob's Suite for Eight Violas; a Durufle trio and a Leclair duo are among other featured works.

The evening concert, which starts at 8 in Meany, is a concerto evening with Philharmonia Northwest and conductor Roupen Shakarian joining violists Antoine Tamestit in the Walton Concerto and Roberto Diaz in the Rosza Concerto. Massed works for multiple violas round out the program.

To get a taste of what you'll hear, Callus' new recording with the excellent pianist Robert McDonald on the ASV label ("A Portrait of the Viola," distributed by Koch International Classics) is newly available.

It shows this remarkable violist in top form in some interesting and often beautiful literature that seldom finds its way to the concert stages. The Rebecca Clarke sonata is a particular standout, but there also are works of great charm by Freda Swain ("English Reel"), Janetta Gould ("Oh Can Ye Sew Cushions") and Pamela Harrison (a fine sonata in four movements).

McDonald, who has been the pianist for such string players as Isaac Stern and Midori, is an impeccable and imaginative keyboard partner.

Melinda Bargreen: