Viola students set to fly solo in annual recital

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer

Ten School of Music violists will give their annual recital at 2 p.m. today in McKnight Hall.

Caroline Coade describes the viola as the underdog instrument.

“We’re the underdog of the orchestra, so we have to band together,” Coade said. “This is a chance for violas to be a foreground, solo instrument.”

At 2 p.m. today, 10 School of Music violists will take the floor in McKnight Hall and showcase their talents — their soloist talents, that is. The third annual viola recital, which will give students a chance to practice a very different repertoire and will boast composers such as Franck, Schumann and Shostakovich, benefits the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.

Coade, a viola faculty member and a professor at the University of Michigan, said nine times out of 10, violas serve as an accompanist instrument. When her students pleaded for a solo recital four years ago, she put the idea in motion.

“These are different chops,” Coade said. “And the students are performing a piece they have just put together in three weeks — that takes a strong skill set to put that together.”

Teddy Schenkman, a violist who has returned for his second season with the Music School Festival Orchestra, said solo playing is vastly different from orchestral repertoire.

“Orchestra playing and solo playing are very different animals,” Schenkman said. “Most performers are their own hardest critics, and solo playing is just you.”

The 10 students will be accompanied by School of Music pianists Kanae Matsumoto and Akiko Konishi, as some of the violists are playing sonatas that call for a piano accompaniment, Coade said.

Sarah Cornett, a violist studying at Chautauqua Institution for the first time, will be performing a Brahms piece that was originally written for clarinet.

“It’s a really fun piece, and people think that we stole it from the clarinet, but we didn’t,” Cornett said, explaining Brahms wrote a second version for viola after publishing the clarinet edition. “It’s very lyrical, it’s very vocal, and it’s been fun working on it.”

Cornett also said she’s thrilled to be working with Coade, who is her professor both at the University of Michigan and in Chautauqua. Coade’s critical ear, hand-in-hand with her “bubbly” aura, are what make her a powerful mentor, Cornett said.

“It’s been really fun seeing her over the summer as well,” Cornett said. “It’s really productive to focus on the music together longer.”

She said dedicated practice time is what keeps her in line. Cornett devotes set periods to rehearse orchestra music and solo repertoire, and pacing herself is how she stays on top.

The students’ hardworking and hungry-to-learn attitudes lend themselves to their success, Coade said, and as a teacher at a premier music festival, there’s no shortage of passion.

“Most students want to learn,” Coade said. “Most of them come into a lesson with a pretty clear vision of what they want to do. These are very focused students who know they’re going to advance greatly in seven weeks. You don’t have to motivate them — you’re just inspiring them.”

Coade credits people like faculty member Roland Vamos for being another reason for the success of violists. The support of skilled artists like him and that of the community is vital to their experience, she said.

“He contributes his talent and advice on a weekly basis and shares his knowledge with the students,” Coade said. “He is so revered here and super important to the students.”

Coade said the program has some fun twists and turns, but is overall a romantic and accessible recital. When she made the switch from violin to viola herself when she was 14, she said, it was for the undeniable and beautiful “voice” of the instrument.

“We’re really introducing the voice of the viola,” Coade said. “I’ve always loved the voice. It was the warmth of my teacher that convinced me to switch — her kindness and her sound really showed me the beauty of the viola and power of a great teacher.”