The Violin Channel recently caught up with 2019 New World Symphony "Viola Visions" Festival Artistic Director, Michael Tilson Thomas.
Michael, Please tell us about the 'Viola Visions' Festival that you and the New World Symphony are hosting in Miami Beach, this week ...
"Viola Visions is the first in a new series of annual festivals devoted to a particular instrument in the orchestra.
Joined by a spectacular line-up of violists — Roberto Díaz, Kim Kashkashian, Matthew Lipman, Nadia Sirota, Cynthia Phelps, Jonathan Vinocour, and Tabea Zimmermann —we are exploring the past, present, and potential future of the viola over five days at the New World Center and sharing the complete festival experience with audiences online, making this a truly global event"
What highlights of these five days you are most looking forward to?
"With so many incredible musicians participating and so much interesting music being performed, it’s very difficult to single out any one highlight, but I can say that I’ve been especially looking forward to the online, interactive elements of the festival, which allow us to connect with the viola community worldwide.
Not only can viewers live-stream our discussions, workshops, master classes, and performances for free, but they’re able to participate in real time — engaging directly with our guest artists, Fellows, and myself via the internet.
I’m also looking forward to the fantastic variety of contemporary viola music we’ve programmed, including world-premiere commissions from Steven Mackey and NWS alumnus Nils Bultmann.
We’ll even have many of the composers with us to offer their perspectives on the viola and how that manifests in their work"
Where did this idea come from, and what are you hoping your team can achieve?
"I’ve long been interested in finding ways to showcase orchestral instruments that haven’t traditionally been in the limelight. So many of these instruments have incredible repertoire written for them — from solo pieces to chamber works to concerti — and one of our goals is growing the audience for this music.
In addition, the 21st century has seen composers revisit and rethink some of these instruments to find new and creative ways of expressing their unique voices, including through the use of cutting-edge technology.
I hope that by showcasing the best of each instrument’s past and present we can demonstrate the breadth of its musical potential, while also helping to forge connections between musicians and music lovers around the world"
With this being an annual event in which each year focuses on a different instrument, how did you decide to start with the wonderful viola?
"One of the reasons I decided to begin with the viola is because — paradoxically — it’s the most well known for being overlooked, despite having such an amazing tradition.
That tradition includes masterpieces by Berlioz, Mozart, and other great composers of the past, and it’s a tradition that continues today as composers explore intriguing new directions for the instrument.
It’s an exciting musical frontier and seemed like the perfect starting point for this new initiative"
What are some of the initiatives you have planned to involve the global string community online during this week's festival?
"One of the key aspects of Viola Visions is the live-streaming of every musical moment of the festival on our (and the Violin Channel’s) Facebook pages, as well as the October 17 concert (“Visions and Installations”) via Medici.TV. We’ll also be sharing festival content on YouTube and our online MUSAIC platform so that people can access it on-demand in the future.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, violists and viola aficionados around the world will be able to engage with us live via the internet during certain events, including a master class Q&A. We’ll also be asking violists to get involved with our Viola Visions Practice Room, where we will be engaging with their performances and excerpts on Instagram.
Using technology to build connections between musicians is an important goal of ours at the New World Symphony, and we’re thrilled to be furthering that goal with this festival"
How can people who want to learn more get involved?
"There are plenty of ways for people to learn more about the festival and how to get involved. The easiest way is to look on the Viola Visions website (nws.edu/viola), which has the full details of every concert, workshop, and live-stream, as well as how you can interact with the festival.
In addition, we’ll be keeping everyone up to date with information on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, as well as our live-streams being broadcast on both the Facebook and Violin Channel Facebook pages.
Keep an eye out on social media for #NWSViolaVisions for ways you can take part and see how everyone else is involved"