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Violist Carol Rodland on The Golden Age of The Viola

Acclaimed violist Carol Rodland discusses how she feels viola playing has changed over the last two decades.

Often when we discuss about stringed instruments, the ones who get the most attention are the violins and cellos. What about the violas? Do they deserve more credit? Absolutely so! How has the way of playing the instrument changed over the decades and who were the pioneers in viola playing?

The Juilliard School viola and chamber music faculty member, violist Carol Rodland. shares her opinion on the topic.


Violist Carol Rodland speaks about The Golden era of viola playing


In contemplating this question, I find my thoughts drifting, first and foremost, towards technology. Everything has been impacted by it, even viola playing!

Regional tastes and traditions still abound, yet the ease of communication amongst violists across the globe via social media, as well as access to live performances and recordings via webcasts and YouTube, have enabled curious violists to absorb and explore myriad styles, traditions, sound worlds, and genres of repertoire as never before. Perhaps it can still be advantageous to be steeped in an aural tradition from childhood, but if you love a certain style of playing or genre of music, you can now absorb it easily and quickly from your computer or mobile device from the comfort of your own practice room!

There are other significant developments in viola playing over the past twenty years, which have their genesis in the early twentieth century with Lionel Tertis, our first "official" viola virtuoso. (Please do be sure to read "Cinderella No More"!) Mr. Tertis’ collaborations with the composers of his day started us off on a commissioning frenzy! The past twenty years have seen a glorious further blooming of viola repertoire as violists of all stripes, including such luminaries as William Primrose, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Garth Knox, Paul Neubauer, and Tabea Zimmermann, as well as countless others, continue to establish productive and meaningful relationships with composers. Composers and performers have inspired each other, of course, throughout musical history, but I like to think that the violist-composer relationship is uniquely intense right now, and that the resulting repertoire is uniquely innovative. Perhaps this is because we got a late start and have some catching up to do when compared with our violinist or cellist friends, but perhaps it is also that the chimerical nature of our instrument inspires composers to explore and develop previously untapped areas of their compositional voices.

I am also excited to see that our up-and-coming viola players are more committed than ever to exploring different sound worlds for different kinds of music. This is especially true in terms of Baroque and Classical repertoire.

Today's violists are experimenting with Baroque violas and bows, and they are also integrating the basic tenets of performance practice as outlined in the various historical treatises (ie Quantz, Leopold Mozart, CPE Bach) into their performances on their modern equipment. The increase in Historical Performance programs in our institutions of higher learning, as well as how-to books such as Judy Tarling's “Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners” (geared towards all modern players interested in exploring these concepts) have contributed to this trend.

Emphasis on “Wellness” for classical musicians in general–and for violists in particular–has become mainstream in recent years. As we violists deal with the daily wear and tear inflicted upon our bodies by our unwieldy instrument, it becomes paramount to us that we mindfully address the crucial issues of posture and flow as we play and teach. Karen Tuttle’s brilliant pedagogy, with its emphasis on physical freedom and ease, has become more well-known and practiced, as has the availability of courses in Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Yoga, and Pilates for musicians.

And finally, I notice that as with so many art-forms and elite sports, people are performing beautifully at ever-higher levels and at ever-younger ages on the viola! There are also more and more children beginning directly on viola, rather than being switch-hitters or transfers from the violin.

We are entering the Golden Age of the Viola!




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Carol Rodland enjoys a distinguished international career as a concert and recording artist and teacher. First prize winner of the Washington International Competition and winner of the Universal Editions Prize at the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, she made her solo debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra as a teenager. Critics describe her playing as "larger than life, sweetly in tune, infinitely variegated", and "delicious" (Fanfare Magazine).

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