Now that my mind has started to calm down after an intense four days of listening, watching, playing, rehearsing, and talking about music with my new-found soul-mates at the viola d'amore congress, I can begin to process the experience.
The congress began for me with a rehearsal of the trio for recorder, viola d'amore, and viola by George Hunter, that began as soon as I arrived in Evanston, Illinois on Monday, and the first concert of the week began at 8:00 that evening. It was two hours of violin sonatas and triosonatas with viola d'amore expertly performed by the Trio Settecento. Part of the fascination of this concert was that, except for the Corelli Sonata, Opus 5, No. 6, everything on the program was new to me.
I had a rehearsal at 8:00 for the first daytime concert of the congress, which began at 9:15 the next morning. There were concerts and lectures (mostly concerts) running daily from 9:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a two hour break for lunch and rehearsals, and then another concert every night at 8:00. We're talking about 6 to 8 hours of viola d'amore music a day!
My father warned me that I would begin to tire of D major: the instrument is usually tuned with a low A on the bottom, a D above that, another A, a D-major or D-minor triad above that, and a final high D. D major was the favored key of the later 18th-century music, and D minor was often used during the earlier 18th century. Luckily many people played in baroque pitch, which is a half step lower than modern pitch, making a lot of the music fall into the sounding key of C-sharp major or minor, and there were a surprising number of pieces that used other tunings, including music from the 19th and century and not necessarily tonal music from 20th century (and 21st if you include mine--but I used the D-minor tuning). I managed to keep my total attention on the music and the playing for the entire congress: there were very few moments that I wasn't in full emotional and musical "vacuum mode."
There was a whole evening of Vivaldi and Graupner concertos with the Baroque Band, and members of the viola d'amore society from all over the world showed just how clever and flexible Vivaldi was as a composer for the viola d'amore. I was also thrilled with the many Graupner pieces I heard this week, especially his Concerto for Viola d'amore and Viola that shared this Vivaldi program.
Highlights from the 19th century included music by Markus Leo Goldis, and highlights from the 20th century included Sonatas by Paul Hindemith, and Irving Schlein, a Caprice by York Bowen, a 1980 Sonata "Balletto Solenne" by Gordon Tonson (who plays viola under the name of Maxwell Ward), a Serenade for flute, viola d'amore and strings by Richard Lane, some preludes for viola d'amore and harp by Henri Casadesus, a Sonata da chiesa with organ by Frank Martin, the Hunter Trio, a Sonatine for Viola d'amore and Harpsichord by Wolfgang Hofmann, and music by Carl Wunderle.
I returned home, and took out my "normal" viola to play a wedding yesterday (I hadn't practiced a stringed instrument since playing my Birthday Pieces on Tuesday morning). I was surprised that I could play with far more freedom and strength than ever before, and could even play better in tune. I found that I was far more aware of my connection to the other people in my quartet. The act of listening so carefully and intently to so much string music played by such excellent musicians did more for me and my playing than hours and hours of practicing. It also really stimulated my imagination.
I now have a slew of projects lined up to write for the viola d'amore, and feel terribly excited about the future, partly because there is just so much to learn about this instrument and its many musical possibilities.