What the viola really needs right now

What the viola really needs right now


norman lebrecht

August 14, 2020

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

It has been a while since the viola last had a powerful advocate….

Read on here at The Critic.

And here.

Other languages follow.

French version here.

Spanish here.

Czech here


  • Malcolm Crawford says:

    I would say that Lawrence Power is a hugely powerful advocate for the viola, and has been for some time.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Ditto Tabea Zimmermann.

    • Gerry Feinsteen says:

      Lawrence Power’s Lockdown Commissions series has brought forth the most fascinating music I’ve heard over the past 6 months. He has commissions lined up from Huw Watkins, Esa Pekka Salonen, Garth Knox, and numerous others.
      He’s a tremendous advocate for the viola —and without playing the social media game.
      He also began as a violist, as did Tabea Zimmermann and many other of the finest violists today, bucking the historical trend of switching from violin.
      Listening to Ridout it would be difficult to miss the obvious influence Power’s playing has had Ridout’s.
      That’s not to say Ridout isn’t an artist of his own—he’s certainly among the finest players of the under-40 group, if not the finest.
      Norman should drop by the Hyperion label website sometime and see what Power has been up to for the past 15 years or so. His double-disc recording of the works for viola and piano by York Bowen alone made a massive impression on violists, and that recording alone would have been enough to solidify Power’s impact.

    • Jason Lewis says:


  • William Safford says:

    You just gave me an idea for a birthday gift. Thank you!

  • Dennis says:

    The late great Rudolf Barshai (perhaps recently best known, especially around here, for his recordings of Mahler’s 5th and 10th with the JDP in the early ’00s) deserves a mention among viola advocates.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    Why does it need an advocate? It’s a well-accepted instrument and there are many fine violists. The only issue would be either audiences, or the people programming concert series, and whether or not they will hire a violist.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Audience acceptance is the problem for sure. People are willing to sit through certain violin and piano concertos endlessly. And a few for cello, guitar, flute, clarinet and trumpet. But they are not at all interested in concertos for trombone, tuba, percussion (ugh!), bassoon or contra, double bass or viola. Harold in Italy should be much better known as well as the Walton.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I agree with Grittenhouse; when “new” pianists or violinists or cellists come on the scene, we don’t speak of them as powerful new advocates for their instrument. I’d like to think the viola is in that same situation — fine new players come on the scene, and that is wonderful, but “advocate” suggests a spokesperson for the downtrodden. Classical saxophone or classical accordion or classical harmonica — they still need advocates, perhaps. Viola?

      Lionel Tertis, definitely was an advocate, and a powerful one. Wm. Primrose, yes. Hindemith. Barshai. Rebecca Clarke. I think we are past that point now. Or I’d like to think so.

      Want to know what the viola needs now? I’ll tell you what the viola needs now. Somebody’s has got to do something about the price of viola strings! Holy crap.

  • LydiaWahlberg says:

    Has Pinchus Zukerman retired? Nothing more beautiful than the sound of the viola.

  • sabrinensis says:

    Power is excellent but he’s hardly alone in this exalted league. Eliesha Nelson is another who has made several fantastic recordings of repertoire from Gaigerova, Juon, and Winkler, to Ross Lee Finney, Quincy Porter, and Jeffrey Mumford. Nelson plays the span of the viola repertoire. Plus, she’s black. Norm, why don’t you look her up for an interview?

  • G M Mitchell says:

    Really! Have you not heard of Lawrence Power??

  • HugoPreuss says:

    Ever heard of Tabea Zimmermann? Or Nils Mönkemeyer? I’m sure that this gentleman is good, but it’s not as if the viola is lacking powerful advocates currently…

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Almost forty years ago, I had the good fortune to interview the great violist Luigi Alberto Bianchi. Bianchi had just concluded his musicological opus magnum, the complete edition (with, if memory serves, musicologist Luigi Inzaghi) of the works of Alessandro Rolla, the master of classical viola. It was one of the rare examples of a master performer doubling up as an indispensable scholar of reference. (Among the few other examples I have met: Alberto Zedda, René Clemencic, Christopher Hogwood.)

    Bianchi, however, was taking at that point a sabbatical and re-training as a violinist.
    A story was made up that he was doing so because his beloved Amati viola had been stolen the year before. Unable to replace it, the story went, Bianchi ostensibly returned to the violin of his youth.
    Of course, this was eyewash of the first order. Bianchi was traversing something of an existential identity crisis, because he felt that both his immense ability, his talent, and his unparalleled learning were being wasted on an instrument that was ever under-appreciated.

    When I asked him what could alter the public perception of the viola – wish I would have used Mr. Lebrecht’s turn of phrase, “what the viola really needs” – the normally soft-spoken, ever-so-gentle Bianchi was unexpectedly blunt: “Money.”

    I must have looked dumbfounded, because Bianchi volunteered to amplify: the day a top violist would fetch the same fees as a top violinist, the public perception would begin to accept the viola as artistically equal to the violin. He was torn by his own diagnostic, because he was one of the most materially disinterested artists I have ever met. But he was painfully lucid and candid in his assessment of the mercantile nature of the music marketplace.

  • Disappointed at the lack of Viola jokes here says:

    What the Viola needs right now…… Is for winter to come bearing a nice fireplace and a box of matches……..

  • John Borstlap says:

    Also violist Amihai Grosz is greatly contributing to the viola – he is leader of the Berlin Phil viola section but also busy as a chamber player and soloist:


  • Larry W says:

    “It has been a while since the viola last had a powerful advocate….”

    Norman, you really need to get out more. While Timothy Rideout is indeed brilliant, a very incomplete list would include viola soloists Lawrence Power, Tabea Zimmermann, Kim Kashkashian, Paul Neubauer, Roberto Diaz, and Maxim Rysanov. Quartet violists include Atar Arad, Geraldine Walther, Roger Tapping, Lawrence Dutton, and Milena Pajaro-Van de Stadt. Principal violists include Amihal Grosz, Cynthia Phelps, Teng Li, and Robert Vernon.

  • MacroV says:

    There are a lot of great violists out there, though there isn’t much space for soloists; so most are playing in orchestras. And orchestras will usually feature their own principal viola first, as is also the case with wind and brass players.

  • Edgar Self says:

    The violat had to recover from scratchy players Samuel Lifschey and Paul Hindemith, taken care of by Milton Katims, Lionel Tertis, and William Primrose.

    I can recognise Pinky Zukerman’s sumptuous viola unannounced on FM, saw him and Primrose several times, can testify to Yuri Bashmet, Geraldine Walther, Germain Prevost, and the Finno-Nipponese former Pacifica Quartet alto/Bratsche who must be the world’s tallest violist.

    Fyodor Druzhynin, dedicate who premiered Shostakovich’s viola sonata finished in hospital three days before he died, was replacement viola of Borodin Quartet in its glory days with cellist Vladimir Berlinsky.

    To hear Primrose play CPE Bach’s”Solfeggietto”, Beethoven’s “Eyeglass” Duo with Feuermann, Brahms sonatas and viola tLieder was very Heaven; Mozart E-flat divertimento with Heifetz and Feuermann that Tovey called the greatest string trio.. The Oistrakhs, Perlman-Zukerman, young Gringolts and his friend excellent in Wieniawski’s skittering etudes-caprices. A Leclair duo. All this and Hindemith and Vaughan Williams too!

  • Elizabeth Lloyd-Davies says:

    Surely Laurence Power is the greatest advocate for the viola since Pinchas Zukerman spent much time in the UK ?
    His master classes and concerts are an inspiration…..
    Elizabeth Lloyd-Davies