Tonight, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will debut a concerto written for the viola. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports on how a pair of old friends collaborated to raise the profile of one of the orchestra’s lesser known instruments:
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If you can’t name a famous violist, don’t worry.
Ellen Rose, the principle violist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, says there is a good reason.
ROSE: “Viola was for a long time just considered an instrument of harmony rather than a solo instrument. And it really wasn’t until the 20th Century when so many people began writing concertos that it then blossomed into being accepted as a solo instrument as well.”
Brouwer has had her music performed by a number of major groups, including the Detroit and Seattle symphonies. The new concerto is the third piece Brouwer has composed for Rose.
When the DSO accepted Rose’s request to commission a viola concerto, she says Brouwer was the natural choice to write it.
ROSE: “I knew what caliber of music I would be getting. I knew I would be getting a beautiful concerto.”
Rose has been the DSO’s principle violist since 1980. She met Brouwer when Brouwer was a session musician and violinist with the Fort Worth Symphony in the late ’70s, early ’80s.
They’ve been friends ever since – a dynamic that Brouwer says made writing the concerto more meaningful.
BROUWER: “I love writing a piece for someone I know. I love getting together with them when I’m writing the piece. Like after I’ve written 2 or 3 minutes, saying, ‘Let’s see how this sounds.’ It’s very inspiring, and I just get all sorts of ideas going forward.”
The two worked on the piece together last summer. And though Brouwer is the composer, Rose had definite ideas on what she wanted.
ROSE: “I had a wish list. I wanted cadenzas. She gave me several in the first movement. And I wanted the third movement to end with a big sound.”
But in the process, Rose also learned that there are times when you should be careful about what you ask for.
ROSE: “We’d talk about a couple of passages, and I’d say well maybe we could put a run here. … And then I would call her up and complain to her how hard the run was, and she’d say, Ellen, you chose it!”
While the piece allows Rose plenty of virtuoso moments, it’s the romantic second movement that makes the pair swoon.
ROSE: “It is about love … the beginning for me is when you first lay eyes on your beloved. The very first time you see him. And then the gradual process of holding hands, first kiss, the passion, and ending in mature love that lasts a life time. That’s how I see it.”
BROUWER: “It’s definitely a romance. That’s what I intended it to be.”
When Rose takes center stage to perform the piece, she hopes to serve as an ambassador of sorts. But it’s not necessarily the long-overlooked viola she is championing.
ELLEN: “I really just think I’m kind of an ambassador for Margaret’s music. To present her concerto the best that I can. And I’m really excited about doing that.”