ECMSA: Violamania!

How many violists does it take to induce mania? Yinzi Kong seemed to think that nine would be enough when she programmed “Violamania!” for the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta. The program consisted of nine pieces arranged for viola ensembles of sizes ranging from solo to eight, with occasional accompaniment from piano or harpsichord.

The concert began with Sancho Engano’s arrangement of the first movement from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5. Like most arrangements of the piece for smaller ensembles, it was a pale reflection of the full orchestration. But, although pale, it was still reasonably enjoyable and I felt that it distributed the interesting parts around the violists in a way that let us hear their individual voices as musicians, which kept things interesting.

The next three pieces were also enjoyable but they weren’t particularly memorable for me. Fist was Joplin’s “Ragtime Dance” arranged by Peter Taylor, followed by the jazzy “Blue Syncopation” by Sancho Engano. They then went back towards the rag realm with Geoffrey Walker’s “Absolute Zero” arranged by R. A. Cohen. Engano’s piece was my favorite of the bunch, but that’s just because I never really developed an affinity for ragtime.

Kong then brought one of her younger students, aged 13, out of the audience and onto the stage with a humorous little skit in which all of the other violists abandoned her, leaving her searching the audience for a violist to fill in. Together, they gave a decent performance of the first movement of Vranicky’s Concerto for Two Violas in C Major.

The last piece prior to the intermission was also the highlight of the evening for me: a solo performance by Kong of Reger’s Suite no. 1 for Viola in G Minor. The piece dives deep into the soul from the beginning of the first movement. I found the third movement adante sostenuto to be a bit whiny at first, but it recovers into a brief and lively conclusion in the fourth movement. Kong played it with great feeling and I had chills running down my spine through much of it.

After the intermission was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 6 in B-Flat Major. The transcription by Elise Arancio was excellent and I have to say that I think that the violas were an excellent medium for the music. This was followed by a solid performance of Bruch’s “Romanza” arranged by Cohen, which also fared well on the violas.

The concert concluded with de Beriot’s “Scene de Ballet” arranged by Kong, herself. The piece is dancy fun but has a richness to it that made it a solid finale for the program. Kong’s orchestration was rather fun, itself, in the way that it passed the sections around the performers, as though they were taking turns dancing with the music.

Kong declared at one point that she put the concert together in part to “Make viola great again” and, while I generally don’t have much faith in some other people who make use of similar slogans, I have to say that she certainly managed to make the viola stand on its own.

Leave a Reply