In June this year the Canadian violinist joined conductor Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the studio to record a concerto on his second instrument, the viola
This is an extract from a Session Report interview with James Ehnes in the September 2017 issue of the Strad. To read the full article download the issue on desktop computer or via the The Strad App, or buy the print edition.
This is a piece I have loved since I was a teenager, so it is wonderful that the opportunity has come my way to record it. This work has been a focus for me the last few years. I have also played and recorded Walton’s Violin Concerto – a very different piece. Physically, there is not much of an issue switching back and forth between the two instruments, but there is a different method of tone production. From a technical standpoint I have always focused on results. I don’t think so much about how do I do this or that, but more about the sound I am making and how I can adjust it to what I want. It’s about adjusting and listening on the fly. The joy of being able to work on both instruments is that it expands my repertoire, and my main motivation for playing the viola is exploring the great music written for this instrument. Certainly the repertoire is smaller, but the great music is just as great. So much of the most glorious viola repertoire is within an ensemble, but these key solo pieces are also incredibly inspiring and rewarding.
It amazes me that the great composers were able to gain such an understanding of what is possible on an instrument. Part of the appeal of playing is to push the limits of technique. With Walton’s Violin Concerto, none of the writing is impossible but a lot of it is close. And in a way that is exactly where you want it to be: on the edge of technical limitations. There’s a tremendous amount of excitement in that.
The recording, also including Walton’s Partita for Orchestra and Sonata for String Orchestra, will be released in March 2018 on Chandos (CHSA 5210)