Masterclass: Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra op.85

Boyarsky cr Andrej Uspenski

Violist and composer Konstantin Boyarsky considers nerves, narrative and the influence of the opera in his discussion of this late Romantic piece

Bruch wrote this beautiful piece very well for the viola, without any major traps or choking moments. He composed it in 1911, when there were many new and modern ideas developing in classical music, but it is still a late Romantic work. He was old-fashioned – he really stuck to his guns stylistically, even though other composers were exploring new styles around that time – and I respect that. The simplicity of structure is wonderful, with its lush tunes and moments of real dialogue between the solo viola and the orchestra. It’s a pleasure to play as well as to listen to.

Brave beginnings

One of the first times I performed this piece was during a tour in Mexico, in a humongous concert hall that seats around 3,000 people. It was overwhelming, especially because the start is quite nerve-racking! For two bars the mellow strings creep up to where you come in, and then you have to pull yourself together, overcome the adrenalin, and begin. I think the worst mistake is if you start thinking that it’s terrifying. Instead, if you focus on the kind of vibrato and sound you want at the start, soon you’ll be so busy trying to create that effect that it will help to take your mind off your nerves.

Of course, not only do you have to have the right mindset, but you must also have practised, and you have to be ready to play. Having good bowings and fingerings is crucial. Sometimes I write down two versions, because there is always an alternative way of looking at any music. No one can ever be 100 per cent certain that a performance is going to start in exactly the way they intend it to, so be ready to implement a plan B, plan C or plan D, on the spot, if necessary…

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