What is the longest viola joke?
Harold in Italy.
Okay, this one is quite funny, but for the most part I just don’t get the plethora of viola jokes. I mean, I get them, but I don’t understand why violas are the butt of the dumb blonde jokes of the music world. The viola has such a beautifully mellow tone and it does such a great job of filling out the middle voice of a piece of music. After all, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Dvorak and many others thought highly enough of the viola to make it the additional instrument in their string quintets; Schumann wrote his exquisite Märchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures) for viola; Brahms made a viola version of his two Clarinet Sonatas; there’s Mozart’ Sinfonia Concertante; there’s Walton’s Viola Concerto, and so the list goes on.
I’ve been thinking about this since hearing the Brentano String Quartet open the Shriver Hall Concert Series last Sunday evening. From the opening Haydn Quartet, I kept finding my ear being drawn to the viola part, beautifully played by Misha Amory. It’s not that he drew attention to himself—not at all—but the viola lines were just so clear and added such depth to the inner workings of the music. It turns out Misha has stellar credentials; he holds degrees from Yale University and the Juilliard School and now serves on the faculties of the Juilliard and the Curtis Institute. But it’s more than just that. There is an innate musicality and sensitivity to his playing that helps to bind the whole quartet together.
Incidentally, Misha is married to the violist, Hsin-Yun Huang, so they have quite a little viola cottage industry going there—good luck to them!
Beethoven, Brahms, chamber music, Dvořák, Haydn, Mozart, SCHUMANN, viola