David Aaron Carpenter & the Viola Sing Out

These past two months have brought something not typically widespread – wonderful releases from talented violists, and excellent reviews to follow! The LA Times recently did a viola feature on this very topic, citing two of my latest favorite violists, Eliesha Nelson and David Aaron Carpenter. As a violist myself, I love to see such regard and praise come to the instrument, and am excited for the opportunity to help bring attention to these brilliant violists. In late September, I interviewed Eliesha Nelson, and graciously, David Aaron Carpenter recently answered the same questions concerning his experience as a violist. His debut album from Ondine, “Elgar & Schnittke Viola Concertos,” has received much critical acclaim, most recently winning the Gramophone Editor’s Choice Award in October 2009. He is one of the brightest viola talents to come along in many years. It’s wonderful to have such a star associated with the viola, and it makes me very optimistic we will continue to see more of this type of excitement towards viola releases. In Mark Swed’s words: “The viola…is the future.”

How did you first develop a love for music? What inspired you to begin playing?
I am fortunate enough to have an older brother and sister who play the violin. Growing up in a musical environment helped me obtain a passion and love for music. I never had a one-track career in mind to become a soloist, and my mother always believed in a well-rounded education for her children. I never would have foreseen that I would be making a career as a viola soloist, especially after attending a liberal arts college and majoring in political science and international relations.

Although this is not the case for myself, like many violists, you began your musical instruction on the violin and later switched to viola. What ultimately made you stick with the Viola, and what do you enjoy most about playing Viola as opposed to the Violin?
I started playing the violin at age 6 and gravitated to the viola at 11 years of age. In my opinion, the viola can sometimes be a very clumsy instrument to begin with for young players, and I always recommend starting on the violin to develop good habits for technique. I attended pre-college at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music as a double major in both violin and viola and it was very liberating for me to approach different works on both instruments. In the process, I was always more inclined to the complex tone of the viola. Also, the repertoire on the viola is unique and the possibilities are endless.

Artur Nikish believed that ‘a player’s psyche depended upon the instrument he played,’ and he characterized violists as being ‘calm and good-natured.’ It has also been often said that ‘viola players are the least troublesome’ in orchestral settings. Do you agree?
I agree, and think we need to change such a passive role! It is time that violists start to make a stand to change the status of the instrument. Violists have historically been the “least troublesome,” and I believe that if we had more virtuosi like Lionel Tertis and William Primrose living in the classical or romantic eras, we would certainly have more extant masterworks for the viola repertoire.

What are some of your favorite compositions to play? Do you have an era you prefer?
This really changes depending on the project and composer that I am studying at any given point in time. I like all eras of music, which include the baroque, classical, romantic, and contemporary periods, although I have been recently focusing more on 20th century compositions. I am also interested in sensible transcriptions for the viola, especially those that are sanctioned by a particular composer.

As you have just recently released your first album, what did you enjoy most about the recording process? Least?
It was more than a dream to record the Elgar and Schnittke Concertos with the
Philharmonia Orchestra directed by Maestro Eschenbach. The synergy of all parties involved was truly magical, and I am extremely proud of the product and outcome of the recording. Although there wasn’t any particular aspect that I enjoyed least, I must say that playing for 2 days straight was quite a strenuous undertaking.

If you could choose one composer, conductor or artist, deceased or living, to meet who would it be? Why?

Jacqueline Du Pre—to this day, I have never encountered in person or heard on record an artist who was the embodiment of musical intuition, emotional connection, and raw talent. Her artistry was the primary reason I gravitated towards the deeper sound of the viola.

When you’re not performing or practicing, what activities do you enjoy?
I enjoy playing tennis with my brother and sister, and also like to read and keep apprised of world events, financial markets, and international diplomacy. When I am traveling, I try to make it a priority to attend museums and special cultural events that are occurring in each city.

Which composer would you most like–or would have liked–to contribute to the instrument’s repertoire?
One of my favorite composers who never wrote but sanctioned a viola concerto will be featured on my next recording. I won’t disclose the composer’s name yet, but I am sure it will stir up some controversy!

There are countless viola jokes. Can you share a few of your favorites?
I have never heard of one before. 😉

To see videos of David Aaron Carpenter’s playing: http://www.youtube.com/user/violarocks45

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ELGAR and SCHNITTKE Viola Concertos

Podcast: David Aaron Carpenter plays Elgar and Schnittke

With his CD of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and Alfred Schnittke‘s Viola Concerto, New York-based violist David Aaron Carpenter puts himself onstage as one of the leading violists of the new generation. His performance of Edward Elgar‘s Cello Concerto also makes … Read More →