Violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM, on being a soloist with an orchestra of his peers

Josip Kvetek ’18MM

When violist Josip Kvetek ’18MM played Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola on a recital here at YSM last year, it wasn’t with an eye on performing the piece with the Yale Philharmonia, which he’ll do on Friday, Jan. 26. “It’s not very serious music,” Kvetek said, explaining that the Paganini sonata is a fun piece of music, a quirky sonata that just happens to be, in the words of principal conductor Peter Oundjian, “probably the most difficult piece ever written for viola.” After Kvetek’s recital performance last year, his teacher, Ettore Causa, suggested that he enter the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, which Kvetek won in April 2017.

The sonata, Kvetek said, is “not standard repertoire for viola.” Paganini, he explained, “commissioned a piece from Berlioz” to be played on a five-string viola. Berlioz, in response, composed Harold in Italy, an orchestral piece with viola solos. “Paganini didn’t like the first draft of the piece,” Kvetek said, “so he decided to write his own piece.” The result is “a sonata for solo instrument and orchestra, which is very odd.”

Kvetek will perform the piece on a standard viola, an instrument without an added E string, which means “I have to play with an improvised thumb position” to execute passages in the instrument’s upper register. In terms of interpretation, Kvetek said, “it’s very simple, harmonically and melodically. It’s just simple from every angle.” Still, it’s a piece that can easily feel like blocks of virtuoso passages arranged without much cohesion. “It starts becoming 50 little tasks,” Kvetek said, “and not one, coherent story. The part that helps with that is it’s very operatic. It’s much easier if you let go of the classical way of thinking.”

Now in the second year of YSM’s master of music degree program, studying with Causa, and with Steven Tenenbom while Causa is on sabbatical, Kvetek has done his share of playing with the Yale Philharmonia as a member of the orchestra’s viola section. On Jan. 26, he’ll be out front, next to guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who’ll lead a program that also includes Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version) and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Performing as the soloist with an orchestra of his peers is “a little bit more stressful,” Kvetek said, “because you do know all the people. The benefit is that they’re very supportive and very helpful in the process. Everybody is hoping or cheering that you play the best you can. It becomes much easier to play in that environment.” The stress, he said, comes from wanting “to present yourself well” in front of one’s peers.

Given the operatic nature of the Paganini sonata, Kvetek said, “The majority of it is on me to deliver a performance that other people can follow.” Part of that responsibility, to be sure, falls on Solzhenitsyn, with whom Kvetek hasn’t worked. Basing his impressions on YouTube videos, Kvetek described Solzhenitsyn as an expressive conductor, which “will help me connect with the orchestra and will help bring this piece together.” Because there’s no “prescribed way of how you perform” the Paganini, Kvetek said, “It’s up to me to play it just the way I want to play it.”

On Friday, Jan. 26, guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program that includes Stravinsky’s spellbinding Firebird Suite (1919 version), Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s inventive and affecting Symphony in D minor.

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Published January 18, 2018
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Ignat Solzhenitsyn, on “Firebird” and working with young musicians

Ignat Solzhenitsyn

Principal conductor Peter Oundjian has said that guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who’ll lead the Yale Philharmonia in a performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919 version, from the composer’s ballet score) on Friday, Jan. 26, “particularly wanted to do this piece with our students.” Solzhenitsyn recently pointed out that it’s “one of the very, very greatest orchestral paintings in our repertoire and a piece that, of course, is predicated upon the limitlessness of imagination.” Imagination, Solzhenitsyn said, is most fertile and open to influence during one’s youth. The Firebird Suite “is really a piece that, more than anything, is for young people,” he said. “It will showcase the Yale Philharmonia to beautiful effect.” The orchestra, in turn, will provide a capable vehicle for the stuff of Stravinsky’s imagination — and for the Russian legend that the composer explored — which will no doubt inspire the Woolsey Hall audience, just as it has long captivated audiences around the world.

With Solzhenitsyn, who serves as principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Yale Philharmonia will also perform Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s Symphony in D minor. Kvetek recently said that the Paganini is “not standard repertoire for the viola,” and that while it’s “very simple, harmonically and melodically,” it’s not a piece that on its own tells “one coherent story.”

“The part that helps with that,” Kvetek said, “is it’s very operatic.” Kvetek “nailed it,” Solzhenitsyn agreed, saying the Paganini is a show piece, one that’s very difficult for the soloist. What makes it fun, Solzhenitsyn said, is the very notion that Paganini, a virtuoso violinist, produced such a piece for the viola. “Charm, wit, teasing, easy grace — those kind of words inform this work,” he said.

Asked about the Franck being a piece that’s gone in and out of favor with orchestras, Solzhenitsyn bristled. “It’s a concept I still have trouble wrapping my head around,” he said, pointing to the obvious fact that “the intrinsic worth of ‘X’ has nothing to do with if it’s popular or not, or has very little to do with it.” He’s among those who don’t understand why the Franck symphony is not performed more frequently, give that it is, undeniably, a “touchstone of the Romantic symphonic repertoire.”

“The beauty, the power, the innocence, the honesty of this music, I think, speaks for itself,” Solzhenitsyn said.

Seeing Solzhenitsyn on the podium will be a new experience for members of the Philharmonia. And working with Yale students, for Solzhenitsyn, will present a different opportunity than the experiences he’s had leading ensembles of more seasoned musicians. A collective sense of wonder and discovery that is at times diminished in a professional ensemble, he said, is right there, in all its glory, for everyone to see in a young ensemble.

On Friday, Jan. 26, guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program that includes Stravinsky’s spellbinding Firebird Suite (1919 version), Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand Viola, with 2017 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition winner Josip Kvetek ’18MM, and Franck’s inventive and affecting Symphony in D minor.

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Published January 17, 2018
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Ettore Causa featured in new Pro Classical video

YSM faculty member Ettore Causa is featured in Viola con Variazioni, a new video presented by Pro Classical. The video, subtitled Ettore Causa: Fragments of a Violist, focuses on Causa’s approach to performing and his musical influences. A member of the YSM faculty since 2009, Italian-born Causa is considered one of the most brilliant violists performers and pedagogues of our time, having been awarded multiple international prizes, with solo and recital appearances throughout the world, and two albums on the Claves record label.

In the video profile, Causa discusses how he discovered the viola and his modern French instrument, his teacher Alberto Lysy, how he selects repertoire to perform, his teaching and collaboration with his colleagues at Yale, and his passion for photography. In addition, the video features a soundtrack of Causa performing various works including Robert Schumann’s Viola Concerto. MORE

Published March 4, 2016
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In Memoriam: David Schwartz, viola

David_Schwartz_violistDavid Schwartz (June 18, 1916 – June 5, 2013) was an American violist and music educator. His career spanned orchestral music, chamber music, and studio recording, but he is most recognized for his chamber music performances and recordings with the Yale and Paganini Quartets.

Schwartz was a faculty member at the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in the 1960s and played in the Yale Quartet with violinists Broadus Erle and Yoko Matsuda and cellist Aldo Parisot. Parisot is still a member of the School of Music faculty. MORE

Published June 11, 2013
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Kendra James ’12MM wins Shean Strings Competition

Violist Kendra James ’12MM won the first prize in the Shean Strings Competition in Edmonton. In addition to an award of $8,000, she wins the opportunity to perform as a soloist with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

She has previously soloed with the Brentwood-Westwood Symphony and the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra. Her performance with the Edmonton Symphony will be her solo debut with a professional Canadian orchestra.

James was among the six finalists selected to compete in the event, which took place May 18 through 20 at Alberta College.

“It was such a surprise and honour to place first at the Shean Competition, knowing how many remarkable musicians were competing from across Canada,” she told the Delta Optimist.

A native of Vancouver, Canada, Eleanor Kendra James began the violin at age four and changed to the viola at fourteen. Kendra was a prizewinner in the Atlantic Symphony Concerto Competition and the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra Instrumental Competition in 2011. As the grand prizewinner of the 2010 Brentwood-Westwood Symphony Artists of Tomorrow Competition, Kendra was awarded the Howard Engelman Scholarship. Kendra also received a BC Arts Council Scholarship in 2010.

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Published June 3, 2011
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Bo Li ’09MM appointed principal viola of Hong Kong Philharmonic

Bo Li ’09MM has been appointed the principal viola of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. He will begin work with the orchestra in August. At the Yale School of Music, Li studied with the late Jesse Levine. “He taught me a lot,” Li said of Levine. “That I can get this position mostly comes from what I learned from him.”

While still a student at Yale, Li was appointed principal viola of the Atlanta Opera for the 2009-2010 season. He graduated in 2007 from the Beijing Central Conservatory, where he studied with Wing Ho ’87MM, also a student of Levine.

Li is a frequent soloist with the EOS Orchestra under the baton of Yongyan Hu.  As a recitalist, he has made numerous appearances as a soloist in China, the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, and Canada. At age eighteen he toured throughout China, performing the complete Bach unaccompanied cello suites.  In 2005, he was invited twice by Tung Chee Hwa, the first elected Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, to give a private solo recital.

Also active as an orchestral and chamber musician, Li has appeared as the principal violist with orchestras under the baton of Valery Gergiev, Seiji Ozawa, David Zinman and Peter Oundjian. He has participated in festivals including the Aspen Music Festival, the PMF Festival (Japan), the Great Mountain Music Festival (Korea), and the Beethoven Music Festival (Germany). He has earned several awards, including the Mr. Ng Fung Chow Memorial Scholarship, the Tertis International Viola Competition (UK), and the China National Viola Competition. He is the winner of the 2007 Great Mountain Music Festival Concerto Competition, which resulted in a performance with the GMMFS Festival Orchestra under conductor Shinik Hahm.

Published March 2, 2011
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Violist Ettore Causa makes Faculty Artist Series debut

causa_printThe Yale School of Music presents a Faculty Artist Recital featuring Italian violist Ettore Causa on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 8 pm in Sprague Hall. Causa, the newest member of the artist faculty at the Yale School of Music, has been called a “magnificent, consummate musician” (All Music Guide) and has earned high praise for his warm tone.

Causa’s debut CD of viola transcriptions (Claves, 2006) featured several of Causa’s own transcriptions and was warmly received by critics. This recital will feature Causa’s arrangement of six Brahms songs, as well as Krzysztof Penderecki’s Cadenza for Solo Viola; Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae (Reflections on a Song of Dowland); and Rachmaninov’s Sonata, Op. 19, arranged for viola by Vadim Borisovsky. Causa will perform with pianist Ryo Yanagitani, a graduate of the School of Music who recently won the Gold Medal and three special prizes in the San Antonio Piano Competition.

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Published February 22, 2010
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Bo Li ’09MM to be principal viola of Atlanta Opera

Bo Li, violaBo Li, who will graduate this year with a master of music degree in viola, has been appointed principal viola with the Atlanta Opera for the 2009-2010 season. Bo Li studied with the late Jesse Levine at the Yale School of Music after graduating from in 2007 from the Beijing Central Conservatory, where he studied with Wing Ho ’87MM, also a student of Levine.

“I would like to show my deep appreciation to Jesse,” Li said. “I could only have received this appointment at Atlanta Opera because of him. He not only taught me how to play music, but also to let me understand how to treat other people and how to live as a man: a great mentor! I have also been taught by Wing Ho for many years, who was Jesse’s former student, and I have learned so much from him also.” MORE

Published May 1, 2009
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