Thursday, October 18 , 2018, 2:40 pm | Fair 76º


UCSB’s Helen Callus Explores British Viola Literature

"The Land of Hope and Glory" features some more modern music to make her instrument shine.

The dynamic violist Helen Callus seems determined to establish an ever-broader public appreciation for the solo and virtuoso potential of her instrument. Since joining the UCSB Music Department faculty a few years ago, she has offered a series of remarkable concerts starring the viola in a lead role.

Violist Helen Callus turns her brilliant attention to the English works for her instrument in a Tuesday performance at Music Academy of the West.
Violist Helen Callus turns her brilliant attention to the English works for her instrument in a Tuesday performance at Music Academy of the West.
Of course, the further back in time she has reached, the more she has had to rely upon transcriptions of works written for other instruments, since very few of the big-name composers of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries wrote solo sonatas or concertos for the viola. This side of 1900, however, she has had a good deal more to choose from: Hindemith, Walton, Bloch, and Piston, among others, as well as Callus’ own personal hero, the English violist and composer, Rebecca Clarke.

Above all, Callus appears to believe the viola is a perfectly legitimate choice for romantic lead in any musical drama. That looks like the subtext of her next recital — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall, 1070 Fairway Road — although the ostensible purpose is to explore the viola literature produced in England in the early 20th century; hence the title “Land Of Hope And Glory.” Callus’ frequent collaborator, UCSB faculty pianist Robert Koenig, will once again make himself indispensable for this concert.

The “Land of Hope and Glory” program consists of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Suite for viola and piano, Benjamin Dale’s English Dance and Romance from the Viola Sonata, Opus 2, Clarke’s Morpheus and Sonata for viola and piano, as well as works by Pamela Harrison and Arthur Butterworth.

Dale (1885-1943) had many successes before 1914. His viola music was composed mostly for the English violist Lionel Tertis.

In her long life, Clarke (1886-1979) had a very successful career as a violist and, all things considered, a pretty good run as a composer. As a woman, of course, she was frequently handed the short end of the stick in competitions, but she managed to win a few, tie a few, and to get a great many of her works published — even, occasionally, recorded. That was not the case with Harrison (1915-1990), who labored in obscurity, every now and then registering with a string quartet, a piano trio or a viola sonata, before fading again from view. She was killed in an automobile accident at age 74.

Butterworth (1923-) is treated as if he were as obscure as Clarke, Harrison and Dale, but his composing got him on the honors list as an M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire), which is all the Beatles ever got. He isn’t well-known outside of North England. The great majority of his 110-plus compositions were written for larger ensembles, although he did compose a Viola-Piano Sonata in 1978. Probably, Callus will play some of that.

Admission to this concert is $15 general, $7 students, with tickets available at the door.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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