Viola Concerto, 2nd and 3rd movement
In this masterclass, Professor Isabel Charisius helps student Gregor Bugar navigate Bartók’s challenging Viola Concerto. The pair work together to find a full sound that will project into the hall, even against such a large orchestral accompaniment. She encourages him to release tension throughout his body, particularly in his wrist, which will not only improve the volume of sound but also make difficult shifts easier and avoid too much bouncing in the bow.
In addition, Charisius offers sage advice on how to practice difficult passages and proper posture so that they become second nature. Some strategies include mirror practice, practicing slowly with great mindfulness, and building confidence over time so that unnecessary stress does not occur during a performance. Overall, she advocates for control of bow, technique, and phrasing to create a convincing onstage presence.
Generating a full, rich sound that projects over an orchestra.
Relaxing the wrist and releasing tension in the body.
Controlling the bow to avoid too much bouncing.
Strategies for practicing.
Conveying musical ideas with confidence.
The Viola Concerto was one of Bartók’s final works, drafted in 1945 in New York while the composer was sick with leukemia. The piece was a commission from violist William Primrose. Bartók intended to confer with the violist and revise, but unfortunately did not live long enough to do so. Bartók’s friend, composer Tibor Serly, completed the work in 1949. The final version consists of three uninterrupted movements. It incorporates octatonicism, chromaticism, whole-tone scales, and other modes to produce colorful harmonies. The piece opens with a cadenza-like section for the solo viola, then proceeds into a vague sonata form. A virtuosic cadenza occurs between the development and recapitulation. A short transition in the bassoon part leads into the lyrical second movement, which is in a simple ternary song form and gives the soloist a chance to showcase all registers of the viola. At the end of the movement, a quick scherzo develops into the dancelike finale. The third movement’s melodic material derives from a Scottish folk tune, which may have been an homage to Primrose’s heritage. This technically demanding movement drives to a sensational conclusion.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this viola masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Isabel Charisius’s feedback and comments.
The prize winners were selected by a jury comprising (Alban Berg Quartet), 1983 to mark the 50th anniversary of Banff Centre.
Isabel Charisius is one of the finest violists and chamber musicians of her generation. As a member of the legendary Alban Berg Quartet, and a regular soloist with leading orchestras, Charisius has appeared regularly at the most prestigious venues in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.
She enjoys working in projects with distinguished string quartets, various ensembles and many renowned soloists in international venues. She is frequently invited as a jury member to prestigious international competitions.
For many years, Charisius has been dedicated to developing the journeys of new generations of musicians. She is an internationally recognized teacher of viola and chamber music. Her prolific teaching activity at the Universities of Cologne and Lucerne as well as a wide range of masterclasses at some of the most prestigious institutions, has produced a large community of alumni. Her students can be found among the winners of international competitions, and many of them are members of the world’s finest ensembles and orchestras.
Isabel Charisius plays the extraordinary viola «ABQ» by Laurentius Storioni (1780).
Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born on March 25th 1881 and is considered one of the most famous Hungarian musician and composer along with Franz Liszt. Bartók was interested in music early on, and his parents quickly recognized it. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest and composed his first major work in 1903. His early works were influenced by Richard Strauss and Johannes Brahms; large-scale orchestral music that was well-received. Soon after, he traveled extensively in Europe to study local folk music. Around this time, he was married to his first wife and had a son, born in 1910.
Eventually, the composer and his second wife (his first marriage ended in divorce) emigrated to the USA due to the Nazi party coming into power and the advent of the Second World War. In America, Bartók continued to work, both composing and collecting traditional music from his native region. When he fell ill in 1940, he wrote his most notable work The Concerto for Orchestra, and died five years later in New York City from leukemia, at age 64.
He left behind a great legacy of modern music influenced by both classical and folk themes, and that continues to fascinate audiences to this day thanks to a mixture of intellectualism and lyricism.