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Work of the Week – Joerg Widmann: Viola Concerto

The entire beginning is played without a bow. The conductor reacts slightly irritated.” Surprisingly, this is not a stage direction, but is taken from the score of Joerg Widmann’s Viola Concerto. The SWR-Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Theodor Currentzis, will perform Widmann’s work throughout their current European tour. Premiered in 2015 with Antoine Tamestit as soloist, the programme for this tour is one of German, Ukranian and Russian heritage, sending a message of unification and peace.

The Viola Concerto by Joerg Widmann – a music theatre? 

Widmann’s writing for viola using extended eclectic techniques, including entering with a viola ‘drumming’ effect, combined with pizzicato passages. Technical variation continues, bar 155 asking the soloist to place the bow on the strings “like a holy sword”. Those who now expect a great solo cadenza have to be patient – the score asks that the instrument first be tuned. Also for the orchestra, Widmann has surprises in mind: The piano makes use of a scotch glass to provide a unique sound world. Despite the generous instrumentation, the orchestra plays mostly discreetly. The interactions between orchestra and viola takes precedence. Intimate duets are placed next to “annoyed” or “frightened” reactions to the other sounds. In the performance, the soloist moves through the entire orchestra, taking a  total of seven positions, beginning by the harp and ending next to the conductor. With its detailed instructions and choreography, the work offers the audience not only great music, but also an exciting visual experience. 

“For me as a musician, playing chamber music with viola is one of the most beautiful things. Just on the C- String of the viola, stories can be told which would be unthinkable on any other string instrument ” Joerg Widmann

The European Tour, which runs until 8th April, includes performances in Barcelona, Madrid, Hamburg and Vienna. 



photo: © SWR/Moritz Metzger