Scott Slapin (b. 1974) is a composer of eight albums of chamber music and a featured viola soloist on dozens of premiere recordings including the first complete viola version ever made of J.S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas. His playing has received critical acclaim in the American Record Guide, Fanfare, Mundo Clásico, Musical Opinion, and Strad, and his compositions have been performed by hundreds of musicians throughout Europe and the Americas as well as at international competitions/workshops including the ARD, Primrose, and Tertis. Scott studied composition with Richard Lane (1933-2004) and at eighteen was one of the youngest graduates of the Manhattan School of Music, where he was the youngest student in the studio of viola virtuoso Emanuel Vardi's (1917-2011). A former fellow at the Montalvo Arts Center in California, Scott has been performing for more than twenty years as one half of the Slapin-Solomon Viola Duo and can be heard playing solo Bach, Paganini Caprices and some of his own compositions on soundtracks for film and TV. Scott maintains a private violin, viola, and composition teaching studio in western Massachusetts as well as worldwide via Skype. For more information, visit him at www.scottslapin.com.Photos:
The 1970's- Background:
I was born in Newark, NJ in 1974 and grew up in smaller towns in the northern-central part of the state. My parents were professional musicians who met playing in the Kansas City Philharmonic in the 1960's.
The 1980's- Education:
I began violin lessons at the age of six with Barbara Barstow. At twelve I began studying with viola virtuoso Emanuel Vardi (1917-2011). Mr. Vardi focused on developing technique and had me concentrate on the standard violin repertoire (with no simplifications!) on viola: Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, Paganini's Caprices, studies by Kreutzer, Rode, Gavinies, shorter pieces by Ernst, Kreisler etc., many of which I later recorded (mostly on the Eroica Classical Recordings label) and were either the first or among the first versions on viola.
I studied composition with Richard Lane (1933-2004), who later became a friend and mentor. Though a few orchestras had already played some of my compositions, my official debut as a composer was in 1989 with a 12-minute orchestral piece performed in the New Jersey State Theater by the Brunswick Symphony under the direction of Raymond Wojcik (1957-2014). The piece received favorable reviews in the New Jersey Star Ledger and a few other NJ papers. A couple months later I was off to the North Carolina School of the Arts as a double-major, soon talked into putting composition on hold to focus on playing. ("You can always compose later, but now is the time to develop technique.") After a year, I was accepted two years early into the Manhattan School of Music, where I was the youngest student in Mr. Vardi's studio.
The 1990's- Solo and Chamber Playing:
At eighteen I was one of the youngest graduates of the Manhattan School of Music and performing daily as the solo violist in the 1992-1993 NYC production (Circle Repertory Theater) of Gerald Busby's Orpheus In Love, a chamber opera about a viola-playing Orpheus. It was a lot of fun, and a year later Gerald invited me to premiere his Muse for Solo Viola in Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall. I gave many solo recitals, played Harold In Italy, Paganini's Moses Variations (on the C-String of course!), Bach's Sixth Brandenburg (with virtuoso Ken Cooper on the harpsichord) and other solo pieces with local orchestras, and was performing as a chamber musician with many of the excellent string players and pianists in the NYC area including Seymour Barab (1921-2014), Nina Beilina (1931-2018), Betty Rosenblum, musicians from the NY Philharmonic, and too many others to mention here.
On my 21st birthday I performed from memory in one evening all of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas and a couple years later made the (and my) first complete recording of the cycle on viola. Somehow it had not been done until 1998. Back then there was generally a much stronger bias against playing these works on viola than there is today. I met Tanya in January of 1999 touring the West Coast with the Philadelphia Virtuosi. We were the viola section! Tanya already had a gig lined up for afterward--- as principal violist with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera in eastern Tennessee, so I opened the union paper and lo and behold, the Knoxville Symphony (also in eastern Tenn.) had an opening. During this time, my Bach recording had been featured on a lot of radio stations throughout the US, and for my 25th birthday, one of Chicago's two Classical radio stations (at the time) did an hour and a half program interviewing me and playing some of my compositions and recordings.
The 2000's- Orchestras, Viola Duos, and A Return to Composing:
I began this decade as principal violist with the Knoxville Symphony and Chamber Orchestras and finished it playing a season with the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops. In between, Tanya and I played as members of the main orchestras in São Paulo (Brazil), Louisville, and New Orleans, where we were living when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. A few years later we won 'Best Chamber Performance of 2008' at the Big Easy Entertainment Awards for one of our duo recitals. Together, we toured the US and South America in these ensembles, sharing the stage with some big names including Itzhak Perlman, Leonidas Kavakos, Joshua Bell, Roberto Diaz, Yo-yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, Placido Domingo, Frederica von Stade, Dave Brubeck, Smokey Robinson, Ben E. King, and the New York Philharmonic. We also recorded with Dr. John in New Orleans, Randy Newman with the NY Phil., and for Lionsgate and ABC (movie and tv soundtracks. Some of my solo Bach and Paganini Caprices can be heard on film and tv soundtracks, too... on viola, of course!)
In 2006 I was an artist in resident at the Montalvo Arts Center in California, where I began to get back seriously into writing, as my teachers in North Carolina told me I would. My Nocturne (in memory of Richard Lane) was being widely performed, and I was commissioned to write the required piece for the 2008 Primrose International Viola Competition, Recitative, which became an audition piece for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble for the next decade or so. I served on the jury for the inaugural Maurice Gardner Composition Competition and co-premiered Rachel Matthew's winning work Dreams (with the composer at the piano) at the International Viola Congress in Cincinnati. Tanya and I were increasingly performing as a viola duo with recitals around much of the US. The American Viola Society did a piece on me (interview etc.) and asked me to be the soloist for their first album entitled Premieres, with pianist Yui Asano, and I was interviewed for several dissertations about modern violist-composers and other viola-related topics.
The 2010's- Composing and Teaching:
Having each seen 48 of the 50 states, we decided western Mass. was the place for us, and we moved here in 2012, with virtually no previous connections to the area. Before our private studio was fully up and running, I taught at Mount Holyoke College, the Williston-Northampton School, and the Charlemont Academy. We have given duo recitals locally every year (and often much more frequently) since we have been here. Although my parents, my uncle, Tanya, and I had previously recorded one disc of my compositions, Reflection, it was almost entirely in this decade that I wrote the music to seven more albums of chamber music, some that we recorded and some were recorded by the Wistaria String Quartet and the Penn State Viola Ensemble. Individual pieces of mine were also included on other people's albums, and you can hear me and Tanya playing excerpts of my Nocturne and Elegy-Caprice in the final scenes of the award-winning docudrama Secret Life, Secret Death.
I also wrote beginning studies for upper string players, and Tanya and I made popular arrangements of Classical and Christmas music for duo gig books--- first available in viola-viola versions, but we soon issued them in many other duo instrumentations as well. We arranged (for viola duo only) well-known symphonic masterworks (Beethoven's 5th, Ride of the Valkyries etc.), pushing the limits of what's possible with two violas. Approaching the end of the decade, I wrote Fanfare Under the Sunsphere for the 2020 American Viola Society Festival, figuring that a gathering of violists really needed an Olympics-style fanfare.
Tanya and I have now been performing as a duo for over twenty years, and via Skype, we've taught private lessons (viola, violin, composition) on five continents. Come check us out at violaduo.com!
Scott demonstrating a Paganini Caprice on
the viola during a masterclass at the
Hartt School of Music.
Scott and Tanya giving a class on the
Bach Chaconne at the Lyra Festival and
Workshop at Smith College.
The Slapin-Solomon Duo premiering Scott’s
Four Seasons of New England at the
Gaylord Library in South Hadley, MA.
Scott performing his own piece, Capricious, with Tanya Solomon and Ila Rondeau at the 2012 Viola Congress in Rochester, NY. (photo by Dwight Pounds)
Composers Forum at the 2008 Viola Congress in Tempe, AZ. From left to right: Moderator James DeMars and composers Scott Slapin, Bruce E. Miller, and Kenji Bunch.
Scott premiering Rachel Matthews’ Dreams at the 2010 Viola Congress in Cincinnati, OH (with composer).
(photo by Dwight Pounds)
The Wistaria String Quartet recording an album of
Scott at Penn State coaching the viola ensemble, giving a masterclass, and playing a recital.
A recital at the Williston Northampton
School where Scott taught violin and viola and
coached the ensemble.
Slapin on the campus of Mt. Holyoke College where he taught viola and coached chamber music.
Scott recording one of Frank Proto’s Soundscapes
in Cincinnati, OH.
Performing Elliot Corner’s Energico for solo viola
in Amherst, MA.