My mother was a cellist, and my father and his brother are bassists. At home the music that was most heard was Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn. My first violin/viola teacher, Barbara Barstow, was a conductor at the New Jersey Youth Symphony, where we played a lot of Romantic-era music. My final viola teacher, Emanuel Vardi, referred me to study with my composition teacher, Richard Lane. They often collaborated together and were on the same page musically. Richard Lane had a picture of Rachmaninoff next to his piano, if that gives you any idea. I would say generally that all of my teachers had a Romantic-era approach to music, filtered through the lens of 20th Century America. My musical language is simply an extension of what I play and enjoy listening to.
While Mr. Vardi also played concertos and quartets etc., his main interest was the viola recital. Similarly, Richard Lane's favorite string instrument was the viola, and though he wrote music for ensembles of all sizes, most of it is recital/chamber music. Playing chamber music was common at my parents' and grandparents' houses, and I often wrote pieces for such events. I am also married to a violist! So if five albums of violacentric compositions with an emphasis on viola duos might seem to be an extremely specific preoccupation, for me it was the most natural direction to go in.
Mr. Vardi was a pioneer of the viola. He made the first viola-recording of all 24 Paganini Caprices. He didn't simplify the material as some do, but rather he played them as most violinists of the time did, just a fifth lower. The Paganini Caprices and the Bach Sonatas and Partitas are considered the twin-bibles of violin playing, and he didn't accept compromises for the viola. I began both sets while studying with him. I later made the second commercial viola-recording of the full Caprices and the first complete recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas on viola. On my 21st birthday I performed the complete 2-plus hours of the Bach from memory for some friends and family and then for the first time legally drank beer. Still today, my go-to material for keeping in shape is Bach and Paganini. (I also still enjoy beer.)
Mr. Vardi brought techniques and effects to the viola that many violists until then avoided (and some still do.) Had I not played the 3rd Paganini Caprice, would I have written double-octave trills in my trio The Crooked Dance? Doubtful. I think it's a nice effect that couldn't otherwise be achieved. Would I have come up with chromatic scales in fifths (which can sound a little like the wind)? Passages in unison (which can create an eerie, steely effect)? Scales in tenths, four octave arpeggios? Because of Mr. Vardi's insistence on not shying away from difficulties, I was exposed to many techniques useful for creating different colors in writing for the viola.
And from my only composition teacher Richard Lane, who later became a mentor and friend, I learned of course about the writing itself. Form, development, orchestration etc. As he was also a pianist, we collaborated in several concerts as well. While attending the North Carolina School of the Arts during high school, which I entered with the intent of being a double major, I was encouraged by both the viola and composition teachers to concentrate solely on playing while I was younger and to get back to composing later in life. That's what I did. Sadly, most people I've mentioned here-- whose influences led directly to this project--- didn't live to see it. Richard Lane only heard some of the music for the first album before he died, and as far as I know Mr. Vardi hadn't heard any. My mother who played on the first album died the following year.
The oldest music was written in 1997 (The Triptych), but most everything else was written after 2000. Recording the five albums spanned more than a decade, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2016. Almost all of it was with Larry Bentley at Cellar Dweller Studios in North Plainfield, NJ. It's now almost twenty years that we've been working together, and he has given me great advice and encouragement along the way. And great beer. Larry is also a brewer. He designed the album covers, too. One-stop shopping! Many thanks also go to David M. Bynog, Ruth and Larry Rosen, Lynne H. Richter, Bernie and Naomi Zaslav, Joanna Binford, David Rosen, Rachel Matthews, Erika Slish, Eliab Alvarez de la Campa, Rich and Stephania Moyers, Allen Salyer (Detroit), Gloria Ro Kolb, Margaret Motter Ward, Dianne Cooke, Magnum Opus Music Teachers, Karen Collins, Katherine Shields, and The Music Academies, Inc. for donating money to help produce the second album, All Viola, All the Time.
And last but far from least, Tanya, who has suffered through all of my rewrites, typed most of the music into Finale, and played on all of the albums!! That plus a whole lot more is why the final album, "A Fifth of Slapin, All You Need is Viola (or Two)", is dedicated to her.
So what now? We'll see. Tanya and I will continue to give concerts and teach in western Mass. and via Skype. I just finished a commission called 'Cremonus' Revenge', a concerto for an entire viola section and full orchestra. I have a couple ideas for what may come next. In the meantime I hope you enjoy these recordings, which you can find at CD Baby by clicking here. And if you're a violist and want to play some of it, almost all of the sheet music is currently available. Just click on the sheet music button at the upper left corner of this page for details. Thanks for listening.
April 16, 2016 South Hadley, Massachusetts