My mother, Margi Ramsey (1940-2008), was a professional cellist, and my father, Bill Slapin (1942-2018) was a professional doublebassist. With my parents covering the lower string instruments, I was expected to cover the upper ones, and at the age of six I began violin lessons with Barbara Barstow, with the addition of the viola a couple years later.
Barbara Barstow was also one of the conductors at the New Jersey Youth Symphony, where we played a lot of Romantic-era music. My final viola teacher, Emanuel Vardi (1917-2011), referred me to study with my composition teacher, Richard Lane (1933-2004), and 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 an idea as to his musical inclinations. In short, my teachers had a Romantic-era approach to music, filtered through the lens of 20th Century America. That my own musical language is simply an extension of that shouldn't be a surprise.
While Mr. Vardi also played concertos and in 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 eight albums of violacentric compositions 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 and recorded them later---- with my 1998 recording of the Bach being the first of its kind on viola. On my 21st birthday I even 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.)
Because of Mr. Vardi's insistence on pushing the technical limits of the viola and not shying away from difficulties, I was exposed to many techniques useful for creating different colors in writing for the viola. Had I not played the 3rd Paganini Caprice, would I have written double-octave trills in my trio The Crooked Dance? 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?
And from my main composition teacher Richard Lane, who later became a mentor and friend, I learned 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 as 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. So, while I made my debut as a composer thirty years ago in the New Jersey State Theater with an orchestral piece (I had just turned fifteen), I ended up taking a break from writing for close to a decade while I concentrated on playing the viola.
Sadly, most people I've mentioned here-- whose influences led directly to all this--- didn't live to see it. Richard Lane only heard some of the music for the first album before he died (my Nocturne is dedicated to him), and as far as I know Mr. Vardi hadn't heard any. My mother who played on the first album died the following year. (There is music dedicated to her on album two.) And my father died last year before we began to put together the eighth album, which has a piece in his memory.
The music for these eight albums was written over the span of more than two decades (between 1997 and 2018), and the recording began in 2004 and ended in 2019. The vast majority of it was with Larry Bentley at Cellar Dweller Studios in North Plainfield, NJ, with whom I've worked for over twenty years. Larry has given me great advice and encouragement along the way. (And great beer. Larry is also a brewer. He designed most of the album covers, too.) The last three albums were mastered by Larry but two were recorded in western Massachusetts (where we now live) at Northfire Studios in Amherst, MA with engineer Garrett Sawyer, and the album performed by the Penn State Viola Ensemble was recorded at Penn State with engineer Jonathan Dexter. Working with Professor Tim Deighton and the Penn State Viola Ensemble was a great experience, as was working with the Wistaria String Quartet.
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 most of the albums!! That plus a whole lot more is why our final duo album, "A Fifth of Slapin, All You Need is Viola (or Two)", is dedicated to her.
So what now? My Prelude was recently recorded on a French album 'Viola Around the World'. Tanya and I will continue to give concerts and teach in western Mass. and via Skype. 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.
Scott Slapin, 2019