Violas have absorbed a lot of my time in recent years. I have had commissions for a wide range of sizes, which has helped me to think deeply about how to make violas which are both comfortable for the player and which sound outstanding. This work has included the development of my own model of small violas for children and petite adults, in sizes from 13¼ inch to 15 inches.
Most of my violas are made to order, as I find that this is the best way of producing a viola which is optimal for the player both in sound and in feel. It can be particularly helpful to customise neck shape and size and string spacing to suit the individual.
I use models based on the very early makers from Brescia in Northern Italy; Gasparo da Salo and Paolo Maggini. These models have considerable benefits for the player, both in terms of their design and proportions, and their tone. This reconciles two things which can sometimes be opposites; a rich, dark sound and projection with power.
Viola players usually think of size in terms of body length, but string length is also an important consideration. Unlike violins, where the string length is fairly standard, for violas, for any given length of back, the string length can vary. The shorter the string length, the less the left hand has to stretch.
The violas I make for professional players range from 15 inches (38cm) to 16 5/8 inches (42.3cm). Even the smallest of these is powerful and resonant, with a focussed and projecting C string. Over the years, owners of my violas have included principal players of the English National Ballet and National Youth orchestras as well as three members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, players in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, City of London Sinfonia, Oslo Philharmonic, European Union Youth, Gustav Mahler Youth and Bournemouth Symphony orchestras.
Matthew Maguire has played on one of my 16 inch violas for the last ten years, since he was a pupil at Chetham’s School of Music. He’s now a member of the City of London Sinfonia.