On Tuesday 29 May I went to a concert at the newly refurbished Purcell Room, the smallest venue at London’s Southbank Centre. The concert marked the life of a patron of contemporary music, Leo Hepner, who himself played the viola. As well as the Arditti Quartet there was music for solo viola; the world premiere of Milica Djordjevic’s Pomen II, played on one of my violas by Paul Beckett. Paul has had my viola since he was a student at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. Having completed his studies he has opted to specialise in contemporary music and is now the viola player of Ensemble Recherche in Freiburg, Germany.
It was great to hear my viola put through its paces in a challenging work full of many different techniques and sounds. Paul played amazingly – all from memory!
But it wasn’t the only viola treat of the evening. The young viola player Timothy Ridout and the viola player of the Arditti quartet, Ralf Ehlers, played George Benjamin’s Viola Viola. Timothy plays a 16th century viola by Peregrino di Zanetto, one of the very earliest viola makers, and a forerunner of my heroes Gasparo da Salo and Paolo Maggini in the north Italian town of Brescia. It was great to hear this viola in the flesh; I’ve seen one in a museum but never heard one before. The sound was dark, rich and responsive. Ralf Ehlers played on a viola he made himself in 2005; the only time I’ve ever come across a professional string player who made their own instrument.