Review of Robin Ireland’s Introduction to ‘Concert Études for Viola’

Robin Ireland’s new set of 12 ‘Concert Études for Viola’ were launched at the  2014 Viola Day.

Laura Sinnerton, teacher and Violist with the BBC’s National Orchestra of Wales reviews: An Introduction to ‘Concert Études for Viola’

I am a great believer in the importance of including exercises and studies in one’s practice routine. The opportunity to focus in on one or two specific aspects of left hand or bowing technique in order that you be its master when seeing it in ‘the real world’, is quite simply the quickest, most efficient and most effective way to increase skill, competence and confidence upon one’s instrument.

On 12th January, as part of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Viola Day, I was delighted to be able to attend Robin Ireland’s masterclass and talk on his new ‘Concert  Études for Viola’. In my opinion, the important characteristic of these Études is that each Étude is explicitly connected to a particular style. As both a performer and a teacher, this is a welcome delineation as I frequently come across students who are technically competent, but lack the knowledge to apply that competence stylistically; somewhere there is a breakdown in the understanding of the relationship between technique and style. Moreover, as Concert Études , these short pieces also go someway to reinforce the sentiment that while technique should be cultivated to flawlessness, its mastery is in order that it be the servant of the music.

The score is composed of twelve Études, ranging in style from the French Overture to the Romantic Salon Style and beyond. For me there were three highlights. Étude 7: Fantasy in B minor (Romantic. Slow Bows) is an excellent opportunity for the violist to explore the relationship between bow speed, weight and point of contact in the creation of line and the development of a beautiful viola tone (this was executed with great aplomb by Birmingham Conservatoire student, Chu-Hui Huang).  Étude 9: Metre Change Study (East European Folk) is an excellent introduction to the style of playing required for the likes of Bartok and technically requires the student complete coordination between left and right hand.

Étude 11: Atonal (Second Vienesse School) I feel should be required learning for students! The swift changes between extreme tasto, ponticelli, harmonics, natural harmonics, and pizzicato, not to mention the angular leaps in the melodic line, all the while maintaining one’s calm and poise, and giving the music shape, are most certainly a challenge. Certainly, orchestral musicians are required to have these skills ‘on tap’ as it were, frequently with little rehearsal time – definitely better to spend some time on this etude in the privacy of your own practice room rather than looking dazed and confused in a rehearsal studio somewhere!

Congratulations to all the students involved in the masterclass (it is no mean feat to stand up in a packed lecture theatre, when one has been patiently waiting one’s turn – and one’s fingers are getting cold!), and a massive congratulations, and thank you to Robin for this useful, technically challenging, and musically very attractive series of Concert Études for Viola.


Gabriella Gémesi, studying on the  Postgraduate Orchestral Course with  the CBSO, performed Étude  1: Baroque/Bach at the 12 January 2014  Viola Day.

She  writes  from a student’s perspective;

Robin Ireland is one of the best musician and teacher I have ever met. His open-minded, curious and searching approach and his massive experience in performing and teaching helps him understand how to solve the  technical difficulties which we have in our every day practice as well as making us good musicians and performers.

It was a pleasure to play on the introductory session of  Robin’s Viola Concert Études. The  Études try to lead the player through different styles while addressing technical difficulties which have not been addressed before. They fill a void  for viola players, as not many études/studies have been written for the viola and we often play violin-study transcriptions which don’t really help to gain a deep insight in the problems/issues of viola technique.

The Études are ‘Concert Études’ which means they need to be performed on stage, and indeed, listening to Robin Ireland and my fellow student’s performances was very enjoyable and in several cases really entertaining.

I played the 1st Étude, which is called Baroque (Bach) and remembers me of Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata in g-minor, as well as his Brandenburg concerto No. 3. The first part is a very beautiful and harmonically written Adagio, you get to practice how to play chords and how to connect them. The second, Allegro part contains a couple of virtuoso left hand passages and several bow strokes which
can occur in Bach’s music. It is  good  to experiment how well-controlled the right arm and hand can be while you are engaged by the playful and dance-like character of the Allegro.

I hope I will have the  opportunity to perform the other Études in the future and I can just recommend to every viola player who wants to develop their technique while still playing beautiful music to get to know these amazing pieces!