Review of Masterclasses: Viola Day – 12 January 2014

Masterclasses: Viola Day – 12 January 2014.

Introduction by Conservatoire students Elsabé Raath and Beth Gifford

The  Viola Day in Birmingham attracted  violists of all ages and experiences to the Conservatoire. All  violists were given the option of applying for a masterclass with Louise Lansdown, Blazej M, Laura Sinnerton, Robin Ireland and Rose Redgrave.

Through a variety of repertoire, from composers such as J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Frank Bridge and others, these tutors indeed passed on informative facts regarding articulation, interpretation, character, style, as well as general technical aspects of viola playing.

All the teachers demonstrated their fully rounded skill and versatility, from Bach and  Hoffmeister to the Garth Knox Quatertone study.

Filled with unapologetic viola-energy, these instructive classes were definitely inspiring to participants as well as viewers.

Viva viola!

Beth is a 4th year student at the Birmingham Conservatoire and Elsabé is  in her 1st year of study for a  Master of Music degree, also at the Conservatoire.


Beth Gifford  continues and  writes about   Rose Redgrave’s  Masterclass

Bach Suite No. 1 Prelude and Vaughan Williams’  Christmas Dance.

In the afternoon I attended a masterclass with Rose Redgrave, working primarily on popular grade 8 repertoire, the Prelude from Bach’s ‘Cello Suite No. 1, and Vaughan- Williams’ Christmas Dance.

Rose started by focussing on drawing out that rich viola sound, encouraging the players to use more natural arm weight and a flatter hair to unlock that richer sound quality which makes us all love the viola so much.

She also encouraged both the girls (much to their delight) to have a go on her viola which produced some really excellent results, particularly once they returned to their own instruments and looked for that new sound.

With Bach the issue of editions was discussed and, (for me for the first time) we saw someone perform from I-Pad, which raised a few questions about the role of technology in music, though this did present a few issues when it came to marking in the bowing.

Editions were also discussed, particularly the infamous bowing of the Chester WatsonForbes edition in comparison to the more favoured Peters edition.  Rose also worked on the hierarchy of notes within the bar, bow distribution and the exploration of  directional harmony.

The Vaughan Williams served as a perfect foil for Rose to explore the colours and chameleon like nature of the viola, looking at characters and how to reveal them through use of vibrato, bow speed and contact point. The physical pitfalls were also raised and due focus was given to finding a comfortable balance between the collar  bone and hand support. All this led to an emergence of natural expression and freedom of phrasing which made this a truly exciting master class, in addition to meeting two young and driven players right at the beginning of their journey with the viola.


First year Conservatoire student Rebecca Stubbs,  writes about the Masterclasses delivered by Dr Louise Lansdown:

Hoffmeister Concerto in D major and Concerto in  Bb major

At last year’s Viola Dayin  2013 I enjoyed my first master class, and I was lucky enough to be taught by the wonderful Dr Louise Lansdown. Her master classes this year featured extracts from the Hoffmeister Concerto in D major and the Concerto in Bb major, and I felt no less privileged to be watching from an audience perspective.  The participants played with both skill and determination, but Louise wanted to stretch the performers further by experimenting with their technique, giving the pieces more ‘sparkle’.

Louise considered the importance of understanding how our bodies work in order to play the viola well. She focused on the first performer’s bow stroke, which tended to wander from the heel and didn’t have enough weight to it. An exercise which strengthens the outside fingers on the bow arm was demonstrated, in which the piece was played without the index finger.

Another exercise showed that having flexibility in the right hand and wrist allows us to play more comfortably nearer the heel of the bow. This resulted in a much warmer tone quality with a springiness to the bow stroke that certainly gave a more energised performance.

Louise addressed the posture of the second performer, who would sometimes make ‘bobbing’ movements from the waist. Though this movement can act as a time-keeper and emphasise the natural strong beats in the music, it can lead to problems such as an arched back. Louise explained that the upper body should be passive and the shoulders should be open in order to support the weight of the viola, then the legs can take on a more dynamic role. She also helped the second performer to achieve a straighter bow stroke; the upper arm can remain relatively still whilst the lower arm generates the movement from the elbow joint.