Ahead of his solo performance of Bruch’s Romanze with Southbank Sinfonia later this month, violist Cameron Campbell is your tour guide to the instrument.
WHAT DO YOU CALL SOMEONE WHO HANGS AROUND MUSICIANS A LOT? A VIOLA PLAYER.
The viola is the inspiration of much orchestral humour, with countless jokes about the instrument and violists. But is this deserved? I think in part we bring it on ourselves, because it’s always fun to make a joke about yourself every now and then, but equally the blame for our reputation is probably thanks to our role in the orchestra. A lot of the accompaniment figures the viola is given aren’t as glamorous or revered as the melodies that the violin has, for example, so to the untrained eye we don’t always seem to be doing very much.
To the trained eye though… the viola is integral! We’re normally right at the heart of the inner-workings of the orchestra, giving it real depth and contributing to its rounded sound. This unique position also means we’ve got great seats to understand how the orchestra works, and it’s no coincidence that Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Paganini and Dvořák all played viola.
BUT DOES IT MAKE A GOOD SOLO INSTRUMENT?
The viola has a great range, so its expressive potential is huge. Combined with its tone – ranging from sombre and mellow at times, to strident and heroic in the upper registers – it can actually be the perfect solo instrument, even if it’s often overshadowed by the violin or cello in concerto repertoire.
I have to admit that I’m envious of the violin repertoire and think so much of it would be really fun to play. But the great thing about pieces for viola is they tend to be a little bit more modern; they’re often also emotionally deeper and less overt than a lot of violin writing, which is great to delve into as a performer.
GREAT! BUT IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN THE VIOLA AND CELINE DION?
Well… Bruch’s Romanze is a great piece for any musician because you get to play in a really romantic, heart-on-sleeve kind of style. In many ways it’s quite easy-listening, but there’s so much emotion rippling through it that I get to explore.
I started preparing the piece before I joined Southbank Sinfonia in January, but I’m also lucky enough to have played it when I was in secondary school. The difference now, of course, is that I get to think a lot more about what I want to do with the piece rather than just focusing on technique.
It’s not too well known, but it’s the kind of piece that really encourages you to ‘feel it’ in a performance. That said, when I performed it at school my classmates thought the beginning of it sounded a bit like My Heart Will Go On, the Celine Dion theme to Titanic. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not, but one thing’s for certain: I can’t wait to play it.
Cameron will perform Bruch’s Romanze for Viola and Orchestra with Southbank Sinfonia at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Tuesday 27 May. Find out more here.
Find out more about Cameron here, or listen to the piece in the video below.