An Alto Clef Celebration: A New Generation of Viola Viva

Viola Viva: The Next Generation is a unique student-run viola ensemble project at Victoria University of Wellington. The ensemble has had engagements in some of Wellington’s premier venues: the Michael Fowler Centre, St. Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace, the Hunter Council Chamber and the Adam Concert Room. Its name is inspired by Wellington’s Viola Viva, an ensemble of professional violists that was active in the Wellington circuit a few years ago.

The ensemble’s open membership has allowed for a diverse range of students, from first year to doctoral levels of study, from a variety of programmes: the Bachelor of Music, Postgraduate Diploma, Master of Music Doctor of Musical Arts, and the Ph.D. They have contributed to research with two Master’s students in composition producing new works specifically for this ensemble. The ensemble also connects to various members of the staff and students, building a network that extends well beyond the practice room – or the alto clef. The ensemble was featured as one of only four selected ensembles to perform for the graduation ceremonies of Victoria University of Wellington, and was also featured at the university’s final round of the Three-Minute Thesis Competition.

To add to this diversity, several of the members are primarily violinists, who no doubt have come to ‘see the light’. A primary principle is that everyone is an equal in the viola ensemble, while individual members do take on specific roles, such as logistics, schedule management, public relations, and sheet music acquisition. Everyone is encouraged to contribute to interpretation based on their individual musical experiences, and a rotation system as well as new arrangements ensure that everyone has a chance to take on different viola parts.

There is something special about the “purple-toned” musical instrument called the viola that lends itself particularly effectively to ensemble playing, not to mention a certain social bond that exists between players of an instrument that is considered an ‘endangered species’. The repertoire of the group extends back centuries to the La Folia theme made famous by Corelli, to a six-part arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. We are reminded that one etymology of the word ‘viola’ is “to celebrate”, and the celebration of music is indeed what continues to drive them forward.

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