With A Little Help From His Friend

By Greg Hill
Aug/Sept 2007

It’s often said that there is a dearth of good new viola works in the orchestral world, so it helps to have a composer pal to lend a hand. ROBERT VERNON and RICHARD SORTOMME were both violin students at the acclaimed Meadowmount School of Music. More recently, Vernon---now principal violist of The Cleveland orchestra---and Sortomme---a respected composer---collaborated again on Sortomme’s Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra, which had its premiere to rave reviews April 26 at Severance Hall with Vernon’s colleagues and Franz Welser-Möst.

“An affectionate folk-like quality pervades the melodic material, almost as if Britain’s Vaughan-Williams had been transplanted to 21st-century America,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer opined. “Sortomme paints sonic images in tonal language that caresses the mellow and often melancholic personality of the viola. Yet his writing has just enough dashes of spice to keep it from being merely a lilting idyll.”

SONIC POWER: Richard Sortomme

Explains Vernon: “The rhapsody is a beautiful work in tonal settings of creative orchestration. The work has three cadenzas for viola which are shared by the orchestra. It is a work that will send the listener home remembering tunes, not racket.”

It also presents some interesting challenges for prospective players. “The rhapsody is not an easy piece,” he adds. “The many double-stops and chordal passages will offer challenges to the violist. Its lyrical passages require a sense for the long line, colorful imagination, and the ability to sing with a smooth and seamless sound.

“This is a piece that will be performed in the future. It is a piece that violists will want to perform and audiences will want to hear.”

----- Greg Hill