Last weekend, the weeklong Primrose International Viola Competition came to an end with a recital featuring the four prize winners. This was the first time the competition has been held at Brigham Young University. That it's taken so long for the competition to come to BYU is something of a surprise, given that the violist for whom the event is named, William Primrose, had a close association with the Provo campus.
Primrose was the first great virtuoso of the viola and raised it to the same lofty rank that the violin has enjoyed for centuries. He commissioned several composers to write works for him, including Bela Bartok, whose final work, the Viola Concerto, Primrose premiered in 1949.
After suffering a heart attack in 1963, the Scottish-born virtuoso drastically cut back on his concertizing, focusing his energy more on teaching than performing. Primrose spent the last three years of his life at BYU. Upon his death in 1982, he bequeathed the school his vast library of viola music. The Primrose International Viola Archive contains more than 6,000 works and attracts performers and scholars from around the world.
In much the same way that the archives is a draw for researchers, the competition is a lure for some of the world's finest young violists. The competition is open to violists under 28, and those who come hope that winning a top prize will be a springboard to an international career.
This year's competition brought more than 50 hopefuls to Provo, four of whom walked away with awards: First prize went to Jennifer Stumm; David Kim and David Aaron Carpenter were co-second prize winners; and Yu Jin received honorable mention. There was no third place award.
The prizes, which include money and for Stumm, a concert appearance with the Windsor, Ontario, Symphony Orchestra and recitals sponsored by the New York and Rocky Mountain Viola Societies were handed out by Claudine Bigelow, a professor of viola and chamber music at BYU. She also organized the event.
Even though the four top competitors played spectacularly, Stumm's performance was nothing short of stunning. Playing Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Stumm exhibited exquisite musicality and remarkable virtuosity.
The sonata is a wonderful tour de force for both performers by a composer who today is unjustly neglected. And Stumm, together with accompanist Vedrana Subotic, gave a luminous reading that was dynamic and vibrant.
Co-second-placewinners Kim and Carpenter played two widely diverse works in character, mood and style.
Kim chose to perform Johannes Brahms' Sonata in E flat major, op. 120, no. 2, a work that is true to the composer's final creative years reflective and brooding, yet also impassioned and fiercely emotional. With his accompanist Alicja Basinska, Kim captured the warm expressiveness of the music wonderfully. The performance was richly nuanced and sensitively executed.
Carpenterplayed Russian composer Alfred Schnittke's compellingly intense and powerful Concerto. Accompanied by BYU professor Jeffrey Shumway, Carpenter gave a stellar performance that magnificently captured the energy and intensity of the music.
Jin, partnered with Basinska, chose to perform Primrose's arrangement of Niccolo Paganini's "La Campanella." A fiercely demanding showcase for the string player, Jin made short work of the piece's virtuosity, giving a bravura performance that was riveting.The artistic talent and technical mastery of the instrument that the four prize winners exhibited was certainly of the highest caliber. And even though everyone played wonderfully to gold-medal standards, it was nevertheless Stumm who carried the day with her immaculate and eloquent presentation. Hopefully, It is hoped there'll be a chance to hear her once again in recital in Utah in the not too distant future.