Bowed Colors

Solo & Chamber Works

John McGinn composer
Benjamin Ellin composer
Tara Guram composer
Richard E Brown composer
John Biggs composer

Peter Sulski viola

Release Date: December 2, 2022
Catalog #: NV6478
Format: Digital
21st Century
Chamber
Solo Instrumental
Piano
Viola

British-American violist Peter Sulski superbly demonstrates his instrument’s true expressive potential on BOWED COLORS from Navona Records. Sulski, who was a member of the London Symphony Orchestra for seven years, has published seminal solo viola recordings of works by Telemann, J. S. Bach, and Hindemith. Combining Sulski’s signature sound with the works of five composers, BOWED COLORS delivers an exquisite selection of contemporary solo viola pieces that range from the neoclassical to the just barely tonal, all tightly knit together by Sulski’s sublime bow control and finesse as a performer.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Capriciously Strung John McGinn Peter Sulski, viola; Randall Hodgkinson, piano 12:17
02 Tak Tak Tak! Benjamin Ellin Peter Sulski, viola 4:15
03 Sonata for Solo Viola: Theme Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 1:57
04 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 1: Prestissimo con fuoco Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 1:09
05 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 2: Immobile Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 2:06
06 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 3: Giocoso Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 0:42
07 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 4: Capriccio Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 0:52
08 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 5: Mesto Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 1:54
09 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 6: Vivace Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 0:39
10 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 7: Solenne Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 2:51
11 Sonata for Solo Viola: Variation 8: Finale Tara Guram Peter Sulski, viola 2:16
12 Sonatina for Viola and Piano: I. Allegro moderato Richard E Brown Peter Sulski, viola; Randall Hodgkinson, piano 3:27
13 Sonatina for Viola and Piano: II. Andante Richard E Brown Peter Sulski, viola; Randall Hodgkinson, piano 2:02
14 Sonatina for Viola and Piano: III. Vivace Richard E Brown Peter Sulski, viola; Randall Hodgkinson, piano 2:25
15 Invention for Viola & Tape John Biggs Peter Sulski, viola 6:25

Recorded October 28, 2021, January 13, February 3 & 10, 2022 at
Shalin Liu Performance Center MA
Producer Brad Michel
Engineer Tom Stephenson

CAPRICIOUSLY STRUNG
Editing & Mixing Melanie Montgomery
Additional Editing Ethan Fields

TAK TAK TAK!
Editing & Mixing Melanie Montgomery, Lucas Paquette

SONATA FOR SOLO VIOLA, SONATINA FOR VIOLA AND PIANO
Editing & Mixing Brad Michel

INVENTION FOR VIOLA & TAPE
Editing & Mixing Melanie Montgomery
Mastering Melanie Montgomery

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Danielle Sullivan

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Production Director Levi Brown
Production Assistant Martina Watzková

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming, Morgan Hauber
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran

Artist Information

John McGinn

Composer

An Associate Professor of Music at Austin College in Sherman TX, composer/pianist John McGinn received an undergraduate music degree from Harvard University in 1986 and his D.M.A. in Composition from Stanford University in 1999. Among his mentors are such noted composers as Jonathan Harvey, Leon Kirchner, and John Adams. His own works have received several honors and been performed at colleges and festivals worldwide.

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Benjamin Ellin

Composer

Award-winning and critically acclaimed British conductor and composer Benjamin Ellin is currently co-founder and Musical Director of the Thirsk Hall Festival and De Mowbray Music; Music Director of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular; co-founder, conductor and composer of the contemporary-fusion ensemble Tafahum; Principal Conductor of the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra; and President of Pembroke Academy of Music, London. Ellin is also a founding trustee of the Evgeny Svetlanov Charitable Trust.

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Tara Guram

Composer

Initially a geneticist, Tara Guram (b. 1971) was subsequently a prize-winning postgraduate student at the Royal College of Music. Her music has been played internationally, from the Southbank Centre to Carnegie Hall, and broadcast by the BBC. Guram's pieces have been recorded with Sargasso Records, Navona Records, Ravello Records, and NMC Recordings.

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Richard E Brown

Richard E Brown

Composer

Dr. Richard E. Brown, a native of New York State, has been active as a composer-arranger and music educator for many years. His training includes M.M. and D.M. degrees in Composition from Florida State University, as well as a B.A. in Music Education from Central College, which named him a Distinguished Alumnus in 1983. His principal composition studies were with Carlisle Floyd, John Boda, and Charles Carter. He is a member of ASCAP and is represented in the catalogs of several trade publishers, as well as his personal imprint Dacker Music.

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John Biggs

Composer

John Biggs was born in Los Angeles in 1932. His father was organist/composer Richard Keys Biggs, and his mother was singer Lucienne Gourdon. During his youth he received training in acting, singing, piano, bassoon, and violin, and was a member of his father’s church choir.

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Peter Sulski

Violist

Peter Sulski was a member of the London Symphony Orchestra for seven years. While in England he served on the faculty of the Royal College of Music and Trinity College of Music and Drama, as well as being Artistic Director of Chapel Royal Concerts, which he founded in 1993.

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Notes

Since the heyday of the grand and diverse “viol” family in the Renaissance and Baroque periods – witness J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 6 for no violins, two violas, two viola da gambas, cello, bass, and continuo – the viola has experienced something of a steady decline in public awareness and attention, overshadowed by its slightly higher-strung cousin, the mighty violin. I myself have always felt a special fondness for the viola; indeed it is perhaps my favorite of all the traditional strings. The title Capriciously Strung is just a bit tongue-in-cheek, hinting at a certain emotional edge sometimes observed in my own experience with violists (by and large a pretty feisty, proud lot when it comes to their instruments). The piece of course avails itself of plenty of the viola’s “signature” low notes (a vital indication that it is NOT a violin, thank you very much), but just as much looks to the instrument’s more extended range and techniques. Though the work itself is not overtly humorous per se, I do still hope its varied sections will bring across many different shades of the viola’s potential for quirky playfulness, as well as gritty power and quietly eloquent expressiveness. I wish to acknowledge my heartfelt gratitude to my dear friend Roger Sanders for his generous support of this recording.

—John McGinn

‘Tak, Tak, Tak!’ is a short, explosive work for solo viola, written in 2014 for the esteemed violist Rivka Golani. Rivka and I had collaborated on many projects by the time of this particular composition, especially our work with the Blackfoot communities in Alberta, Canada. The work is a musical portrayal of the dynamism and energy that emanates from Rivka when we are in conversation. 

—Benjamin Ellin

This sonata takes the form of a Theme with eight Variations. The theme is an elegiac meditation in free time. It is simple in rhythm, and uses limited pitches and small intervals, evoking the mournful ebb and flow of a sorrowful song.

The first variation is in two sections. The first of these is a wild but rhythmically driven outburst, using the thematic melody in pulsating trill-like phrases. A whirling triplet section follows. The theme is chromatically embellished, and becomes increasingly frenzied as it rises to its conclusion.

The second variation is in complete contrast to the first, and elicits a feeling of reflective stillness. It is a slow, soft, legato progression, using chords and wide intervals to create space without movement.

The somber mood lifts with the third variation. This is a childlike, joyful dance. Use of double stops with open strings enhances the naivety of this piece. The tune is based on the rhythm and melodic direction of the theme, but is almost unrecognizable in this carefree miniature.

The fourth variation is a caprice, with chromatic runs and trills interspersed with arpeggios and leaps. This variation draws upon elements from the preceding three, to weave a wayward canvas.

The sad and meditative atmosphere of the theme returns in the fifth variation. This movement is a chordal rendition and extension of the theme, using thirds and sixths. The plaintive melody intensifies towards the end, in a build up of pressure and emotion.

The fifth variation leads immediately into the sixth. This variation is an explosion of sound, fast and urgent, releasing the emotion built up in the preceding movement. The opening phrase recalls the first and fourth variations. Spiky leaps and slides characterize the remainder of this hurried movement.

The seventh variation is a mixture of solemn chorale and gentle lullaby. This movement uses pizzicato to create a lilting rhythmic pulse. It is a tranquil but melancholic interlude.

The final variation acts like the eighth note of the scale. It is a direct repeat of the theme (or first note), after a journey through seven variations (or notes) to a different place. The eighth variation is the “finished” rendition of the theme. It alludes to the idea of reaching its destination, akin to the feeling in music when arriving at the tonic or keynote. Influences from all the preceding movements merge in this finale. 

—Tara Guram

As the title indicates, Sonatina for Viola and Piano closely follows sonata form on a somewhat smaller scale. Tonality and tonal relationships are basic to sonata form, and in this sonatina, the tonal relationships within and between the movements are mostly, but not all, based on thirds. The first movement, “Allegro moderato,” is a fairly strict sonata-allegro in B minor. The “Andante con moto” second movement is a lyrical chaconne in D major, the relative major of the home key and a minor third above it. The finale, “Allegro,” is an abridged sonata-rondo in the home key of B minor.

—Richard E. Brown

Written in 1970 for the New York violist Paul Doktor, the piece opens with the sound of children’s voices singing: “A young man picked up his bow one day, and fiddled away.” (The song is sung by the composer’s two young daughters.) This naive children’s song, which returns two times, is used to punctuate the form, and offer contrast to the otherwise foreboding and ominous mood of the music. This darker mood finally wins out, with the song appearing in a minor key, followed by a final lament, accompanied by a harp-like strumming.

—Malcolm Barrington