Combining violist Peter 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. Featured on the album is composer Benjamin Ellin and his piece Tak, Tak, Tak!, a short, explosive work for solo viola.

Today, Benjamin is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about the grand live performance that sparked his interest in music, and the deep meaning he’s found through the creation of this album…

Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?

My parents were great in exposing me to so many different styles and types of music. As a kid I was surrounded by the sounds of greats such as Miles Davis, Count Basie, Brass Bands, Mahler and Stravinsky. I genuinely don’t have any favorites in terms of music etc as there is so much amazing music to embrace and be inspired by and I was lucky to have so many sounds ringing through the house.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

My mum took me to the Royal Ballet as a young lad…a tradition she’d done with my two older sisters too. My eldest ran away during her exposure (she was terrified by the mysterious opening of the Firebird), my other sister stood on her seat afterwards and said it was the best she’d ever seen (it was her first time), and I begged my mum for the recording of the Nutcracker. I was hooked and I knew then that I just loved music and the creation of it.

What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?

Oh wow, so many daft things happen. I remember one outdoor concert of Carmina Burana in France I was conducting and plunged into darkness during a technical failure for the lighting. We carried on, just about, the singers using lighters and phones to see the music, the ensemble just about remembering the music and technicians racing around. Just as we reached a musical climax the lights came back on and the audience cheered. Good times.

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Too many amazing places to say and too many that I’ve not been to. Anywhere with an awe of nature. The mountains of Switzerland would be amazing if possible or by a dramatic coastline — anywhere that grounds you and gives you a true sense of perspective.

If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?

The organ. I think it would be amazing to sit in an incredible church or cathedral and just command an instrument like that. I know some pretty amazing players and their ability and skill is so incredible.

What does this album mean to you personally?

This album means a lot to me. It was a project that was evolving through a difficult period of my life — divorce and COVID-19 to name but two seismic events. It’s wonderful to have been part of a bigger picture, to collaborate and unite despite the fact that the composers, Peter and the PARMA team are physically separated and to make something for everyone to access and share. I hope other violists will take this project and embrace a set of composers who are keen to write for their instrument. To be able to play a part in a project that leaves a little musical gift for others to pick up and try out, that’s what’s great about making a recording — the start of a new connection.

  • Benjamin Ellin

    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.