Violist Roger Myers and I first met several years ago, when we were both on the faculty of the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival in Maine. When Roger approached me about writing a work for viola and orchestra for him, I was thrilled. In thinking about what direction the composition would take, I remembered standing on a lakeside dock with him that summer, both of us marveling the natural beauty of the water.
I began thinking about water in its various forms – the stillness of a lake at dawn, the aimless wandering of streams, the rapid running of rivers, the majesty, power and violence of the ocean. Water seemed to me to embody the mercurial nature of the viola – gentle, lyrical, fluid, but also capable of great intensity and might. Water is the nurturing source of all life, but over time, mere drops of water can reduce the hardest stone to rubble.
There has also been something powerfully human to me about the viola – it seems to me to be most like the human conscience: ever present but often unnoticed, occasionally rising to the level of conscious awareness and often leaving emptiness and desolation with its absence. It is the “inner voice”, both musically and emotionally speaking – the keeper of the pulse that animates the music, the closest to the human voice, and like water, it is temperamental, capable of changing from moment to moment.
Water is present in the fundamental DNA of the Viola Concerto –sunrise on a mirror-like lake, echoes of ripples in a pond, torrents of sound, streams of notes cascading downward, pounding of waves and the unsynchronized, far-off ringing of buoys and fog horns.