Viola in spotlight

Instrument has dynamic champion in BSO's Peter Minkler

March 10, 2011|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Google "viola jokes" and you'll never run out of material (How do you keep your violin from getting stolen? Put it in a viola case.) But hear a good violist, and the jokes fade instantly.

The instrument, with its dusky timbre, has a soulful quality that has attracted many great composers, including those featured on a new CD, "Inner Voice," by longtime Baltimore Symphony Orchestra member Peter Minkler.

On this Centaur Records release, beautifully accompanied by pianist Lura Johnson, he offers absorbing, incisive accounts of richly expressive works by Britten, Shostakovich, Arvo Part and the late George Rochberg.

The latter piece, along with works by Bach, Brahms and more, will be included in a recital on Sunday celebrating the CD release.

"It's a tough program," Minkler said, "but, I hope, an interesting one for the audience."

Minkler has been gaining increased attention as a soloist. Last year, he was a recipient of the $25,000 Baker Prize, awarded to artists in the Baltimore area; this year, he received a $3,000 Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council.

"I'm using the money to commission works," Minkler said. "I hope to premiere two of them in three or four years."

The violist's future was looking a little less upbeat last year.

"I had a torn rotator cuff," he said. "I had surgery last summer and I'm back to normal, just about, which is really amazing." Minkler is even feeling good enough to put up with more viola jokes, but he's got one to dish right back:

"Why are viola jokes so short? So violinists can remember them."

Violist Peter Minkler and pianist Lura Johnson will give a concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road, Columbia. $15. Call 410-992-0145 or go to sundaysatthree.org.

Tim Smith

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