Instrumentation: violin and viola
Duration: ca. 16′
Commission: Max Aronoff Viola Institute
Premiere: 3 July 1995, St. Mary’s Center (Toledo, Wash.)
Among my first-ever public performances was a series of summertime concerts at the Max Aronoff Viola Institute, a small weeklong music festival devoted to players of that oft-maligned member of the string family. Indeed, many of the faculty members of the festival were either close friends or relatives (such as my mother, the violinist Marcia Ott). I served as composer-in-residence to MAVI for the better part of two decades, during which time no fewer than eleven of my works appeared (several more than once) on its annual recital series.
My Duo Sonata for violin and viola, composed while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (and still a teenager), was composed for such a concert. It is comprised of five movements, the first a set of variations over (and under!) a continually expanding melodic figure, built around the drone of a major ninth. The second movement is in many ways a tribute to Brahms, stealing as it does the opening gesture of his majestic Quintet in G major, op. 111. The third movement, again returning to an ostinato technique, is a study in perseverance, in which a relentless oscillation between the plucked notes A and G serves as a backdrop. The fourth movement (“Quodlibet”) cobbles together bits and pieces of the preceding three, and even hints at a fifth, while the final movement itself briefly wraps this youthful work up in a wash of thirty-second notes.