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Sofia Gubaidulina

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1996)
Work Notes
Available in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America only
Schirmer Russian Music
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
34 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Sofia Gubaidulina Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1996)
Composer note:

The composition is dedicated to the great violist of our times — Yuri Bashmat. To a performer who possesses astonishing opulence of colors and an enormous range of emotional states — from extreme expression to the most profound mysticism of sound.

But the composition was dedicated not only to the performer, but also to his instrument.

The peculiar mysteriousness and veiled quality of the viola’s timbre has always been something of an acoustic enigma to me, and an object of rapture.

It was precisely this attribute of the viola that induced me to include one additional personage in the list of instruments that would create a contrasting completely different sound dimension from that of the orchestra — a solo quartet tuned a quarter-tone lower.

In order to allow the solo viola to submerge itself, form time to time, in the shadow of this second dimension and then return once again to the brighter dimension of the orchestra (i.e. a quarter-toe higher): the transition from one, real dimension, as it were to another — virtual one.

To accomplish this I chose very simple intervallic relationships: the minor second in one of these dimensions widens into a major second widens into a minor third; the minor third — into a major third; the tritone — into a perfect fifth.

This combining of intervallic pairs brings the musical fabric of the orchestra into a vibrating state, sometimes a glimmering and sometimes a fiery state. And as a consequence of this vibration a specific rhythmic figure emerges which then repeats itself several times and delineated the sections of the form:
Introduction, double expression, development (consisting of 3 episodes), and coda. There are seven sections in all.

— Sofia Gubaidulina

  • Ensemble
    Kirov Theater Orchestra
    Yuri Bashmet (Viola)
    Valery Gergiev
    Deutsche Grammophon:
Gubaidulina's music has distinction of form, precision of ear and imagination, and, above all, a spiritual dimension. The Viola Concerto is a substantial work. The viola sets the tone at the very beginning -- its first notes stretch two pitches over four octaves. Throughout the [concerto's] seven sections the viola is searching, questing, exploring; the other members of the orchestra are invested with an extraordinary range of instrumental color. Standing apart from the orchestra is a solo string quartet, tuned a quarter-tone lower; this creates a special nimbus around the viola. As the piece progresses, a corresponding spiritual scenario develops. Gubaidulina's music speaks in a still, small voice that reveals profound things.
Richard Dyer, Boston Globe,01/01/0001
I consider Gubaidulina's VIOLA CONCERTO to be the best concerto for the instrument, bar none. It's complex, pretty, consistently profound and compelling, [with] ample opportunity for lyricism as well as for brilliance. [It] is sheer genius.
Robert Kirzinger, Fanfare,01/01/0001
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