Murawski and Kimber bring viola to center stage

On Sunday, Oct. 16, guest violist Marcin Murawski gave a recital of viola music composed by Michael Kimber in Harper Hall. He was joined in performance by Kimber, Lawrence Associate Professor of Music and Teacher of Viola Matthew Michelic and Lawrence’s Own Viola Ensemble (LOVE).

Marcin Murawski, born in Poland in 1974, is currently viola professor at the Academy of Music in Poznań. He gives recitals and master classes all around the world, and his students have won prestigious awards and prizes. He recorded a six-CD set of music by Michael Kimber before they had ever met.

Kimber is an American composer who began touring with Murawski after he learned of Murawski’s CD set. He calls himself a multi-style composer; he writes music in many different genres, ranging from Armenian folk tunes to suites in the style of J.S. Bach to ragtime dances. Lawrence violists have played many of Kimber’s pieces in the past. On Sunday, Kimber showed off his own viola skill alongside Murawski and Michelic.

Murawski played the first half of the concert alone. The first five pieces, “Murovisation,” Echoes of Greece,” “Twelve Caprices,” “Three Armenian Impressions” and “Emerald Isle,” were grouped together because of their improvisational qualities. Murawski stood still on stage, playing with absolute focus. He never spoke to introduce a piece or address the audience, which contributed to his mystique.

The most notable aspect of Murawski’s technique was his bow control. Many of the pieces involved rapid, bouncing string crossings, which he handled gracefully. At the end of one of the Armenian impressions, as he held a single note for an incredibly long time, his bow barely moved across the string.

After the solo portion of the program was complete Professor Michelic announced that he would join Kimber onstage while Murawski took a break. They played two canons and four duets, each of which had a completely different character. One was atonal, one was in the style of Hindemith and another sounded like it came from the classical era.

Kimber’s piece “Reflection” was the most emotional selection of the concert. It was written in memory of Francis Bundra, a colleague and friend of Kimber. Murawski came back on stage, and the three of them performed the elegiac chorale with the necessary seriousness of demeanor and style.

The last portion of the concert began with three ragtime dances played by LOVE and Professor Michelic. LOVE’s ensemble members smiled as they made their way through the quirky set of pieces. Later they were joined by Kimber himself for a pair of Spanish dances.

Seeing all of them onstage together highlighted how special this type of performance is. Viola music is underperformed and underappreciated, but Murawski and Kimber brought Lawrence violists into the spotlight with their engaging repertoire and musicality. Hopefully, those in attendance were inspired to learn more about and listen to more of this beautiful instrument.