Acclaimed young musician and former music protégé in the Rolex Arts Initiative, David Aaron Carpenter has made the promotion of the viola one of his lifelong objectives. The release late in 2009 of his first CD – a recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach of the Elgar and Schnittke Viola Concertos – marks a milestone in Carpenter’s efforts to revitalize the instrument.
The CD – and Carpenter’s mastery of the viola – have been widely praised by music critics in the United States and Europe.
“Spellbinding … Stunning debut … Extraordinarily moving … Prepare to be disarmed by a remarkable debut.”
- Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3, CD of the Week
“A new star at the forefront of violists … Carpenter’s performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is not only brave and most virtuosic … but also succeeds at letting the viola glow in an immense spectrum of colors.”
- Die Welt
“An impressive and bold debut.”
- Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone, Editor’s Choice
In a recent interview, Carpenter talks about being mentored by Pinchas Zukerman, recording his first CD and performing with some of the brightest names in classical music.
What difference has the year of mentorship with Pinchas Zukerman in the Rolex Arts Initiative made to your music?
Maestro Pinchas Zukerman is a larger-than-life personality and spending time with him has truly been an inspiration. I have been fortunate enough to attend quite a few performances with Maestro Zukerman conducting and playing with major orchestras. Most recently, in March , I attended a performance of Pinchas Zukerman with Maestro Christoph Eschenbach conducting the Berg Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. Understanding [Zukerman’s] approach to music can only raise the appreciation and level of any musician, and having the opportunity to spend time with him [during the mentoring year] has been a unique and fortunate opportunity to my development as a musician.
Some reviews of your first CD characterize you as mercurial and others emphasize your deep musical understanding. Which is closer to the true you?
The primary task for the project was re-editing a piece of music that has rarely been played on the viola -- the Elgar Cello Concerto. The approach that I used was to create a unique voice for the viola as a solo instrument. In my opinion, such a reinterpretation must stem from a deep musical understanding, as well as a strong personal conviction for my version of the piece.
Juxtaposing this well-known work with the Schnittke Viola Concerto – a masterpiece in its own right – proved to be a thought-provoking and artistically rewarding decision.
In what ways does the preparation for a recording differ from that of a concert?
Producing a recording is in some ways more physically demanding than performing the same concerto in concert. Recording in three-hour time increments is quite a project in itself, and keeping the intensity and focus for six hours per day proved to be a daunting task, both mentally and physically.
What do you like best about the recording?
Working with an incomparable conductor, orchestra and recording engineer mitigated the more arduous aspects of recording. This enabled me to focus primarily on the music without worrying about the more technical details associated with a major CD.
Can you describe the significance of recording with Maestro Christophe Eschenbach?
Maestro Christophe Eschenbach has been a close collaborator. It was an honour to perform my first recording under his stewardship. Maestro Eschenbach has taught me to further my musical boundaries, and I am extremely grateful for his ideas and advice.
Has the CD captured a new audience for you? In which countries are most copies being sold?
The recording has captured wide international interest from countries as diverse as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Austria, Sweden, Mexico, Hong Kong, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Canada. The strongest record sales were in the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Japan and Finland.
Have any new projects emerged as a result?
Another recording is in the works for April 2011 with the Helsinki Philharmonic.
Other recognition and projects have made your past year outstanding. You are one of four recipients of the 2010 Avery Fisher Career Grant. What does this recognition mean to you?
Joining the past luminaries who have won the Avery Fisher Career grant is indeed humbling. With this grant, I hope to bring more recognition and awareness to the viola as a solo instrument.
The list of concerts you have performed recently is impressive, including a quartet performance with Yo-Yo Ma in Paris earlier this year – can you describe the performance?
Performing with Yo-Yo Ma and Gidon Kremer at the Salle Pleyel was quite the surreal experience. During the concert, I simply needed to look to my right and left to see my musical idols at arms' length. It was also very instructive to be in the presence of such living legends.
Of the many concerts you have performed this year, is there one that stands out in your mind? Why?
My performance of the Schnittke Viola Concerto with the Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra was one of the most special performances of my career. To be in the presence of one of the top orchestras for two sold-out performances at a premier opera house in Europe was, in many ways, a defining moment in my international career.
In July, you played in the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, where extraordinary young artists are invited each year for study and performance. Why do you continue to return to the festival?
The Verbier Festival has encouraged me to accomplish many goals as an artist. Returning to play with many friends and colleagues each year has been both musically and personally fulfilling.
Do you have a particular goal, or dream in mind that you would like to accomplish in the near future?
It is my sincere goal to perform with the Berlin, Vienna and the New York Philharmonic in the near future, and to premiere and commission works by contemporary composers such as Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Sofia Gubaidulina. My dream is to continue to promote the viola as a major solo instrument.
To learn more about David Aaron Carpenter’s performances and to read extracts from reviews, visit davidaaroncarpenter.com.