Taking 5 with Imants Larsens
Ahead of his viola solo in our upcoming Around the World concert, we sat down with Section Principal Viola Imants Larsens to chat about his musical journey so far, how he prepares for a solo, and what’s on his travel wish list right now.
Tell us about your journey to playing the viola and joining Queensland Symphony Orchestra?
I began learning violin when I was three years old from my grandmother and then studied in Switzerland with my Dad who was Concertmaster of the Festival Strings Lucerne. It was during my tertiary studies in Switzerland that I was required (as were all violinists) to take a minimum of one semester of viola as a second instrument. When I returned to Australia after completing my studies I continued to dabble a bit in viola and ended up playing with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as a casual on both violin and viola. Soon after that the position of Associate Principal Viola at ASO came up for audition and a colleague suggested I should go for it. I got the job and 10 years later I was successful in winning the Principal Viola job with QSO.
Tell us about your instrument – how old is it? How did you come to play it?
I am lucky enough to play on an instrument by A.E Smith made in Sydney in 1937. Smith is particularly well known for his violas and my instrument was made during his so-called Golden period and is also one of the larger 17.5-inch Brescian models. Violas differ from violins in that while there is very little variation in the length of a violin, a viola can typically range from 15.5 to 17.5 inches long. Despite its size, I find my viola to be very comfortable to play and I love exploring its rich warm colours.
Imants Larsens with Associate Principal Viola Yoko Okayasu
You’re playing a viola solo in our upcoming Around the World Music on Sundays concert. How are you preparing for it? What kind of music can we expect to hear on stage?
I’m really looking forward to playing the Bruch Romance in the upcoming Around the World concert. It’s the kind of piece you can let wash over you while enjoying the different aspects of its romantic mood which goes from tender to passionate. In terms of preparation, it’s important to really know the entire score, not just the solo part, and how it fits within the orchestra. Playing as a soloist also requires a different sound. Obviously you need to project, but it is also about the type of vibrato and intensity. I also want to try to bring to the fore the tone qualities specific to a viola like its warmth and depth of tone. As an added challenge, we've just come out of a lockdown with two kids learning from home, so certainly a little more chaotic than normal!
If you could perform alongside another violist, who would it be? What would you play?
Probably the person who really made me fall in love with the tone and colours of the viola is Pinchas Zukerman, one of the greatest violinists of our time. While he is first and foremost a violinist, he has also performed a lot of chamber music on viola and I have always loved watching his performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante together with Itzhak Perlman. I was lucky enough to perform for Zukerman (on violin) in a masterclass during my time studying in Switzerland and then luckier still to have the chance to perform both Mendelssohn’s Octet as well as Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence with Zukerman leading a group from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. This was with him playing as a violinist though, if I were to choose a piece to dream of playing with him on viola it would have to be ‘Lament’ by Frank Bridge for two violas.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
As a family, we were just about to go to Europe for a combination of work and visiting friends and family when the lockdowns started last year. Both Natsuko and I have many close friends and colleagues from when we studied as well as family scattered through Europe and Japan, so I think once we can safely travel again we will try to visit as many family and friends as we can!