New duets dawn thanks to support

String quartets are a dime a dozen, or a quarter a quartet perhaps. The opportunity to hear violin and viola duets is a rarer experience. London audiences will have the chance 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26 in von Kuster Hall at Western’s Don Wright Faculty of Music.

Master’s student Steven Craig (pictured above) wanted to explore both instruments, and expand the repertoire for duos. “There isn’t a huge repertoire,” he said. “There are some pretty terrible works, and there are some very fun ones – to listen to and to play.”

To add to the latter, Craig approached two other graduate students, Kevin Morse and Adam Scime. Both were willing to write duets, so Craig made a successful application for a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to commission compositions.

Morse, whose work has been described as “witty and full of invention” in Eye magazine, joined the faculty of Mount Allison University in fall 2011. He is completing his doctoral work at Western, and has studied with David Myska, Peter Paul Koprowski and Omar Daniel while working on both his master’s and doctoral degrees. He is a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar and winner of a Graduate Teaching Award (2009).

In 2006, Morse was one of four composers invited to participate in Tapestry New Opera Works’ 10-day summer Composer-Librettist Laboratory. He was subsequently commissioned by Tapestry to write two short operas that premiered at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre as part of Opera to Go 2008.

“Kevin was very helpful when I was writing grants,” Craig said. “He was the composer assigned to work with my string quartet when I was in fourth year. I enjoyed working with him then, and thought this would be a good opportunity to work with him again.”

Jeffrey Stokes suggested Scime as a second composer because his work would contrast well with Morse’s. Scime, MMus’09, is also a string player. His opera, Rob Ford An Operatic Life, attracted more than 800 people earlier this year, and Esprit Orchestra premiered another work in the spring.

“Both pieces play with dynamic contrasts,” Craig said. “Kevin’s has more in terms of dialogue between the two instruments. Adam’s is more of a play in colour and texture. He pushes some extremes in what colours the instruments can produce.”

Once he had the music, Craig enlisted violinist Zachary Peterson to play as a duo. Peterson is a winner of the London Music Scholarship Fund competition and soloist with the Chamber Orchestra last November.

Also on the program are arrangements of Bach’s Two-part Inventions. The Austrian-born French composer Ignace Pleyel is known more today for the pianos he built and the music he wrote for that instrument in the Classical period.

“But his duos for violin and viola are well-crafted and fun to play,” Craig said.

Craig and Peterson will perform several duets from a set of 12 by another Austrian, Robert Fuchs. Fuchs was a professor at the Vienna Conservatory, where he taught such names as George Enescu, Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Jean Sibelius and Erich Korngold.

Craig said the SSHRC grant also allowed him to travel to a string seminar at Orford last summer where he met and played in quartets with other young musicians from around the world.

Scime has already asked for a repeat performance of his work at two events in the fall in Toronto. In between, Craig will graduate and move to Toronto to begin a one-year internship in campus ministry with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

“I’d like to take the skill set and ears I’ve developed and take some time from the instrument,” he said. “This could turn into something long-term, but I hope to keep playing.”