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Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

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November 8, 2006

From the heart

When I go back and listen through past Saint Paul Sunday programs it takes me a little by surprise to find how warmly I respond to programs featuring (or embracing) violists. Just scratching the surface several come to mind—Paul Coletti, Kim Kashkashian, Paul Neubauer, Michael Tree—and certainly this week's program with Helen Callus.

In the right hands, there's something about the viola's directness that makes it hard to resist. It's an exceptionally faithful medium for human music-making, perhaps because of the timbre and range of its voice, perhaps its friendly size. It makes sense that Mozart, a supreme unifier of the human and the divine, prized the viola over other instruments, even picking it up from time to time to play with friends.

In this program, Helen's splendid way with the viola is what magnetizes us and reminds us of her instrument's knack for making connections. Perhaps the uncanniest of these is the one she shares with British composer Pamela Harrison, who happened to grow up in the same tiny Kent village she did and whom she's helping rescue from obscurity.

Most of the hour's connections, though, are under the radar, where they delight or move us without our quite knowing why. Occasionally throughout Helen's performances we hear textural and timbral shifts that seem to recall a singer mid-passaggio, or the slight catch in the voice of someone speaking with a lump in his throat. The moments are always natural and subtle and yet leave little doubt that this wonderful violist has us in the palm of her hand.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at November 8, 2006 2:45 PM



Helen Callus was fantastic along wirh Busch.It was a great program.I am going out tomorrow to find more of this duo at Borders or Barnes and Noble.
Thankyou for tis delightful and wonderful program.
robert f. green

By robert f.green at November 12, 2006 12:11 PM


I am so excited about this program! I always enjoy it, but even moreso when you feature music by women. I learned of Rebecca Clark when Jane Bowers, musicologist and editor of Women Making Music, spoke about her at the National Women's Studies Association conference in 2004 (U. of Wisconsin, Milw.), so I am delighted that you asked Helen Callus to perform her pieces. I'm eager to get Callus's CD! Wish you could be on the air 14 days a week! I'm listening again online, after having heard you on KBPS, Portland, OR. Please come back to Chamber Music Northwest soon! Loved hearing you then, in person.


By Marlene Loisdotter at November 12, 2006 12:54 PM


Years of listening have convinced me that viola players, as a group, are generally less technically skilled than violin players; on average, they simply just don't have the chops of a violinist. That said, Helen Callus is clearly not in this group: she's got chops and then some.

Kudos to her for playing the music of two composers unknown to the general music listener. I was particularly taken with the two pieces by Rebecca Clarke, which are quite lovely. Musicians should be aware that we, the listening public, are hungry for new and/or underplayed pieces. I heard my favorite quartet, The Guarneri, last night and as much as I love their playing, their reportoire is badly in need of expanding (Mozart, Mendelsohn, and Beethoven are not new to any of us).

For listeners in the metropolitan area of NYC, and for visitors there: the Metropolitan Museum (83rd and Fifth Ave.) has a room dedicated to musical instruments that bears visiting. A display of harpsicords and pianos shows the development of this instrument from its dainty, delicate origins to the piano forte of today.
Eight violls (aka Viola da Gamba, featured in a SPS program of a few weeks back) are on display, as are several Strads.

John Niesyn

By John Niesyn at November 12, 2006 10:41 PM