First published in BBC Music Magazine, February 2020 edition
Consider some of Lawrence Power’s recent concert programmes. This, for example: a marathon Brahms recital encompassing not only the two viola sonatas, but also relevant song transcriptions and (and!) all three violin sonatas – played on violin. Or this: an exploration into the notion of tombeau, interlinking tributes from Ravel to Couperin to Lorca poetry to Poulenc’s Violin Sonata via Thomas Ades. Power played viola and violin, and recited the poetry. Or this: ensemble music preoccupied with memory and sleep, from Dowland to Stravinsky to Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia to Britten’s Nocturne. Power conducted, no instrument in hand.
Aren’t these examples a bit, well, non-viola-centric? Which is precisely the point – the crux of Power’s musical ethos. Yes, he is a leading viola soloist, a passionate advocate for viola chamber music, an ardent renewer of viola repertoire. He plays one of the world’s most beautiful violas (Antonio Brensi, 1590) and makes arguably the richest-bodied viola sound in the business. So it is notable that he’s willing (not to mention able) to leave his viola in the box pick up a fiddle. But what’s more remarkable is how intently he pursues his lines of musical connection. Whether immersing himself in a single composer’s oeuvre or tracing themes across centuries, there is an intellectual restlessness that takes Power beyond his viola heartland, beyond the physical boundaries of the instrument. And if that means wielding a violin or a baton, so be it.
Power credits his lateral creative appetite to multiple factors. Innate inquisitiveness, for sure, and simply being a viola player: there isn’t the breadth of existing repertoire to sustain night after night of concerto engagements, so he has to test the limits. That’s one reason he founded the West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and is essentially a gathering of Power’s friends, who happen to include the likes of Vilde Frang, Adrian Brendel and Pavel Kolesnikov. Critics aren’t exactly banned, but they aren’t actively invited, either. West Wycombe is where Power and pals have a chance to play around with repertoire and instrument swapping. “It’s important to have a space where we can all be out of our comfort zones,” he explains.
For the full interview, see February 2020 edition of BBC Music Magazine