Violist Hillary Herndon is an experienced orchestral and chamber player currently based at the University of Tennessee. She’s a champion of her instrument and the composers who write for it. Her latest CD is titled La Viola and it features music by women composers of the 20th century.
For many of us, some of the names on this double CD set are unfamiliar. For you it began with the English composer Rebecca Clarke.
“The Clarke Sonata is one of the standards of the viola literature. But in my performances I was finding that audiences were quite surprised that it was by a woman. As a result of that I started asking friends and looking at web sites to find what other pieces were written by women that I could bring to get rid of some of the surprise in the audiences.”
The focus of Herndon’s La Viola is on the 20th century. “There were certainly women who composed before then, but there were many things happening in the world at that time. As the world wars that took the men, women were needed elsewhere and that included in the arts. They started entering conservatories, they were publishing, and performing in a way that they hadn’t been doing before. “
Although all the women are from the 20th century, Herndon says the show a wide variety of techniques and styles. “Absolutely, the Louise le Beau is the earliest piece on the program and although it’s lots of fun, you’ll hear the echoes from the 19th century. A much more forward looking piece is by Pam Harrison. And the Ferrande Decruck piece is very much a standard French work with lots of those little melismas floating around.”
All the composers are women, but Herndon doesn’t think there’s a specially ‘womanly touch.”
“I don’t believe so. That was something that I was a little nervous about. When I started listening to the selections, I just found that these were great pieces. There’s literature out there for the viola that’s not just Brahms and Hindemith and so much of it is still undiscovered and not played. I like to bring things to the audience that they haven’t heard before and it just so happened that these were all by women.”
Violist Hillary Herndon’s double CD La Viola: Music for Viola and Piano by Women Composers of the 20th Century” with pianist Wei-Chun Bernadette is on the MSR Classics label