Unlike the majority of pieces written for competitions, which are wont to disappear quietly onto untouched library shelves… Concertstück is now greatly appreciated by violists, for whom technically demanding and yet beautiful repertoire is, as ever, lacking. – Violist Shiry Rashkovsky
If there were a competition among competition pieces, surely one of the top prizes would go to Romanian composer George Enescu’s Concertstück (“Concert Piece”) for viola & piano. It came about after newly-installed Paris Conservatoire president Gabriel Fauré asked the then-25-year-old Enescu to write some fresh pieces for the prestigious competition at the Conservatoire. Enescu obliged, offering the Concert Piece, along with competition pieces for harp, trumpet and flute. (Fauré’s push to modernize the Conservatoire and it competition with fresh pieces and new faculty led him to be dubbed “Robespierre” by disaffected members of the conservatory’s old guard!)
What’s given this throwaway pieces such staying power? Violist Shiry Rashkovsky elaborates:
It is precisely because of the way in which Enescu constructed the challenges of the piece that it has outlived its original purpose. As a competition piece, its design was to test the utmost capacities of the Conservatoire students. Concertstück poses three essential challenges. The first is its technical difficulty. The florid semi-quaver passages, returning each time in subtly altered rhythmic and melodic permutations, require great left-hand dexterity, while the tout l’archet marking which accompanies them demands a steady and well-controlled right arm. The lyrical double-stop theme commands control of sound quality, and the fiery middle section great energy and panache coupled with instrumental skill. Herein lies the second essential demand of Concertstück: that the violist balance musicality with proficiency. Finally, it remains for the deceptively similar repetitions of earlier phrases to be committed to memory without error. That the result of such a design, when mastered, is so profoundly evocative is what rightly places Concertstück within the canon.
Heifetz 2017 Artist in Residence Andrew Gonzalez, joined by faculty pianist Jun Cho, offered this fresh performance of Enescu’s gift to the competition crowd at Mary Baldwin University’s Francis Auditorium in Staunton, home arena of the Heifetz Institute. Take a look!