The viola d’amore is an instrument that long fascinated me for its mysterious but persistent history and its sweet, uniquely resonant tone. Four years ago I finally had the opportunity to borrow an instrument for two months and was hooked. In 2013 I commissioned well-known d’amore luthier Martin Biller to build one, which arrived at the end of that year. What a thrill to get to know it! The viola d’amore is at once familiar & alien: familiar in that it is played with a Baroque or modern bow & has strings of roughly the same length as my viola, alien in its number of playing strings (7), tuning, and sound palette.
Baroque repertoire, written when the instrument first appeared in Europe, was my original interest- but playing Martin’s d’amore quickly led to wider exploration. Fellow violist and d’amore player Garth Knox was, and remains, a great inspiration.
In the summer of 2017 I was fortunate to acquire another instrument: a J. U. Eberle built in Prague in 1731. Formerly owned by Myron Rosenblum, it is very different from my Biller- shorter string length, thinner neck, smaller distance between the strings, and steeper curve of the bridge. The sound is altogether different as well: radiant and darkly luminous, with lots of flexibility in the lower register.
Commissioning new solo works for the viola d'amore has been engaging at a level I never have experienced with new viola pieces. Composers Reena Esmail, Michael Theodore, Conor Brown, and Marcus Maroney have each been wonderful to work with.