David Aaron Carpenter

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The brilliant violist tells us about his new Paganini-inspired CD

Having burst onto the music scene as the first American and youngest ever protégé of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in 2007, David Aaron Carpenter’s career rise has been rapid. At only 25, Carpenter has had an acclaimed debut album, been the recipient of the 2010 Avery Fischer Career Grant and this year will be the first violist to be awarded the Leonard Bernstein Prize at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. We talk to him about his second album on the Ondine label, out on 30 August. 
 
Your second album, released on 30 August, features Berlioz’s Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict and Harold In Italy as well as Paganini’s Sonata per la Gran Viol e Orchestra, Op. 35.  How did you come to choose these three works? 
The CD revolves around one main character: Niccolò Paganini. When Paganini acquired a 1731 Stradivarius viola, he wanted something to play that really showed off the instrument, so he commissioned Berlioz to write him a piece for viola and orchestra. Unfortunately, they did not quite agree on what the piece should be. Paganini wanted a florid viola concerto and Berlioz had in mind something less virtuosic. Paganini refused to play the piece when he saw the first sketch for the Allegro as he couldn’t believe the amount of rests the viola had!
 
I think it’s actually better that Paganini refused the work because it inspired him to write his Gran Sonata which satisfied his highly technical, virtuosic way of playing and allowed Harold In Italy to evolve into the amazing piece it is, with viola and orchestra supporting one another. I’m playing Berlioz’s first sketch of Harold In Italy, which includes the virtuosic passages composed to please Paganini which were later cut.
 
The disc opens with Berlioz's Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict as it is a mature piece of work which introduces Berlioz’s musical style and juxtaposes with the other pieces.
 
You recorded the CD with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under Valdimir Ashkenazy. What were they like to perform with?  
The Helsinki Philharmonic are an amazing orchestra: their intonation, articulation and musical integrity is impeccable. From the downbeat of the first rehearsal to the last beat of the final day, the orchestra sounded like one voice, completely in unison. It’s a credit to Maestro Ashkenazy whose charisma, joie de vivre and larger-than-life personality overwhelmingly contributed to the making of this recording. It’s been so inspirational to have him at the helm, leading us through it.
 
What are your plans for the rest of the summer? 
After the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival I’ll be performing in Croatia for the Julian Rachlin & Friends Festival with Janine Jansen and on 10 October the orchestra that I founded with my brother and sister, the Salomé Chamber Orchestra, will be playing a concert of Mozart and Joseph Martin Kraus at New York's Carnegie Hall.
 
I’m currently recording three viola concertos by Kraus for my next Ondine disc. His works are seldom recorded and as these viola concertos are newly discovered it’s been really interesting to play them and make them better known. That’s my goal as a musician – to look for works both old and new and bring them to a new audience.
 
Interview by Annie Reece
 
David Aaron Carpenter’s album is available now on iTunes and on CD from the 30th August.