Is it just me, or has the viola suddenly become hot?

Between items in the news and items crossing the KZSU transom, viola seems to be popping up much more than usual.

* Violist Nadia Sirota got quite a few good reviews for her album First Things First, including one in the Mercury News (albeit as part of a classical-CD roundup.)  Kudossource: new amsterdam to the New Amsterdam label for getting her noticed in the first place, let alone reviewed.

* Jessica Pavone turns to the viola for her duo work with Mary Halvorson.

* Szilard Mezei. He’s only got a few albums out, but yeah, he’s a viola-slinging bandleader.

* Mat Maneri‘s viola seems to have become his lead instrument since the early 2000s, with his violin relegated to the bench.

… And then you’ve got viola as a front-line ensemble player in various jazz groups, like Carl Maguire’s Floriculture (Stephanie Griffin) or Sean Noonan’s Brewed By Noon (actually, that’s Maneri again so it might not count.)

What gives? Is it people like me who just like the freshness of a little-used instrument (and if so, is the oboe/bassoon revolution far behind)? Is it a case of musicians hearing, and then wanting to explore, the deeper sonorities and more breathy voice of the viola? Is it dumb plain coincidence?

All this matters to me because I played viola in elementary school. I couldn’t resist the appeal of playing an instrument nobody else did (and I sort of felt sorry for the viola).  As a result, I’ve developed an attachment to the viola in my music listening; it’s been my gateway to a lot of classical music, for instance, as I’ve been introduced to composers by their viola sonatas and concertos.  It’s nice to see the viola getting this kind of attention. But that openes up a bigger question: If the viola becomes cool, does that mean I have to dump it because it’s too trendy? (Kidding.)

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