Violist, teacher and composer Roger Tapping delighted and enriched the lives of others with his unique intelligence, kindness and style, but departed the world far too early—in 2022 at age 61. His respected and multifaceted career as violist of the Takács and Juilliard Quartets, as beloved mentor at many conservatories, and as wise musician are legendary. His selfless music making and twinkling yet deep intelligence, endeared him to many. Inevitably, celebrating his life with reminiscences and creativity as in this week’s memorial concert created jointly by Yellow Barn and NEC allowed a goodly audience of friends, colleagues and fans– plus others who streamed it to savor the man and his work and musical responses thereto. The event featured heartfelt remembrances as well as the gift of important new viola repertoire; Yellow Barn commissioned nine works in Tapping’s memory. We heard five―two in world premieres, the last co-commissioned by the Juilliard School, New York Classical Players and Rhode Island Chamber Music Concerts), as well as a work by Tapping himself.
Seth Knopp, the Artistic Director of Yellow Barn, where Tapping played and taught from 2003 to 2021; violist Kim Kashkashian, cellist Paul Katz and violinist Donald Weilerstein introduced the gentle event including their own fond, poignant reminiscences.
Lei Liang (b. 1972) created a Mongolian Suite to promulgate compelling and moving songs from inner Mongolia, arranging melodies, some known— and others, imagined—stemming from the region. Violist Liz Freivogel of the Jupiter Quartet premiered Feng from that suite in a transcription from the original cello version. Feng, which possesses multiple meanings in Chinese, such as wind, maple and encounter, conjured whispering and eerie sounds, evoking windy Mongolian steppes and a bit like bagpipes on Scottish moors.
French composer Philippe Hersant’s (b.1948) For Roger for two violas, enchants with both playful and mournful intent. Through various bowing techniques the two players shadow, mirror and nearly become attached. Here Jessica Bodner and Hannah Burnett (the latter performed it at its Yellow Barn premiere) clearly savored the process in this confection featuring the viola’s higher register and harmonics, providing keening, yet gently sad and conversational sounds.
The Balourdet Quartet (Justin DeFilippis and Angela Bae, violin; Benjamin Zannoni, viola and Russell Houston, cello) delivered a 2021 string quartet by Tapping himself— Reverberations, written during the pandemic and premiered by the Balourdet during Tapping’s last season at Yellow Barn. It brought a palpable sense of Tapping into the hall.
Natalie Loughran wafted Slow Wind (For Roger), in which composer (Stephen Coxe, b. 1966) and instrumentalist seemingly captured Tapping’s spirit. In this elegiac piece. Coxe a former Tapping student currently teaching at Old Dominion in Virginia invoked the influences of his past master.
Australian composer and violist Brett Dean’s I Starred Last Night, I Shone (2023), transpired as a lyrically humorous and exquisitely executed conversation between mezzo-soprano (Rebecca Printz) and viola (Rosemary Nelis). This brief pice de résistance begins with nonsensical phrases, tunefully arranged, and progresses to a lovely poem by Lee Murray. The two musicians, nearly intertwining, entertained and charmed.
The concert’s second half rewarded us with the premiere of a memorable 2023 Double Concerto No. 2, for two violas by Eric Nathan (b. 1983). As an added treat, Nathan conducted soloists Misha Amory and Hsin-Yun Huang and a resplendent orchestra in his imaginative work, which glows and grows as it builds. It bestowed a fitting, radiant finish to this evening of remembrance over its five movements, which shimmered and danced: I—a dialogue, intimately; II — Brilliantly, vibrantly; III— Vigorously, racing; IV— Embracing with warmth; V— Dancing, joyous and a Coda: Freely , with rubato, like wind. The string orchestra, included the evening’s string soloists and many of Roger’s colleagues and friends. Members of the Ariel, Jupiter and Parker Quartets acted as reverberant soul-bearers for Tapping.
The twinkling intelligence and grace of Roger Tapping pervaded Jordan Hall with much love. While the sounds evaporated, these additions to the viola repertoire will enrich listeners for many years.