October 28, 2009

Upcoming concert will put the viola center-stage

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Aurélien Pétillot describes the viola as dark chocolate.

That is, compared to the violin, which is more like milk chocolate, or the cello, which could be compared to chocolate cake.

Or, to use another example, one could say the violin parallels a soprano voice, while the viola represents the tenor.

Pétillot, who joined the School of Music faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale this fall, presents the viola in a free concert beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 in the Old Baptist Foundation Recital Hall on campus.

“My goal is to promote and defend the viola,” he said, noting that the instrument is often overlooked. “When you see a string quartet, usually it’s two violins, one cello and one viola. People are familiar with it, they just don’t always know that they are.”

Pétillot admires the viola for its “beautiful, lush, alluring, expressive, vocal and versatile sound.” He describes it as producing dark music with dramatic moods.

In spite of the darkness he describes, he promises the concert will be fun.

“I know that there is a disconnect with our generation and classical music,” he said. “I’ve sat through bad classical music concerts, too, where it seems like music written by and played by dead people. But I want to debunk the stereotypes and fears associated with classical music. I always try to present a very eclectic program in a friendly and accessible manner.”

This concert, Pétillot said, will span about 400 years of music, with works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Hindemith, and contemporary works composed by SIUC faculty members Frank Stemper, David Lyons and Kathleen Ginther.

“Music is a true time-machine,” he said. “You can see a movie about a different era or made years ago, but it is very particular to music to be able to travel 400 years in one night.”

Pétillot is joined by fellow School of Music faculty members Michael Barta (violin), Eric Lenz (cello), and David Lyons (piano), and by his wife, Elizabeth Pétillot, a mezzo-soprano.