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A Career Commitment to the Viola

February 21, 1988|JOHN HENKEN

The viola may be the reticent middle member of the modern string family, but its advocacy has made an outgoing career for Thomas Riebl. He makes his Los Angeles recital debut Friday and then plays Gunther Schuller's Viola Concerto at Carnegie Hall the following week, while juggling touring with the Vienna String Sextet and teaching at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

The 31-year-old Viennese musician came to the viola as a violinist, when he was 15, but had no hesitancy in making an instant change. "I made an immediate inner commitment (to the viola)," he states. "I loved the sound."

Comparing his instrument of choice to both the violin and cello, Riebl says, "It's not such a virtuoso instrument--it's more lyric, more intimate."

Success on the viola came almost as quickly as affection had. Riebl became principal viola with the Jeunesse World Orchestra at 16. A series of competition awards culminated in the first prize at the Naumburg Viola Competition in 1982.

Riebl has played a concerto here with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. His local recital debut, however, comes on a Da Camera Society sponsored program at the Doheny Mansion on the Los Angeles campus of Mount St. Mary's College.

Riebl has been concertizing with his accompanist, Deborah Sobol, for more than three years. His program is equally familiar to him--Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata, Schumann's "Marchenbilder" and Shostakovich's Viola Sonata.

"I choose pieces which are most important to me," Riebl says of his programming. The Viola Sonata, Shostakovich's last completed work, "is very deep, very moving. It's really a major work--in fact, one of the major pieces of the century."

Contemporary works are important to Riebl; Schuller's Concerto was written for him, as were works by European composers such as Gottfried von Einem.

Teaching is another facet of Riebl's career that he takes seriously, "because of the responsibility you get to take of young people and their development."

Riebl is also a founding member of the Vienna String Sextet, with which he travels regularly, though the ensemble's current tour will not bring it to Los Angeles.

And somehow, he balances all of this with family demands--he has a wife and a 4-year-old child in Vienna. "I feel quite happy," Riebl reports of his full life. "I think I can do everything I need to quite well."

CENTENNIAL COMMISSION: Vladimir Ussachevsky's "To the Young," commissioned by Pomona College in celebration of its centennial, will be given its premiere March 31, with Robert Shaw conducting the Pomona College Symphony Orchestra. The 77-year-old composer also wrote a work for the College's 50th anniversary, and Shaw led that premiere as well.

CMA AWARDS: Pasadena's Coleman Chamber Music Association, preparing its 85th anniversary, was awarded the Regional Service Award at the Chamber Music America national conference. Bernard Greenhouse, retiring cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio, received the National Service Award.

RUSSIAN TOURS: Dance Theatre of Harlem is undertaking a five-week tour of the U.S.S.R. in May and June. The repertory will include "Footprints Dressed in Red," "Firebird," and "Concerto in F" seen in the company's recent engagement in Pasadena. Contributions for the tour, which is receiving no financial support from the U.S. government, can be made to the company at 466 W. 152nd St., N.Y., N.Y., 10031.

The Cleveland String Quartet's 20th anniversary tour will take the ensemble to the U.S.S.R. for the first time, next September. In addition to seven performances, the group will give workshops and master classes.

LOCAL COMPOSERS: Mark McGurty's Piano Sonata and Eighth String Quartet will be premiered by pianist Delores Stevens and the Armadillo Quartet this evening in the Little Theater at Mount St. Mary's College. . .Todd Winkler's "Stone and Elm" will be given its premiere by Alvin Mills and the Brentwood-Westwood Symphony, Feb. 28.

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