The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 21, 2013

Electric violas, Baroque sopranos and Russian weather

Posted by Gregory Stepanich

Martha Mooke.

The viola is not an instrument that gets a whole lot of love when it comes to musicians looking for a solo career. The violin and cello usually get more interest, in part because there’s a much bigger repertoire for those instruments, not just in chamber works such as sonatas, but concertos, too.

But Martha Mooke has never let that get in her way of carving out a niche, which she’s done now for decades, as the leading exponent of the five-string electric viola. Inspired by the example of the crossover jazz Frenchman Jean-Luc Ponty, Mooke has written a substantial body of music for her instrument, using a variety of recording and acoustic effects that add a lot of possibilities and colors to the sounds she makes (as you can hear here).

Mooke is the founder of the Storchio Quartet, which has played with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, among many rockers, and by herself has played for Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett and other pop stars of a different generation.

Tonight at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, Mooke joins FLEA, Florida International University’s laptop ensemble, for a free concert as part of FIU’s New Music Miami Festival. I like this description she has of her work on one of her sites: “Think of Terry Riley, Hendrix, Fripp, Miles, Jarre, Stravinsky, Ravel jamming in a cave w/a Zen Buddhist monk,” she writes. “Add Phish meets Philip Glass when my string quartet Scorchio is on the bill!”

If that doesn’t pique your interest and lead you to give the viola a second chance, I don’t know what will. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit

Kathryn Mueller. Kathryn Mueller.

Kathryn Mueller: The Arizona-based soprano and Seraphic Fire regular joins the Firebird Chamber Orchestra this week and weekend in solo cantatas by Antonio Vivaldi and J.S. Bach in a program called Vivaldi and the Soprano: Vocal Fireworks.

The first concert of five was last night in Miami, and tonight she and the orchestra are in Boca Raton. Tomorrow night, it’s Coral Gables, Saturday it’s Fort Lauderdale, and on Sunday afternoon, the series ends at Miami Beach Community Church.

Mueller will be singing Vivaldi’s In furore justissimae irae (RV 626) and Bach’s Cantata No. 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, with trumpet solos by Billy Ray Hunter, principal trumpeter of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. (Here’s a performance of the Bach, sung by the Dutch soprano Lenneke Ruiten in a Spanish concert led by the great Baroque specialist Helmuth Rilling.)

For more information, call 305-285-9060 or visit

Polina Osetinskaya. Polina Osetinskaya.

Polina Osetinskaya: The Russian pianist who chronicled her difficult childhood as a prodigy in a memoir called Farewell, Sadness (2009) returns to Trinity Cathedral on Saturday night for a concert featuring music by Handel and Tchaikovsky.

Neither of these composers is particularly known for their solo keyboard music, though both wrote a good deal of it. Osetinskaya will be playing a Handel chaconne and music from his keyboard suites, and for the Tchaikovsky, it’s The Seasons, the composer’s suite of 12 pieces, one for each month.

Tchaikovsky wrote them for a monthly Russian magazine called Nuvelliste, which published them in its 1876 issues, and while they’re not as well-known as they could be as a whole set, at least one of them – the barcarolle called June – is one of his most admired miniatures.

Osetinskaya has been a familiar figure in piano circles in Miami for a number of years, and she is a player of formidable technique and great sensitivity. The concert starts at 7, and tickets are $15-$20. Call 305-789-0074 or visit

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