Interview: Christopher Moore

MCO’s Beyond Baroque can be heard in Melbourne on Sunday 30 April at Melbourne Recital Centre & Thursday 04 May at The Deakin Edge, Federation Square.

Christopher Moore is the viola soloist for Beyond Baroque. Christopher worked across the globe with orchestras such as the Adelaide and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and is now based in Melbourne as the principal violist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

MCO: You began your musical career as a violinist. What made you shift your focus to the viola and how has this affected your career as a musician?
Christopher: I’ve always had a fascination, a fixation even, on the things that make music so intriguing to the human ear so I’ve constantly been drawn to what’s going on under the hood. Once I tried playing the viola I realised there was more scope (at least for me) for different colours and sounds. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s actually true. The violin does make my head look huge. Why did I swap to the viola? Vanity…

MCO: A viola soloist is not something you see every day, and something that many people may not have heard before. Do you ever find yourself labouring against certain prejudices (perhaps you have a favourite viola joke), or does this more often work in your favour?
Christopher: There’s probably a doctoral thesis if anyone could be bothered writing it: “The Viola Joke – A History” but honestly, I don’t know many violists that would read it. It just seems to be violinists and cellists that have an insatiable thirst for the latest viola jokes. Violists are too busy helping them become better people. I fear it’s a losing battle but we can only try.

MCO: After having spent many years as principal violist of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, you now hold the same role in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. How do the two experiences compare, in terms of lifestyle?
Christopher: I used to have a sizeable collection of those little shampoos and conditioners that you get in hotels, now I buy shampoo at the supermarket. On the bright side, I have seen more of my family in the last two years than I have in the previous ten.

MCO: Does the role of the viola differ much between chamber and symphonic settings?
Christopher: There are three violas in the ACO and twelve in the MSO, so each present different challenges when it comes to sound production and colours. Also, as a violist in the symphony you end up playing with many other sections of the orchestra (especially the horns, cor anglais and clarinets,) whereas in the chamber orchestras you’re on your own.

MCO: Tell us a little bit about the programme of Beyond Baroque and what the audience may find particularly interesting about it?
Christopher: The word ‘baroque’ was applied to music of a period later than that of baroque architecture, literature and painting etc., but the grandeur and drama is definitely displayed in the works we will hear. Playing it certainly presents many questions and challenges for the performer – the listener is part of the journey.

MCO: I hear that you will be restringing your viola in order to use gut strings for the concert. How will this affect your performance?
Christopher: There’s something human about gut strings. They respond to the bow more immediately and have a rich, complex tone. Of course they’re not as powerful as modern synthetic and steel strings, but we are lucky to have such wonderful acoustics to play in so all of the nuance will be heard. Interestingly, we’ve only been using synthetic strings for about one hundred years; the war made it difficult to find materials for quality gut strings. Still, in the 1920s, violinists in many German orchestras were bound by contracts that stipulated use of gut E strings.

MCO: The JS Bach viola concerto you are playing is a reconstruction, so there could be some conjecture about whether the concerto was ever really conceived by Bach for viola. Playing the work, does it feel natural on the viola or do you suspect it’s not really written with the viola in mind?
Christopher: Bach, like many of his colleagues, borrowed from himself and others – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. We know that this work was originally for oboe, but much of the material has been lost. Most likely it would have been played on violin as well, so there is no reason why it would not have been heard on the viola. What does remain is Bach’s reworking for keyboard and strings. With Bach’s score (that he used in performance) readily available, I’ve managed to go through the whole thing and add much of Bach’s ornamentation, which adds another dimension to the reconstruction. Fingers crossed I can fit in all the extra notes!