The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You Must Hear This -– the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch. | October 26, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

I saw and heard Madison-born and Madison-raised violist Vicki Powell (below) last Wednesday night. That was when the alumna of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), the UW-Madison School of Music, the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute  who now plays with the New York Philharmonic and other prestigious groups and who has participated in the Marlboro and Aspen festivals, returned from New York City to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Vicki Powell at MCO

It was a wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable performance as well as very affordable event, as you can read in the review by John W. Barker that was posted yesterday.

Here is a link:

After the concert done in the terrific 90-minute, no intermission format that I think attracts many people, there was a meet-and-greet, with cookies and punch, where the public and the musicians could mingle – and did.

MCO June 2014 reception

That’s when I went up to the lovely, gifted and poised Vicki Powell and remarked on how beautiful her playing had been with the MCO under conductor Steve Kurr (below top). I was quite taken with her reading of the rarely heard Fantasy on Themes by Mozart for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (below bottom).

Hummel remains a much underappeciated composer who was invited by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself to live in his house and take free lessons.

Vicki Powell and Steve Kurr MCO finale


But what really swept me away was the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by the 19th-century Romantic German composer Max Bruch (below).

max bruch

I have heard Max Bruch’s popular violin concertos – especially No. 1  in G minor — and his Kol Nidre for cello and piano as well as his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra.

But this work was completely new and unknown to me, but captivated me from the first notes. No 10 listenings or more needed to like and appreciate this work!

“I am amazed it hasn’t yet been used for a movie soundtrack,” I said to Powell.

“Really?” she said. “So am I.”

That is how beautiful and tuneful, how accessible and emotional, it is.

And maybe you will be surprised too.

So here is a YouTube video of the work performed by violist Miles Hoffman, who also comments frequently on classical music for NPR (National Public Radio). It lasts about 9-1/2 minutes and is pure loveliness.

Miles Hoffman NPR

And maybe it has indeed been used in the movies.

If so and you know, please let us know.

And let us know what you think of the piece, which The Ear thinks deserves to be programmed much more often, even though the viola is not often featured as a solo instrument with orchestra. (All the more reason to admire the Middleton Community Orchestra and its mission.)

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Bruch’s Romanz seems to be the inspiration for the love theme in the movie “While You Were Sleeping ” . I don’t know whether or not Bruch was given credit.

    Comment by Susan — May 20, 2016 @ 8:35 pm

  2. I believe your Youtube link in the story is not correct (I followed it and was led to an article about Youtube. The correct link is:

    Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    • Thank you for reading and replying.
      Your link to the Bruch Romance is correct and works.
      Bu when I checked the one AT THE BOTTOM of my post,
      not the highlighted text,
      it also worked.
      And yours is the only complaint I received about this from many readers.
      Maybe you clicked on the wrong one
      or maybe your computer and device has a different setup.
      I will keep checking, though.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 27, 2014 @ 7:08 am

  3. A few things regarding the Bruch:

    1) Unknown it is, but only outside the circle of violists. And Wisconsin HS violists have access to to it (and the Hummel) on the WSMA Festival List for Solo & Ensemble.

    2) My personal favorite moment in the work the deceptive cadence toward the end (around 7:50 in your YouTube video). That delicious bite is missed by some violists because it comes mostly from the orchestral part, but Vicki Powell was very sensitive to it.

    3) I have always been a big fan of the shorter solo works, like this Romance, or the Bruch Kol Nidre, or the Romance by Dvorak, or any number of excellent single movement works for soloist and orchestra. Unfortunately, orchestras like to make sure that their audiences get their money’s worth out of a guest artist so they most often program a larger concerto. But I am guessing nobody in the MCO audience Wednesday night felt gypped after hearing Vicki perform the Hummel and Bruch–such a fine musician!

    Steve Kurr

    Comment by Steve Kurr — October 26, 2014 @ 10:31 am

    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      Thanks most of all for the music you conducted, and for the insight into the special moment in the Bruch Romance.
      I agree with you about the appeal of shorter concerted works that too often get neglected.
      Mozart also did a couple of wonderful rondos for piano and orchestra, especially the E-flat one, I think.
      I love the Beethoven you mention and the Dvorak, also Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.
      And I am sure there are many more that I look forward to discovering through the Middleton Community Orchestra since larger groups often do not program them.
      My best to you,

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 26, 2014 @ 11:01 am

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