Helen Callus, hailed as “one of the world’s greatest violists” (American Record Guide), “a violist of the highest caliber” (Strings magazine), and “one of the foremost violists of her generation” (Fanfare magazine), continues to captivate audiences with her lyrical tone, technical command, and profound artistry. Sought after as a recitalist, chamber musician, and concerto soloist, Ms. Callus has performed with such world-class ensembles as the Tokyo and Juilliard String Quartets and the BBC Concert Orchestra. She is described by The Seattle Times as “a player with impeccable sensibilities and a beautiful sound, infinitely malleable into all kinds of musical subtleties.” The American Record Guide observed that “her playing is so deeply felt [that] the music’s message goes straight to the heart.”
While maintaining an international concert calendar, Ms. Callus’s career also includes distinguished work as a recording artist. Her 2002 debut recording for ASV Records, “Portrait of the Viola,” was met with highest critical acclaim. Recorded in New York’s Academy of Arts and Letters with famed pianist Robert McDonald, the disc was produced by the legendary Max Wilcox. In reviewing the recording, Gramophone magazine declared, “No previous recording surpasses this newcomer in terms of sweep or communicative ardour.” The American Record Guide concurred, with the reviewer noting, “The night I wrote this review, I found her performance so moving, so addicting, that I kept listening to it over and over before I could bring myself to finish the review. Very rarely have I felt a need to listen to a recording over and over. Only really great artistry can hold a listener in thrall like that, and that is the artistry of Helen Callus.”
Her second recording, “Walton,” was released by ASV in 2006 and featured Ms. Callus with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marc Taddei. Gramophone wrote, “Helen Callus plays with a sumptuous tone matched by flawless intonation to give the most beautiful account I have ever heard of the Walton Concerto,” and gave the disc its highest recommendation. The recording was named Orchestral Disc of the Month by Britain’s Classic FM Magazine, and “the most beautiful Walton on disc” by the 2006 Penguin Guide to Compact Discs. Of her third ASV release, “Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet,” recorded in Frankfurt in 2006 with pianist Phillip Bush, The Strad magazine commented, “Callus’s virtuosity…is admirable, with every note clearly in place in spite of the breakneck tempo.” The International Record Review noted, “Immediately distinguishing this recital is the distinctive timbre that Helen Callus elicits from her instrument.”
In the summer of 2010 she was invited by Dutton Epoch to record with the BBC Concert Orchestra in London. This disc of previously unrecorded works features Ms. Callus as soloist in three concertos and small pieces by 20th-century British composer Gordon Jacob. In the same year, she embarked on a new collaboration with the award-winning independent Canadian record company Analekta to produce a multiple disc set of Bach, starting with the Cello Suites and most recently, the Bach Gamba Sonatas. Again, all three recordings were met with widespread critical acclaim. In reviewing the Jacobs’ CD, Fanfare magazine noted that Ms. Callus “is a first-rate soloist, skittishly virtuosic when the score requires it.” Of the Bach Suites, Fanfare declared, ‘These are top drawer recordings in every way. Callus’ playing should be considered exhibit A for anyone with remaining doubts about the viola’s ability to stand alongside the other strings as a viable solo instrument.”
Ms. Callus’s award-winning recording with the Bridge Ensemble of Giya Kancheli’s Piano Quartet “In Listessto Tempo” for ECM’s New Series, was selected by BBC Music Magazine as Best Choice for Chamber Music Recording in April 2005. Of another recording, “Is But A Dream” for Boston Records, the American Record Guide lauded her performance, observing, “The reading of the Loeffler Rhapsodies is the best I have ever heard. Part of that reason is the superlative viola playing by Helen Callus with a romantic sound that just blisters in crescendos.”
In live performances, Ms. Callus has delighted audiences in major cities around the world, including those of Russia, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and extensively throughout the US. Much in demand as a performer at international chamber music festivals, including, among others, the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, the Palaces of St. Petersburg Chamber Music Festival (Russia), and the Dilijan Chamber Music Series at Zipper Hall, Los Angeles, Ms. Callus has also served as the Artistic Director of the Centrum Chamber Music Festival, situated on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townsend.
In 2003, as a guest at Brigham Young University for the Primrose Memorial Recital, Ms. Callus performed with the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City to an audience of 4,000, which was broadcast to over 2,000 television stations around the world. Ms. Callus has also been invited to perform at numerous major international viola congresses, including those of New Zealand, Seattle (which she host-chaired), Germany, Minnesota, and Australia.
Ms. Callus can be heard regularly on American Public Media’s Performance Today, the most-listened-to classical music radio program in America, and in interviews on National Public Radio and Public Radio International. In 2005, Ms. Callus was invited to perform as solo guest with pianist Phillip Bush in American Public Media’s Peabody Award-winning radio show, Saint Paul Sunday, in a program of previously unknown works for viola and piano. Both shows were broadcast to an audience of over 1 million listeners round the globe.
Ms. Callus currently holds the appointment of Professor of Viola in the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. She has held multiple positions including as faculty at the Colburn Young Artists Academy in Los Angeles for exceptionally talented pre-college students and her first teaching appointment, at the age of 26, was at the University of Washington, where she taught for seven years. She then accepted a position at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she continued to teach for 13 years. A tireless advocate for the viola and for student musicians, Ms. Callus is in high demand across the country as a visiting professor. She has taught over 100 master classes around the world, at the Royal Academy of Music in London, The Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen, The Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo and the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, to name only a few. She has also given residencies at some of the nation’s leading schools of music such as the Juilliard School, Indiana University School of Music, The Cleveland Institute, The Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Rice School of Music, Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music, The Colburn School and the University of Michigan, as well as for organizations such as the American String Teachers Association National Conference and the Suzuki Association of the Americas. In 2005 Ms. Callus was invited as the guest of honor for the Australian Teaching Association and Australian National Youth Orchestra’s “Year of the Viola” Festival held outside of Sydney. A prize winner at several major competitions, including the Tertis International Viola Competition, Ms. Callus has adjudicated for the American String Teachers Association and the Coleman Chamber Ensemble Festival, and served as Chair of the jury for the renowned Primrose International Viola Competition in 2003.
Her multi-faced career also includes laudable work as an arts administrator. Ms. Callus has served as the President of the American Viola Society, honored as the first woman elected to that title, and as the Viola Forum Editor for the American String Teachers Association Journal. She was the founder of the educational outreach organization BRATS (Bratsche Resources And Teaching in the Schools), first brought to national attention in the February 2002 issue of The Strad. Now under the auspices of the American Viola Society, the program provides a valuable resource for teachers in local schools to assist with recruitment and retention of young viola students.
The subject of numerous feature articles, Ms. Callus has embraced arts journalism herself, contributing numerous articles for both The Strad and Strings. Most recently she released a book of technique “One Step Scale System for Viola-10 Exercises to a Better Left Hand” published by Carl Fischer in New York that is a culmination of 20 years of experience teaching advanced level students. As Strings stated in a 2005 article entitled “The Advocate,” “Helen Callus might just be the best friend the viola world ever had.”
Born in Orpington, Kent, Ms. Callus began her music studies at six. A student of Ian Jewel, she graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music, and was bestowed an Honorary ARAM (Associate of the RAM) and FRAM (Fellow) for her achievements in the field. She continued her graduate studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Maryland, where she served as teaching assistant to the prominent violist Paul Coletti.
Ms. Callus plays on a viola made for her by Gabrielle Kundert which is a copy of the ex-Primrose Amati.
For more information please visit www.helencallus.com.
Northwestern Viola Studio goes live on American Viola Society blog, From The Studio. Check back for regular posts at: studio.americanviolasociety.org/2017
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