Explore The Music
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ZWILICH: Piano Trio
ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH
Born Miami, April 30, 1939
Composed in 1987; 16 minutes
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich began her musical career in the mid-1960s as a professional violinist. It was only later, in 1970, that she began studying composition in earnest at The Juilliard School, where her teachers included Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions. Zwilich was the first woman to receive a doctorate in composition from Juilliard, later becoming the first female to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in music and the first holder of the composer’s chair at Carnegie Hall. In addition to numerous major awards, grants and commissions, Zwilich has received four Grammy® Award nominations.
Zwilich calls her style “an amalgam of this and that,” with influences that extend from jazz to Beethoven, Brahms and Berg, noting that “there is an electricity in good music” that transcends style. In composing her 1987 Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello, Zwilich draws on the spirit as well as the techniques of Beethoven, especially his piano trios. She explains, “My favorite works for piano trio are, in effect, duos in which the two strings together balance the piano…. Ultimately, however, the piano, violin and cello are partners, three equal voices of exploration.” The Piano Trio was written for The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and commissioned by the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 92nd Street Y and San Francisco Performances, Inc.
The first movement (Allegro con brio) begins by pairing the strings in long-held notes and playing them off against the chromatic whirling of the piano accompaniment. These two musical ideas are then traded back and forth with strikingly varied configurations. The final two pitches of the first movement, F# and A, are repeated in the (delayed) piano entry of the second movement (Lento); the piano enters only after the unaccompanied strings have outlined fragments from the first movement, reinterpreted as a lament. The brief finale (Presto) is a vigorous dance based on earlier motifs, but the focus is on pure energy and virtuosity rather than motivic development. As in the first movement, surprising silences are used to dramatic ends.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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Born Paide, Estonia, September 11, 1935
Composed in 1992; 7 minutes
Always concerned that his music be “worthy of the preceding silence,” Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s style is intentionally sparse. He once observed, “I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played,” and his studies of Gregorian chant taught him the “cosmic secret” hidden in the art of combining two or three notes. To many listeners, Pärt’s sparse compositions, interspersed with single notes, long rests and silence, function as an oasis of spiritual peace in a loud and complicated world.
This reserve, bordering on austerity, is heard in Pärt’s Mozart-Adagio, a transcription/arrangement of the affecting slow movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 280. Pärt composed this work in 1992 especially for The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio in a commission from the Helsinki Festival, but wrote it in memory of Oleg Kagan, one of Russia’s leading violinists (who had a special affinity for the music of Mozart) and a personal friend of the composer’s.
The Mozart-Adagio begins with a short introduction by the violin and cello, playing solitary notes in a halting duet. The piano then enters with the original Mozart sonata, as the strings offer moments of commentary. Then the division of original material and commentary begins to circulate among the trio, creating an equipoised combination of quotation, annotation and Pärt’s own “tintinnabuli” technique of bell-like sonorities.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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DANIELPOUR: A Child’s Reliquary
Born New York City, January 28, 1956
A Child’s Reliquary
Composed in 1999; 27 minutes
Richard Danielpour has cemented his place as one of America’s foremost composers and a singular voice in the tradition of American neo-Romanticism. Danielpour believes in what he calls music’s “internal memory,” or the maintaining of an unbroken connection with earlier masters and masterworks, and he readily admits to embracing the influences of composers including Copland, Stravinsky, Barber and Shostakovich: “[They] can’t help but be part of the brew,” he observes. Danielpour is also drawn to the sublime, allowing his music to be influenced by dreams and premonitions and viewing music as a conduit to the other-worldly.
A Child’s Reliquary was composed for The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and commissioned by 92Y and Hancher Auditorium/University of Iowa. It was motivated by the tragic death of 18-month-old Cole Carson St. Clair, whose father Carl was director of the Pacific Symphony. Danielpour was composer in residence with the orchestra in 1998, and he wrote the work in only a month’s time during the fall of 1999. It was, he said, “intended as a kind of Kindertotenlieder without words, and everything in the piece—including references to the Brahms Cradle Song—relates to its initial inspiration.”
The first movement opens with a cello/violin melody that recalls the yearning wistfulness of Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children. Rising octaves in the piano waver between major and minor harmonies, creating a bittersweet effect like that found in the first of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. A little further on, a chorale-like idea shares an affinity with Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Apart from a brief but turbulent middle section, the opening melody and the chorale theme form the substance of the movement’s materials.
In the faster second movement, the rhythms scamper and play under a dark, ominous cloud. After slipping surreptitiously into 3/4 time, it relaxes into an evocation of a Satie Gymnopédie, with its calculated naïveté. When the lively figures of the opening return, they are fractured and even more frantic.
The Adagietto begins by reprising the themes of the opening movement. When the quotation from Brahms’ famous lullaby is eventually heard in the violin, it sheds light retrospectively on the entire work—the lullaby had been hinted at repeatedly from the very beginning. At this point the score directions carry distinctly program¬matic connotations—“light, disembodied,” “distant, faded”—and the melodic contours begin to rise as the main theme is inverted. The work ends quietly, but not peacefully—grief is not so easily dispelled.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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BRAHMS: Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8
Born Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died Vienna, April 3, 1897
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8
Composed in 1853-54, revised in 1889; 37 minutes
Music historian H.C. Colles suggested that were it not for Brahms, the 19th century might have witnessed the end of serious chamber composition as we know it. Berlioz, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, even Mendelssohn showed an increasing interest in other genres, from solo virtuoso showpieces to spectacular orchestral works, but little interest in extended chamber music. This is the milieu into which the young Brahms ventured when he composed his Piano Trio in B major during 1853-54, the first chamber work he allowed to be published.
In 1888, Brahms’ publisher and friend Fritz Simrock bought the rights to a handful of his earliest works from their original publisher, Breitkopf and Härtel, and Brahms decided that the Piano Trio could do with some refining. In his revision, Brahms did not believe that he had substantially altered the work—he claimed that rather than providing it with a “wig,” he just “combed and arranged its hair a little.” But his revisions were more extensive that that. He kept the main themes of all the movements intact and essentially left the Scherzo alone, but completely reorganized the interior themes in the work. In a conversation with Clara Schumann, he questioned, “I have written my B-major trio once more…. It will not be so muddled up as it was, but will it be better?"
The first movement’s expansive opening theme is heard initially in the piano before it is joined by the cello harmonizing in thirds. Once the violin enters, the music remains in tonic for quite a long time, emphasizing the theme’s broadly lyrical character, before modulating brusquely to a secondary theme in G-sharp minor. This move introduces a harmonic relationship “by thirds,” an important structural element of each of the subsequent movements. The ornamented recapitulation in this sonata-allegro movement is even more animated and passionate than the exposition. Brahms adds another surprise in the recapitulation, where the violin and cello give a unison reprise of the first subject in G-sharp minor before reverting to the “proper” tonic of the original B major.
The Scherzo begins in B minor, and just as the first movement had modulated down a minor third, the second movement correspondingly modulates up a minor third, to D major for the central trio. This Scherzo shows the influence of Beethoven and even Chopin, whose piano scherzos demonstrated the same bold modulations, edgy figurations and robust (rather than simply fast) rhythms. The contrasting trio section is a little slower in tempo and much more expansive in its melodic phrasing.
The final chord of the Scherzo is reinterpreted in the first chord of the following chorale-like Adagio. As in the first movement, the Adagio then modulates to the relative minor to introduce a Schubertian theme in the cello. After a repeat of the chorale, the movement ends with the same gentle F-sharps in the strings that ended the preceding Scherzo, creating a unifying link between these inner movements.
The finale also begins in B minor with an ardent theme marked by a quietly repeated dotted rhythm and a second subject in D major, completing the Trio’s symmetrical harmonic plan. In the recapitulation, Brahms brings back the second subject, with its quirky off-beat accents, allowing the first subject, still in the minor mode, to have the final say.
© 2012 Luke Howard
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The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
After 36 years of success the world over, The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio continues to dazzle audiences and critics alike. As one of the few long-lived ensembles with all of its original members, the Trio of pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson have set the standard for performance of the piano trio literature. At the same time, the three members maintain internationally-acclaimed solo careers.
The Trio’s performance schedule has taken them around the globe. This season, they are extending their 35th anniversary celebration with performances of specially-commissioned works by André Previn and Stanley Silverman. In the US, they were the first to perform the complete Beethoven piano trios at Lincoln Center, and they joined the Guarneri Quartet for a series featuring Brahms’ entire literature for piano and strings.
Other Trio engagements in the US have included the Centennial Series at Carnegie Hall and frequent appearances in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas and Tanglewood. In Europe, the Trio has performed in virtually all the musical capitals, from London to Vienna, and at international music festivals of Edinburgh, Helsinki, South Bank, Tivoli and elsewhere. Beyond Europe, they have toured Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
Continuing their award-winning recording legacy, last November, the Trio released the complete Schubert Trios on the Bridge label, preceded by a four-disc cycle of the complete Brahms trios in 2009 for KOCH. That label has also re-released many of the Trio’s hallmark recordings, including chamber works of Ravel, the complete sonatas and trios of Shostakovich, new works written especially for the group by leading composers of our time and their acclaimed complete set of the Beethoven trios.
Since making their debut at the White House for President Carter’s Inauguration in January 1977, the Trio has received numerous honors. Musical America named them 2002’s “Ensemble of the Year.” Since the 2003/04 season, they have served as chamber ensemble in residence for the Kennedy Center. Also in 2003, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit launched The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award (KLRITA), which is presented biannually to promising young piano trios.
All three Trio members are renowned educators. Earlier this year, Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson joined the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music, having taught at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music since 2005. Mr. Kalichstein is a long-revered teacher at The Juilliard School of Music. The Trio’s website is kalichstein-laredo-robinson-trio.com
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