“Ms. Benedetti’s playing is always top-notch, her sound brilliant and clean.” — The New York Times
Tonight’s concert caps a season filled with 92Y debuts of thrilling young artists. Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti has captivated audiences around the world with her musicality and poise, appearing with major orchestras and producing a steady stream of award-winning and bestselling recordings. German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich is a winner of the Leonard Bernstein Prize and was accepted into the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists. Russian pianist Andrei Grynyuk has won multiple competitions and received a five-star review from BBC Music for his Liszt disk. The concert's first half is a trio of duos: one sonata by Ravel and Debussy each, followed by and a new work by Mark-Anthony Turnage inspired by Benedetti and Elschenbroich’s relationship – both on and off the stage. The three then join forces to play Tchaikovsky’s poignant and lyrical Piano Trio in A minor.
Nicola Benedetti, violin ◄
Leonard Elschenbroich, cello ◄
Alexei Grynyuk, piano ◄
RAVEL: Violin Sonata
DEBUSSY: Cello Sonata
MARK-ANTHONY TURNAGE: Duetti d’Amore for violin and cello (US premiere)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
► This is what happens when a renowned violinist translates emojis into music!
► The Violin Channel's "Meet the Pros: Twenty Questions” feature with Nicola Benedetti
► BBC In Tune Sessions: Nicola Benedetti and Alexei Grynyuk play Kreisler’s Liebesfreud
► Daily Telegraph review of Trio performance of Schubert & Tchaikovsky trios, Feb 12, 2916
Explore the Music
(Click the names below to expand info.)
- RAVEL: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Born in Ciboure, Basse-Pyrénées, March 7, 1875; died in Paris, December 28, 1937
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Composed in 1923-27; 18 minutes
Thirteen years younger than Debussy, Ravel made his mark in Paris at the turn of the 20th century with a group of brilliantly crafted piano pieces, including the Pavane pour une infante défunte and Jeux d’eau, and the masterful String Quartet. Over the ensuing decades he refined his art, ruthlessly pruning away superfluous notes and gestures in search of the “definitive clarity” that was his professed ideal. By the time Debussy died in 1918, Ravel was widely hailed as his successor and the new standard-bearer for French music. He shared with Debussy a poetic sensibility and a fondness for sensuous, impressionistic timbres and textures. But unlike the senior composer, Ravel was at heart a classicist. Many of his works evoke composers and styles of the past, even as they incorporate ultramodern harmonies and compositional styles.
The Sonata for Violin and Cello of 1920-1922 was a turning point in Ravel’s stylistic development. Both the linear transparency of the part writing and the cool austerity of the harmonic language signaled a departure from the luxuriant impressionism that had characterized many of his earlier works. He continued along the same path in the Sonata for Violin and Piano, which occupied him on and off between 1923 and 1927. It’s one of several jazz-influenced works that Ravel wrote after hearing an African-American jazz band perform in Paris; he recalled being equally impressed by the band’s free-spirited music and by its “frightening virtuosity.” Composed in the idyllic seclusion of Ravel’s country retreat, Montfort-l’Amaury, the sonata had its premiere in Paris on May 30, 1927, with Georges Enesco on the violin and Ravel himself at the piano.
Oddly enough, Ravel considered the violin and piano “essentially incompatible” and took pains to highlight their independence. The opening Allegretto sets the tone with its spare, diaphanous textures, impetuous lyricism, and quirky melodic twists and turns (reminiscent, Ravel said, of barnyard sounds). The easy swing and bluesy harmonies of the second movement evoke the classic blues of W.C. Handy in a playfully refined, drawing-room manner. Listen for the fleeting allusions to George Gershwin’s newly minted Rhapsody in Blue — a work that Ravel admired — both here and in the finale. The last movement spins along like a perpetual-motion machine, the violin busy and slightly manic, the piano delicate and luminous.
All nine fantasias exhibit the same basic elements, with four voices moving independently, and occasionally clashing harmonically, in alternating slow and fast sections. Purcell employs various contrapuntal devices, notably imitation (repeating the same music in a different voice), inversion (turning a theme upside down), and augmention (repeating the same music in longer note values). The Fantasia in A minor is notable for its thematic economy: the entire five-minute piece is based on two short motives. After a leisurely preamble, the tempo picks up, with the three upper voices playing the descending four-note theme in different note values, while the bass darts off on a more syncopated path. The G-major Fantasia — as light and airy as the A-minor Fantasia is intense and gloom-ridden — opens with pairs of voices set off in contrary motion. The second section is a cunning patchwork of imitative entries that cascade over one another in a merry romp.
© 2016, Harry Haskell
Photo: Georges Enesco
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- DEBUSSY: Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor
Born in St.-Germain-en-Laye, August. 22, 1862; died in Paris, March 25, 1918
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor
Composed in 1915; 10 minutes
At once radical and traditionalist, Debussy rebelled against the French Wagner cult and the ponderous academic style of establishment composers like Saint-Saëns and d’Indy. At the same time, he urged his compatriots to return to the “pure French tradition” that he admired in the music of the 18th-century composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Debussy first made his mark in the early 1890s with a series of boldly unconventional and quintessentially Gallic works — the String Quartet, La demoiselle élue, Prélude á l’après-midi d’un faune. Over the next quarter-century he produced the opera Pelléas et Mélisande and the great piano and orchestral pieces that came to define musical impressionism in the popular mind.
Written in the summer of 1915, the Sonata for Cello and Piano was the first of six projected sonatas for various combinations of instruments, only three of which Debussy lived to complete. It marked his emergence from a long fallow period in which he had felt unable to compose any music of substance. “I’ve almost had to relearn it,” he exclaimed. “It was like a rediscovery and it’s seemed to me more beautiful than ever!” The Cello Sonata’s freshness and spontaneity may also owe something to the restorative landscape of the Normandy coast, where Debussy had sought refuge from wartime Paris. It was followed by the Sonata for Flute, Violin and Harp, which harked back to the French Baroque suite and the Sonata for Violin and Piano. On the title pages of all three works, Debussy proudly signed himself “musicien français.”
Cast in three short movements of more or less equal length and weight, the D-minor Sonata exemplifies the “clarity of expression” and “precision and compactness of form” that Debussy considered the hallmarks of the true French style. The music is predominantly lean and delicate, almost neoclassical in its transparency. Despite the piano’s grandiloquent opening, it is the cello’s graceful arabesques and tenderly swooning melody that set the tone for the Prologue. The Sérénade is fantastical and rhapsodic in character, with crisp staccato accents, quirky, free-flowing rhythmic patterns and subtle chromatic harmonies. The movement comes to rest on a quietly sustained A, then pivots without pausing for breath into the buoyant, lighthearted Finale.
© 2016, Harry Haskell
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- TURNAGE Duetti d’Amore for violin and cello
Born in Corringham, England, June 10, 1960
Duetti d’Amore for violin and cello
Composed in 2015; 18 minutes
Over the past three decades, British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage has produced a body of music that is as remarkable for its scope as for its size. It runs the gamut from operas, ballets and orchestral works to choral music, song cycles and instrumental chamber music. Stylistically, Turnage’s output is equally wide-ranging, encompassing influences as diverse as Hans Werner Henze, Igor Stravinsky and Gunther Schuller on the one hand, and jazz, rock, folk and pop music on the other. Much of his music is topical, gritty and intermittently violent — for example, Blood on the Floor, a jazz-tinged response to contemporary drug culture with movements titled “Needles,” “Junior Addict” and “Elegy for Andy” (the composer’s brother, who died of an overdose). Turnage explores a more lyrical and contemplative idiom in other works, such as Lullaby for Hans, an 80th-birthday present for Henze, and the orchestral tone poem Dark Crossing.
Duetti d’Amore, or “Love Duets,” written for Nicola Benedetti and Leonard Elschenbroich and premiered by them in Scotland in September 2015, illustrates another facet of Turnage’s art: his attraction to biographical subject matter. When the two musicians asked for a short work for violin and cello, he decided to “write a piece that celebrates them as a couple.” The resulting suite of five short duets is, in the composer’s words, by turns “fiery and passionate,” “tender and lyrical.” The first piece, with its bird-like swoops and tremulous flutterings, is a graceful two-part invention reminiscent of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. The languid, gently interlocking rhythms of the second duet give way, in the third-movement “Intermezzo,” to an animated seesawing exchange, with the violin and cello bouncing off each other in contrary motion.
The last two duets both feature slithery glissandos, but there the resemblance ends. Indeed, there could scarcely be a sharper contrast between the glacial stasis and widely spaced harmonies of Duetto 4 and the fast staccato eruptions and tightly packed dissonances of Duetto 5, subtitled “Blues.” In the final bars, the restless quiverings slowly subside and the violin’s sustained G fades into silence.
© 2016, Harry Haskell
Photo: Nicola Benedetti & Leonard Elschenbroich performing together (Jane Lawrence)
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- TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
PYOTR IL’YICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Born in Votkinsk, Russia, May 7, 1840; died in St. Petersburg, November 6, 1893
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
Composed in 1881-82; 47 minutes
Tchaikovsky’s A-minor Piano Trio, his sole contribution to the genre, has long been among the most beloved works in the chamber music repertory. Indeed, so popular was it during the composer’s lifetime that it was played at the memorial concerts presented in Tchaikovsky’s honor in Moscow and St. Petersburg in November 1893. Ironically, Tchaikovsky had resisted the impulse to write a piano trio, even after his patron and confidant, Nadezhda von Meck, implored him to do so. He explained his reluctance in a letter to her at the end of December 1880:
You ask why I have never written a trio .... I simply cannot endure the combination of pianoforte with violin or violoncello. To my mind the timbre of these instruments will not blend, and I assure you it is a torture to me to have to listen to a trio or sonata of any kind for piano and strings .... How unnatural is the union of three such individualities as the pianoforte, the violin and the violoncello! Each loses something of its value. The warm and singing tone of the violin and the ‘cello sounds limited beside that king of instruments, the pianoforte; while the latter strives in vain to prove that it can sing like its rivals .... There is always something artificial about a pianoforte trio, each of the three instruments being continually called upon to express what the composer imposes on it, rather than what lies within its characteristic utterance.
One year later, almost to the day, Tchaikovsky ate his words. Mme. von Meck was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was at work on a piano trio in homage to his late friend, the pianist Nikolay Rubinstein. “Whether I shall finish it, whether it will come out successfully I do not know,” the composer wrote, “but I would very much wish to bring what I have begun to a successful conclusion.” Sketches for the trio were completed by mid-January 1882 and it received its first performance in Moscow in early March, with Tchaikovsky’s friend Sergey Taneyev at the piano.
Taneyev was unstinting in his praise, declaring that he couldn’t “remember ever having experienced more pleasure while learning a new piece.” Tchaikovsky, however, was assailed by doubt. He told Mme. von Meck that he feared he had “arranged music of a symphonic character as a trio, instead of writing directly for my instruments.” In fact, for all its lush “symphonic” textures, the A-minor Trio is written in a thoroughly idiomatic manner for each of the three instruments. The violin and cello take turns as soloists and duet partners, with the piano playing an alternately starring and supporting role.
Perhaps the trio’s most outstanding feature is its unconventional bipartite form. The first of the two movements, entitled Pezzo elegiaco (Elegiac Piece), establishes the prevailing mood, which Tchaikovsky aptly described as “a somewhat plaintive and funereal coloring.” The gloom is dispelled by the serenely limpid E-major theme of the second movement. First stated by the piano alone, the twenty-bar melody undergoes a series of eleven highly imaginative variations, leading to a fiery finale and a short funeral-march coda that quietly echoes the trio’s impassioned beginning.
© 2016, Harry Haskell
Photo: Nadezhda von Meck
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- Benedetti–Elschenbroich–Grynyuk Trio
With this concert the Benedetti–Elschenbroich–Grynyuk Trio makes its New York City debut. Violinist Nicola Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk – each artist a renowned soloist in their own right – have been performing together as a trio since they met as young music students in London. They made their debut as a trio during the 2009/10 season with multiple concerts in the UK and at Schloss Elmau in Germany. The trio’s recent highlights include performances at the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Royal Albert Hall London, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Frankfurt Alte Oper and Hong Kong City Hall; two tours of South America; and a tour of Scotland including. Festival appearances include BBC Proms, Ravinia, Gergiev,Istanbul, Cheltenham and Edinburgh International. This season the Trio will perform in cities throughout the UK as well as Istanbul, Copenhagen, Dortmund and their New York debut here at 92Y.
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- Nicola Benedetti, violin
With her innate musicianship and dynamic presence, Nicola Benedetti has become a high-profile advocate for classical music, Last season, she gave the world premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto, written especially for her, with the London Symphony. Other engagements included the Israel Philharmonic, Verdi Orchestra Milano, RSO Stuttgart, New Zealand and Vancouver symphonies, Minnesota Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival. She also continued her passion for music of the Italian Baroque in collaboration with conductor/keyboardist Andrea Marcon.
Fiercely committed to music education and to developing young talent, in March 2013 Ms. Benedetti developed an education and outreach initiative entitled The Benedetti Sessions. These sessions give hundreds of aspiring young string players the opportunity to rehearse, undertake and observe master classes culminating in a performance alongside her. She has presented The Benedetti Sessions at Glasgow’s City Halls, the Royal Albert Hall and Cheltenham Festival.
Ms. Benedetti records exclusively for Decca (Universal Music). Her latest release is Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and Glazunov’s Violin Concerto with the Bournemouth Symphony. Her discography also includes Homecoming; A Scottish Fantasy; The Silver Violin; concertos by Bruch, Macmillan, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Szymanowski, Tavener, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi and Vaughan Williams; and more. Born in Scotland of Italian heritage, Ms. Benedetti plays the Gariel Stradivarius (1717), courtesy of Jonathan Moulds. Her website is nicolabenedetti.co.uk.
Photo: Simon Fowler
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- Leonard Elschenbroich, cello
Leonard Elschenbroich is acclaimed for his passionate and compelling performing style as well as a thoughtful and communicative approach to his music-making. A winner of the Leonard Bernstein Award, He has appeared with the Basel Swedish Radio and WDR symphonies and the Staatskapelle Dresden. A passionate chamber musician, he has performed with Katia and Marielle Labéque at the Verbier Festival, Helene Grimaud and Renaud Capucon at the Chambery Festival and with Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica at the Lockenhaus Festival.
Among other recent career highlights are a performance of the complete Beethoven Sonatas with Christoph Eschenbach at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, an an eight-concert New Zealand tour with the New Zealand Symphony, and recitals in Berlin, Bremen, Perth, Miami, Lima, Rio and Tokyo. Next year he will give the world premiere of Mark Simpson’s First Cello Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic as a BBC New Artist. Mr. Elschenbroich has released two recordings on the Onyx label: Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata and Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata with Alexei Grynyuk; and a disc of Kabelevsky/Prokofiev works. His website is leonard-elschenbroich.com.
Photo: Felix Broede
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- Alexei Grynyuk, piano
Born in Kiev, Alexei Grynyuk first received international attention when he won the first prize at the Sergei Diaghilev All-Soviet-Union piano competition in Moscow at the age of thirteen. He now performs throughout the world at such venues as the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatoire, Wigmore Hall and Southbank Centre in London, Salle Cortot and Salle Gaveau in Paris, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and festivals like Musica Sacra Festival in Netherlands and Duszniki Chopin Festival in Poland.
Mr. Grynyuk has appeared as soloist with the Bolshoi, Bournemouth and Mexico State symphonies; and the Brighton, Krakow Philharmonic and Odessa philharmonics. Other recent and upcoming engagements include a US concerto tour, a Japan recital tour, a tour with National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, and solo recitals at European music festivals. Mr. Grynyuk’s recitals have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3, Hessicher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, KRO4 Hilversum, Radio France and Netherlands, and televised appearances on Ukrainian, Chinese and Russian channels. In 2013, he released an all-Liszt album on the Orchid Classics label. His website is grynyuk.com.
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