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The Variation Trio gave a “powerful and varied account of Saariaho’s …“Cloud Trio.” – Allan Kozinn (Portland Press Herald)

92Y’s Soundspace series in Buttenwieser Hall returns for a second season of exciting artists offering their particular points of view. Opening the series is the Variation Trio, comprising violinist Jennifer Koh, violist Hsin-Yun Huang and cellist Wilhelmina Smith in its 92Y debut. In addition to selections from György Kurtág’s witty Signs, Games and Messages, thei Trio will perform Kaija Saariaho’s Cloud Trio, one of two works by the famed composer, whose opera L’Amour de Loin appears at the Met in December, to be performed at 92Y this season. The Trio then takes an atmospheric tour of the great churches of Rome by Los Angeles-based composer Andrew Norman.

Variation Trio
     Jennifer Koh, violin
     Hsin-Yun Huang, viola
     Wilhelmina Smith, cello

GYORGY KURTÁG: Selections from Signs, Games and Messages
ANDREW NORMAN: The Companion Guide to Rome


SOUNDSPACE in 92Y’s Buttenwieser Hall

Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

A Statement by the Artists

by the Variation Trio: Jennifer Koh, Hsin-Yun Huang & Wilhelmina Smith

We wanted to create a program for our New York City debut at the 92nd St Y which would encapsulate our beliefs as a trio. We have been playing together for over ten years and were initially drawn together as a group through strong mutual respect, friendship and a shared belief in the importance working with composers of our time.

We chose the name Variation String Trio because it expresses a key component of our beliefs to support a renaissance of the string trio literature; to collaborate with fellow performing artists and composers; and finally, to create a variety of experiences for our audiences through thoughtful programs.

We created today’s program in order to engage the audience’s visual imagination through music. Saariaho’s Cloud Trio mines the imagined life of clouds through texture, coloration, movement, and shadowing of sound and the relationships between the violin, viola and cello. Each movement explores different sonic worlds as well as the exchange of roles between each instrument.

Andrew Norman’s The Companion Guide to Rome was initially inspired by specific churches in Rome during his fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. Architectural patterns, surfaces, as well as the legends and myths surrounding the lives of the saints that inspired the creation of each church, evolve into movements which are essentially character studies of imagined lives, places and experiences.

In between these works we have inserted six brief selections from György Kurtág’s collection, Signs, Games, and Messages, for solo instrument. Kurtág’s musical expression expands upon the role of each of our color palettes and sound relationships as explored by Saariaho in Cloud Trio. The specific selections were chosen to serve as distilled character studies which are thematically explored by Norman.

We would like to thank the 92nd St Y for presenting us this evening in our NYC debut as well as thanking Andrew Norman and Kaija Saariaho for their time working with us on their extraordinary works!

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The composers Kaija Saariaho and Andrew Norman have provided the following notes to their works:

SAARIAHO: Cloud Trio

Born in Helsinki, October 14, 1952
Cloud Trio
Composed in 2009; 20 minutes

A string trio is a fascinating ensemble. Even if its instruments come from the same family it magnifies the individual characters of each. When writing the trio, I was surprised how different it was to writing for a string quartet.

In this piece, the three instruments all have different tasks and functions, representing very different aspects of string playing. These tasks are sometimes very concrete: the violin tends to behave as an echo or reverberation, the viola creates new clouds next to the existing ones and the cello often has a function of a shadow to the upper instrumental lines.

My ideas for this piece are about common textures; how to create one coherent texture — still complex and detailed — with individual lines

The four sections of the piece have their own colours and characters, and I leave it to the listener to imagine what kinds of clouds were their sources of inspiration.

Why Cloud Trio? When composing this piece in the French Alps (Les Arcs), watching the big sky above mountains I realized once again how rich a metaphor a natural element can be: its state or shape is so recognizable, and yet it is always varied and rich in detail.

Cloud Trio is written for and dedicated to the Zebra Trio.

Tomorrow night, the Metropolitan Opera will give its premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s L'Amour de Loin, which won her the prestigious Grawemeyer Award; it is the Met’s first performance of an opera by a woman since 1903. A modernist, Ms. Saariaho brings vast technology to bear on her compositions. Her works have been written for or performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, clarinetist Kari Kriikku, soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Emmanuel Ax, among many others. On March 21, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani will perform her Le jardin secret II for harpsichord and tape at 92Y in a solo recital for the Soundspace series.
Photo: Maarit Kytöharju

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NORMAN: The Companion Guide to Rome

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 31, 1979
The Companion Guide to Rome

Composed in 2006–2010; 30 minutes

Like many of the buildings in Rome, this piece is the product of a long gestation marked by numerous renovations, accretions and ground-up reconstructions. What has emerged is a collection of portraits — nine in all — of my favorite Roman churches. The music is, at different times and in different ways, informed by the proportions of the churches, the qualities of their surfaces, the patterns in their floors, the artwork on their walls, and the lives and legends of the saints whose names they bear. The more I worked on these miniatures, the less they had to do with actual buildings and the more they became character studies of imaginary people, my companions for a year of living in the Eternal City.

The complete Companion Guide to Rome was premiered by the Scharoun Ensemble at Radialsystem V in Berlin on May 30, 2010. It was named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in music.

Andrew Norman has been named Musical America’s 2017 Composer of the Year. His symphonic works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic; the Philadelphia and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras; and BBC and Melbourne symphonies. His orchestral work Play was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award and has just won the 2017 Granemeyer Award. His chamber music has been featured at the Bang on a Can Marathon and the Aspen and Ojai festivals. He is on the faculty of the USC Thornton School of Music and he is composer in residence for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. His work, Bridging I, II, III, was featured in Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner’s Bridge to Beethoven concert at 92Y last April.
Photo: Jessa Anderson

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Artist Bios

The Variation Trio

The Variation String Trio was founded in 2005 by violinist Jennifer Koh, violist Hsin-Yun Huang and cellist Wilhelmina Smith. Dedicated to expanding the string trio repertoire, they have premiered works of by David Ludwig, Tamar Muskal, Marc Neikrug and Andrew Norman. The have partnered with such artists as pianists Jeremy Denk, Benjamin Hochman, Ignat Solzhenitsyn and Natalie Zhu; soprano Lucy Shelton; and flutist Marya Martin.

The Trio has been presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the Linton Series in Cincinnati and the Santa Fe Pro Musica, and it appears regularly at Performers of Westchester in Mamaroneck, New York, and the Salt Bay Chamberfest in midcoast Maine. Tonight marks the Trio’s 92Y debut, and other 2016/17 season appearances include the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
Photo: Juergen Frank

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Jennifer Koh, violin

Musical America’s 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year, violinist Jennifer Koh has appeared at 92Y virtually every season since her debut in March 2002, as a chamber musician, solo and duo recitalist, family concert performer and symposium speaker. Last season she joined pianist Shai Wosner to present their four-concert Bridge to Beethoven series, which followed her multi-year Bach and Beyond project.

This season, Ms. Koh performs a broad range of concertos by Mozart, Sibelius, Steven Mackey and Esa-Pekka Salonen, plus world premieres of concertos by Christopher Rountree and Vijay Iyer. She also performs Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 at Carnegie Hall with the New York String Orchestra led by Jaime Laredo on December 24. Her latest recording, Tchaikovsky: Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra with the Odense Symphony Orchestra, was released last September and is Ms. Koh’s eleventh recording for the Cedille Records label.

Tonight’s performance of Cloud Trio is part of a year-long focus by Ms. Koh on the music of Kaija Saariaho; this past summer they were in residence at the Aspen Music Festival. Other current projects include Shared Madness, comprising short works for solo violin that explore the instrument’s virtuosity for the violin in the 21st century by more than 30 of today’s most celebrated composers. Her website is
Photo: Juergen Frank

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Hsin-Yun Huang, viola

One of the leading violists of her generation, Hsin-Yun Huang has been soloist with the National Philharmonic of Taiwan, the Tokyo Philharmonic, the Berlin Radio Orchestra, Zagreb Soloists and the London Sinfonia, among many others. She is a regular participant at the music festivals of Marlboro, Telluride, Santa Fe, Spoleto USA, Rome, Cartagena and Prague. Highlights of her 2016-2017 season include appearances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Chamber Music Columbus, and the Seoul Spring Festival.

During the 92Y 2014/15 concert season, Ms. Huang co-curated a series of three chamber music concerts that featured the Fred Sherry String Quartet, violinist Miriam Fried and pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn. Her previous 92Y collaborations included the Brentano and Jerusalem string quartets, pianist Jaime Laredo and oboist Heinz Holliger.

Ms. Huang has commissioned new works by Shih-Hui Chen and Steven Mackey. Her recording, Viola Viola, for Bridge Records, which included those works was highlighted by both Gramophone and BBC Music magazine. Her next recording will be the complete Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas of J.S. Bach, in partnership her husband, violist Misha Amory, to be released by Bridge Records in the fall of 2016. Her website is
Photo: Lin Li

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Wilhelmina Smith, cello

Making her 92Y debut, cellist Wilhelmina Smith was awarded a 2015-2016 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians. She made her solo debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra while a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, and has given recitals in the US and across Europe. As a supporter of new music, she collaborated with Esa-Pekka Salonen on his cello concerto, Mania, and gave the American premiere of his solo cello work, Knock, Breathe, Shine.

Ms. Smith is founder and artistic director of Salt Bay (Maine) Chamberfest. As a chamber musician, Ms. Smith has performed with violinists Joshua Bell and Pamela Frank, cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Tortelier, sopranos Dawn Upshaw and Benita Valente, and members of the Guarneri, Juilliard, Brentano and Borromeo string quartets. She has been a guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Boston Chamber Music Society, and she is a founding member of Music from Copland House.

Ms. Smith has recorded cello sonatas of Britten and Schnittke with pianist Thomas Sauer, as well as the complete chamber works of Aaron Copland and more. She can also be heard on recent recordings of Bruce Springsteen and Sting, with whom she has performed frequently. Her website is
Photo: Juergen Frank

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