The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Isabella Lippi Trio performs piano trios by Mozart, Shostakovich and Dvorak this Friday night at Farley’s House of Pianos

May 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this Friday night at 7:30 p.m., the Isabella Lippi Trio will perform in the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison far west side near West Towne Mall.

The all-masterpiece program features the Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the famous “Dumky” Piano Trio by Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear the captivating opening of the “Dumky” Trio, played by the venerable Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom).

Tickets are $45.

Members of the trio are Madison violinist Isabella Lippi (below top), who is also the concertmaster of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra; Chicago cellist Paula Kosower (below middle); and Chicago pianist Kuang-Hao Huang (below).

For more information about the artists and about obtaining tickets, got to: http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Ives and Mendelssohn

April 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season on Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison with a program of three trios for piano and strings.

Rather than bypassing the fact that the date was April 1, the three players—violinist Wes Luke (below top), cellist Kyle Price (below middle), and pianist-director Jess Salek (below bottom) — embraced it as a chance for an “April Fool’s” offering, in the form of the trio composed by Charles Ives.

This is a prime example of the patriotic nose thumbing and iconoclasm in which Ives (below) delighted.

As Luke pointed out in his enthusiastic introduction, the second of its three movements is a Presto bearing the title of “TSIAJ,” an anagram for “This Scherzo Is a Joke.” (You can hear the Scherzo movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The three players dug into it with gusto and almost made its complexities and deliberate off-putting sound plausible—but, fortunately, not quite.

The first half of the program was devoted to the “Elegaic” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This work was modeled self-consciously on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. Each was written in memory of an admired elder colleague.

Rachmaninoff (below) was well aware of the footsteps in which he was walking—and which he could not quite fill. Cast in three movements with a lot of variations on themes, Rachmaninoff’s Trio runs to almost an hour, and sometimes suggests that the composer’s ambition outran his ideas.

As a pianist himself, Rachmaninoff made the keyboard part very much the dominant one, especially in its latter parts, with the two string players often just along for the ride. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, and the three Mosaic musicians were quite heroic in allowing us a chance to hear it.

The program concluded with the better known of Felix Mendelssohn’s two trios, the first one in D minor, Op. 49. This is intensely serious yet beautifully melodious music, and proved just the thing to restore a sense of stability and balance.

In all of these works, the three players gave performances that would be rated as first-class anywhere. In that, they upheld the tradition that Jess Salek has created with his colleagues of making Mosaic concerts outstanding events in Madison’s chamber music life.


Classical music: We said goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp by speaking love to loss. Here in photos is how it went.

September 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, who died suddenly in June of cardiac arrest at 84 while he was on summer vacation in Colorado.

I don’t think you can have a better send-off.

The day started out sunny and then looked like it would cloud over.

But the sunlight stayed.

Howard Karp (below, in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot) would have liked that. There never seemed anything morose about Howard, even when he played music that was introspective and melancholic. And he was such a natural: The piano just seemed to grow out of his long arms and fingers.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

Sure, like all people he had his share of sorrows and worries. But on his own scale, the joys always outweighed the sorrows.

I found myself thinking of Howard and recalling philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s dictum that “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And I found myself adding: “Without Howard Karp, music in Madison might not have been a mistake, but it certainly would have been severely diminished.”

But I do not want to use this post for me to talk about Howard Karp and what a wonderful man and musician, family member and teacher, he was.

His own family and friends did that so well — and so eloquently — that all I can do today is to use photos and quick descriptions to tell you what you missed if you weren’t there.

The welcome speaker and comforting guide through the celebration was Bill Lutes (below), a longtime friend and former student of Howard Karp. Bill did an outstanding and dry-eyed job of speaking love to loss, as did the entire family.

Karp Memorial Bill Lutes

The event opened with Howard Karp playing the opening movement of the heroic, life-affirming “Hammerklavier” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven, from a newly released 6-CD recording on Albany Records of Howard’s concert recordings.

That was repeated through the event with music of Robert Schumann, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frédéric Chopin. And it was moving to hear the audience of maybe a two-thirds house in Mills Hall applaud loudly, as if Howard were playing right there, on stage and in person in front of us.

One of the most moving moments came when Howard’s wife, Frances Karp – whose diminutive and even fragile look hides a tremendous strength of character and forceful pianism — was joined by cellist son Parry Karp, violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot and guest violinist Leanne League, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the slow movement from the Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann. A photo is below.

It is a heart-wrenching piece by the composer who, more than any other, captures love and longing in sound, as you can hear from the opening cello melody in a YouTube video of the Beaux Arts Trio at the bottom.

Karp Memorial Schumann PIano Quartet

Granddaughters Isabel Karp (below left) and Natasha Karp (below right), both accomplished actresses, then read passages from William Shakespeare, beautifully appropriate lines from the tragedy “King Lear,” from the Sonnets, from the romance “The Tempest,” from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Karp Memorial Isabel, Natasha smiling better

More recorded Schumann followed, the first movement of the fabulous Fantasy in C Major.

Then came words of friendship and admiration from the renowned keyboard artist Malcolm Bilson (below), who taught with Howard at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Now a semi-retired professor at Cornell University, Bilson also played a superbly rendered version of his own reconstruction of the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor by Franz Schubert. (Bilson didn’t announce his reconstruction because, as he later told The Ear, “It bothers and distracts audiences. They keep listening for where Schubert ends and Bilson begins.”)

Karp Memorial Malcolm Bilson plays Schubert

Fellow Chicagoan and piano student-turned-businessman, Ira Goodkin (below) spoke impressively and engagingly about the lasting effect of having Howard Karp as a lifelong friend and as a personal and professional role model.

Karp Memorial Ira Goodkin

Then came more recordings: impressive duo-piano performances by Frances and Howard Karp of music by Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

During the Rachmaninoff “Barcarolle,” from his Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, there was also an extended slide show that featured photos of Howard at various stages of his life, from infancy and childhood (below) through marriage and maturity, many images with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Karp Memorial slideshow Young Howard

Granddaughter and actress Ariana Karp (below) appeared via video from London and also read Shakespeare and offered moving personal recollections of “grand-père.”

Karp memorial Ariana

Sons Christopher Karp on piano and Parry Karp on cello (below) teamed up to play Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” in a moving and brotherly demonstration of the family music-making that marked the Karps’ family life, and brought beauty to the rest of us, making us all feel like extended family.

Karp Memorial Christopher and Parry

Then came a miraculously humorous and moving eulogy for Howard by cellist son Parry (below), who offered a stirring summing up of his dad’s gifts as a pianist and chamber music partner, as a husband and father, as a baseball fan and an avid amateur expert on trees and plants.

Karp Memorial Parry Karp speaks

After Parry remark’s about the richness of his father’s life and career, I found myself recalling a saying by the great composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” Still, I think Howard Karp came closer to that impossible goal than anyone I know.

Then, with a stirring performance by Howard Karp of the ferocious and relentless finale from Chopin’s Sonata in B minor, it was over — and we moved outdoors to a packed reception in the courtyard of the UW-Madison’s George Mosse Humanities Building.

Karp Memorial Reception

The food was ideal and the audience was in the mood to greet each other and reminisce with the kind of good-natured enthusiasm that would have pleased Howard Karp because it made all of us feel like we belonged to one immense family that will long miss a central and irreplaceable figure.


Classical music: Violinist Rose Mary Harbison talks about the 25th anniversary of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, while composer John Harbison discusses C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will be observed during the festival.

August 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, The Ear offered an overview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that opens this coming Saturday night and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

TokenCreekbarn interior

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets): Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

TokenCreekentrance

Today, as promised but postponed by stories about the Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations and about two local concerts this Friday, the blog features two important essays by the two co-artistic directors of the festival.

The first essay is a discussion by violinist Rose Mary Harbison about the 25th anniversary of the festival.

The second is a personal essay by composer John Harbison about the composer C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will play an important role in the festival.

NEW BEGINNINGS AT TOKEN CREEK

By Rose Mary Harbison (below)

RosemaryHarbison

When the Token Creek Festival began, 25 years ago, we had many ideas and many ideals, but none of our plans involved growth. The reason for that was at first practical. We wanted to perform in a converted barn, the very space where we already practiced and played.

The space, and its surroundings, is welcoming, but able to seat, optimally, no more than 80 people. We had no stage, no lights and no parking plan. We were our own maintenance and grounds-keeping staff.

We also had ideas about the music we would like to present. We had participated in various summer festivals, and were not too interested in the concept of “summer” music. Along with our founding colleagues, Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg, we came up with some initial programs — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, recent pieces by Helps and John Harbison, thinking of music we wouldn’t likely be asked to prepare at other festivals, in late August.

In the official re-opening season (1994) there were three concerts: all Bach, all Mozart, all Schoenberg. Single composer concerts have since been rare at Token Creek, but we have instead done series: many Haydn trios, the complete Mozart concertos for which he made chamber music arrangements; the “esoteric” final period of Bach (below), including generous selections from The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering in two different orderings and instrumentations.

Bach1

Our guests have been friends whom we have cone to know in our various travels. We were once told by a possible patron that he would fund the festival for two seasons if we would bring X, a conductor with whom we were in close partnership. But this is not the way we have chosen to construct our seasons — independence in programming and staffing has remained our most precious freedom.

We have presented what interests us, and the varying audience sizes, from sold-out to modest, reflects that determination. Thirty excited, involved listeners provide a sufficient presence, in our small barn, for an unforgettable occasion, like Leonard Stein’s lecture-demonstration on the Hammerklavier sonata (played in live performance by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at bottom) by Ludwig van Beethoven (below).

Beethoven big

Ten years ago, we expanded into jazz, eventually composer-focused, with an idea that some of the players would play in both, and we would encourage an audience to embrace the whole series. In the early years we stressed themes and issues shared by both forms. (An audience survey later revealed that, in fact, the crossover audience is very small; we were surprised.) The jazz became popular, and began in certain ways to drive the festival, especially logistically (a night-club set up, an eventual two-concerts-per-day schedule). Part of our effort to recapture the original spirit of the festival involves letting go of the jazz for this year, becoming smaller and more thoughtful again.

One of our best colleagues, a performer, has a brother, a violinist, who started a European festival. It grew and it added things on, his responsibilities changed. Is he happy with the growth? we asked. “Well of course, it’s a success, but he is pretty sad. … he no longer plays the violin.”

Every musician is challenged, at every point in their development, to try to remember why they went into music, to recapture the basic impulse. Sometimes that requires going back to a starting point, and either starting over, or summarizing what has happened.

Institutions, like individuals, are always challenged to grow, to go forward, to move on, and must occasionally reconstruct themselves, at the risk of not fitting expectations, dreams, or the economic model.

I write with the hope of encountering their best instincts and reconnecting with like souls, the natural constituency.

CARL PHILIP EMMANUEL BACH (1714-1799), AN ANNIVERSARY

By John Harbison (below)

JohnHarbisonatpiano

One of the many privileges of co-directing a music festival is study, a chance to pause over music that might go by too fast; a chance, even, to make a connection with music that has remained alien too long. For many years I cherished a suspicion of, close to an aversion to, CPE Bach’s music.  This was based on a large number of keyboard pieces I heard in the ‘60s played by the eminent harpsichordist Louis Bagger.  The pieces had a pronounced WOW factor, they were calculated to immediate effect, they asked provocative questions, then shirked answering.  The non-sequiturs, as in many of today’s novelties, seemed mere posturing, the work of a gadfly without a message.

Tied to this was an impression that CPE was an ingenious person.  In spite of his good stewardship of the materials left to him from his father, he seemed self-servingly willing to promote J.S. Bach’s teacher reputation, a prescription that stemmed from the competition between them.

I now believe many of these impressions were wrong, or at best uninformed.  CPE Bach is a complicated case, and needs a much more attentive examination.

He was J.S. Bach’s second son.  The first, Wilhelm Friedemann, was more talented, but less industrious. Friedmann’s best pieces seem to have a naturalness and pure musicality unavailable to CPE, but they lack a strategy to fully separate from his father.

Such a strategy does CPE deploy, with a vengeance.  This took courage and an investigative mind.  It seems clear that the son’s valuation of his father’s music grew during the course of his career.  Together with his vast experience as a composer came an appreciation of the foundation he had received from his only teacher, together with a perception of the enormity of that teacher’s artistic achievement.

Carl Philip Emmanuel (below, in a 1733 portrait by a relative Gottfried Friedrich Bach) was too good a musician not to notice something: In spite of being the most famous and highly regarded composer in the world by the 1740s (J.S. Bach was still alive), he was not in the same league with the old man.  He becomes, instead, an avatar of the new, often at his best while disturbing the logic, proportion and density that were his father’s hallmark.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Much has been said about the manner, the tone of much of his music, which says: This need not always be so serious, this need not be so responsible, this is apprehendable right away. These are things worth stating, periodically, and can be expressed, as in CPE’s music, by a kind of nervousness, hurry, irresponsibility — winning qualities in his best pieces.

But the main agent of change in CPE can be very simply described: He dismantles his father’s bass-line—radically clears it out, reduces it much of the time to skeletal support, thus placing new emphasis on the charm, buoyancy and unpredictability of the melodies.

J.S. Bach’s music, in asserting that the bass possesses a profile very like the upper parts in activity and articulateness (and often surpasses them in importance) draws on very old principles carried forward from Renaissance polyphony. In reducing and domesticating the bass, CPE achieves a new intelligibility and friendliness of texture, and cuts his hereditary umbilical cord.

Still he retains a lot of J.S. in his ability, when he chooses, to develop and vary motives, to spin out large phrases, and to create drama and propulsion.

In this 300th anniversary year there is an added fascination: A scholarly filling out of his canon.  A great proportion of his output is being made available for the first time in published form. There are many surprises, especially in the form of vocal and instrumental chamber music.

“Premieres” are being offered, around the world, and the music, which has always been valued as a necessary historical moment, is now being valued for itself.

We can hear not only the way he both holds and breaks with his father, we can also hear why Joseph Haydn (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of the famed Beaux Arts Trio playing the same Haydn piano trio that will be played during this year’s festival) was so taken with this music.  It has its own surprises, quirks, and above all a burning energy, singular, bold, drawing our attention, chastening our misconceptions.

Haydn

 

 


Classical music: Today brings the Winter Solstice – a perfect time to listen to Vivaldi’s original “Four Seasons” and Max Richter’s “Recomposed” version of Vivaldi’s popular violin concertos.

December 21, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the winter solstice in the Western Hemisphere.

We turn the corner and the days start getting longer, and the night shorter.

The solstice arrives today — on Friday, Dec. 21. Specifically, it arrives this morning at 5:12 a.m. CST.

Could there be a better time to celebrate the famed “The Four Seasons,” a series of violin concertos, composed in 1725 by Antonio Vivaldi (below), and a work that is reputed to be the most recorded piece of classical music of all time?

vivaldi

Here is the original “Winter” section by Vivaldi, with its virtuosic rush of notes, slashing chords and chilly tremolos.

But the winter solstice is also a good time to take a listen to Max Richter’s reworking of Vivaldi’s famous, if overplayed, masterpiece.

It is called  “Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” and is available on the Deutsche Grammophon label (below). And it would also be a make for a good holiday gift, especially if someone already has and likes the original “Four Seasons.” It isn’t often after all, that you can have Baroque music and contemporary music in the same work.

Max Richter Recomposed CD cover

Recently, NPR’s exceptional blog “Deceptive Cadence’ featured a fine review of the album, in which the well-known former Beaux Arts Trio violinist Daniel Hope stars, and an interview with the young German-born British composer Max Richter (below).

Max Richter

I find it a quintessentially postmodern project, but one which I find quite effective – and which I think Vivaldi himself might like and approve of. After all, most of the great Baroque composers — including J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel — transcribed their own works and freely borrowed from and elaborated on or altered the works of their colleagues.

Here is a link to the NPR story and interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/21/165659291/max-richter-recomposes-the-four-seasons

And here are links to some other reviews:

Blogcritics.org:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-max-richter-recomposed-by/

The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/oct/21/max-richter-vivaldi-four-seasons

See what you think and let me know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical Music: German town restores post-Holocaust citizenship to its Jewish native son, Beaux Arts Trio pianist extraordinaire Menahem Pressler.

September 17, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Better late than never, as they say.

One of the news items in classical music is that a town in Germany, Magdeburg has restored  citizenship to its native son, pianist Menahem Pressler (below).

Pressler was a founding member and longtime pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio (below), which finally disbanded two years ago after several changes of personnel. Pressler, who is 87, stayed from beginning to end, and is still active as a performer and teacher.

Pressler, who is Jewish, had to flee Germany at 15 because of the Holocaust. He hid from the Nazis during Hitler’s war on the Jews after the infamous “Kristallnacht.” He ended up in Israel and then the United States where he toured extensively and taught at Indiana University.

Many consider the Beaux Arts Trio (below in an early photo) the best piano trio that ever existed, and also consider Pressler the finest chamber music pianist who ever played. He possessed an unsurpassed ability to both blend in and stand out whenever it was appropriate.

This week, the still active Pressler will perform twice as a soloist with the symphony orchestra in his native town of Magdeburg before serving on the jury of piano competition in Hamburg, Germany.

Here are two links;

The first link is to the story about Pressler’s citizenship, with Pressler gracious and forgiving reaction to the news:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/09/exclusive-german-town-restores-citizenship-to-its-most-famous-musician.html

The second link is to an oral interview that famed British critic Norman Lebrecht (below) did with Pressler, whose voice you can hear:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b01l0ly9

You can find out a lot more about Menahem Pressler as a chamber musician, a soloist and a teacher by Goggling his name and searching at YouTube.

And here — via one of The Ear’s all-time favorite pieces of chamber music, the slow movement from Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 in B-Flat Major — is a taste of Pressler’s great and subtle art:

To Menahem Pressler, The Ear toasts a hearty L’chaim! To life! To your life!

You can leave a congratulations of your own or a personal appreciation of the Beaux Arts Trio in the COMMENT section of this blog.


Classical music Q&A: Who will replace the famed Beaux Arts Trio? Cellist David Finckel, violinist Philip Setzer and Pianist Wu Han of the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center talk about their all-Mendelssohn concert this Friday at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison.

February 20, 2012
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ALERT: Want to sing through Haydn’s great oratorio “The Creation”? Then consider going to the FREE Madison Symphony Chorus Community Open Sing! this Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9:30 in the Wisconsin Room of the Overture Center. Scores will be provided and all levels are welcome. You’ll join members of the Madison Symphony Chorus and conductor-director Beverly Taylor, along with choristers from all over the community.  Taylor will lead singersl in a brief rehearsal of the main choruses.Then the public will sing them through with arias sung by soloists from the UW-Madison School of Music. (On Tuesday, March 20, the same group will do Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”)

By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist David Finckel made news last week when he announced that after 36 years he would retire at the end of next season from the critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning Emerson String Quartet (below, with Finckel on the far right).By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a link to an NPR story about his retirement:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/02/14/146859791/david-finckel-bidding-farewell-to-the-emersons

One of the reasons Finckel gave for the move — he will be replaced in 2013 by British cellist Paul Watkins — was to devote himself to other enterprises, including running the CD label (ArtistLed) and co-directing the famed Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, both of which he does with his wife, pianist Wu Han.

Another reason Finckel gave for retiring from the Emerson will be to devote himself to other forms of chamber music – which makes this Friday’s concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison all the more timely, notable and even newsworthy.

On Friday night at 7:30 is when celllist Finckel and his wife Wu Han will team up with Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer to perform both piano trios and a cello sonata in an all-Mendelssohn program.

It is a mark of the prestige these performers are held in that the concert is officially designated the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert. Each season the Wisconsin Union Theater names a concert in honor of Taylor, the pioneering university arts presenter who founded the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series and led it for many decades.

Here is link to more information, including ticket prices, a video and reviews, of Friday night’s concert by the Finckel, Setzer and Wu, Han Trio:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season11_12/HanFinckelSetzerTrio.html

Could this trio become the new Beaux Arts Trio? David Finckel and Wu Han (below) took time out from their hectic schedule to answer an email Q&A for The Ear about their upcoming concert:

Speaking as members of the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, how healthy would you say the state of chamber music in America is today compared to the past?

DAVID FINCKEL: Chamber music varies, as do all classical music and serious art forms in America, from very healthy to endangered, depending upon the integrity, commitment of the local presenter and the engagement and support of the community.

We are often encouraged or alarmed when we travel to see different results in different communities. However, we always find intelligent, passionate audience in many different corners of the world.

We find if chamber music is presented in the best way – with intimacy and passion — the audience is always inspired. Because of that, we found through our role in the Emerson Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, chamber music continues to be a big part of many people’s lives.

How and why did the three of you start a piano trio?

WU HAN: We all love the same repertoire and have enjoyed making music together for quite a long time. It all started with the two Schubert trios (Note: Those trios are available in an exceptional recording, below bottom,  from Artist Led and you can hear some of them at the bottom.) David and I knew Phil Setzer (below top) would be the perfect partner to record with because we all feel very deeply and similarly about that music.

It was such a success that we continued with the Mendelssohn trios now. We don’t know if this trio will continue, but we are letting the repertoire guide us.

Why did you choose an all-Mendelssohn program? Could you give a short introduction to each piece you will play and what you think its importance is or what the audience should listen for?

DAVID FINCKEL: Mendelssohn (below) was not only one of the most skilled and devoted musicians of all time, but his music appeals to a broad spectrum of the public — from those who are musical experts to new listeners.  His ingenious voice well deserves an entire evening’s attention.

The Trio in D Minor, Mendelssohn’s first, shows him in a stormy mood for its outer movements, and offers both a song without words and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” experience in its middle movements. There’s something for everyone in this trio.

The second Trio in C Minor is a more advanced work in terms of its structure, with a final movement that contains extraordinary innovations. Listen for the quiet introducing of a hymn within a folk-inspired movement, and follow its progress towards the conclusion where both ideas are reconciled. It is one of the most magical creations in all of chamber music.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major is one of Mendelssohn’s most exuberant works. Giving the lion’s share of notes to the piano, the composer nevertheless affords the cello all the main themes and uses the instrument’s signature lyrical strengths to the fullest. It’s an absolute joy to play from start to finish.

Does the piano trio as a musical form or genre lack prestige or popularity compared to the string quartet, and if so why do you think that is?

WU HAN: The piano trio, in our experience, lacks neither prestige nor popularity among classical musicians and certainly among audiences. Not as much literature exists for the piano trio as for the string quartet, though, and as a result not as many professional trios exist as do string quartets.

The challenges of playing trios well are enormous. Ever since the days when Cortot, Thibaud and Casals (below, in that order in 1926)  played trios, the public has expected world-class level of every trio’s members. The standards set by the world’s greatest trios are hard to live up to, but we try.

With the retirement of the incomparable Beaux Arts Trio (below) recently, we have found that chamber music audiences are hungry for trios. We come to Madison to feed them!

What are your plans for the trio in terms of concerts, projects and recordings?

WU HAN: Our trio is not a formally formed ensemble. We don’t even have a name! We have approached our projects simply as musically compatible friends who are eager to perform this repertoire, having always wanted to. We approach our trio’s career, if you can call it that, on a project-by-project basis. After Mendelssohn, there is another in the oven, but we can’t talk about that yet. Stay tuned.

Will you bring new string instruments as well as old ones to the concert?

DAVID FINCKEL: Philip Setzer and I will be playing the violin and cello made for us by Samuel Zygmuntowicz (below, in his workshop photographed by Melissa Hamburg), although I might bring my Guadagnini.

All three of you have performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, two of you quite often in the Emerson Quartet and the other as a solo recitalist. Do you have an impression of Madison and its audience?

WU HAN: We consider the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison one of the most important and distinguished venues in the United States. A visit backstage will reveal, via historic posters, extraordinary seasons of concerts going way back to the Golden Age of instrumental playing in the first half of the 20th century. One is conscious of the tradition of greatness, and, combined with the vibrant, youthful audience, we know it is a place where we have to play our best.


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