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Up Next
Programs Notes with Elizabeth Morrison

Welcome to Up Next, program notes about ECMS’s next concert. To warm up your ears with recordings and more, join Elizabeth Morrison for a Zoom pre-concert talk at Live&Local, an OLLI Special Interest Group devoted to live classical music in Humboldt County.

 

The Live&Local meeting for the Trio Duende concert will take place on Zoom, Monday January 9th, from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.

Sign up at

https://extended.humboldt.edu/olli/classes/special-interest-groups

for the Zoom link and an email reminder.

Trio Duende

Duende Banner.png
Mainstage Concert
January 21, 2023 | 7:30 pm
Calvary Lutheran Church, Eureka
Concert + Conversation
January 22, 2023 | 3:00 pm
Lutheran Church of Arcata
Weekend Pass
Jan 21 + 22, 2023

Program for Mainstage Performance

7:30 pm January 21, 2023

Calvary Lutheran Church, Eureka

Pēteris Vasks (1946 – )

Castillo Interior for violin and cello, 2013

Fred Hersch (1955 – )

Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone, 2004

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Prelude in D, Op. 23, No. 4

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Nocturne in B, Op. 62, No. 1, 1846

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Intermezzo from The Nutcracker, 1892,

arr. M. Pletnev (1957 – ) 1978

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Piano Trio #1 in B flat, Opus 99, Andante un poco mosso, 1827

Intermission

Johannes Brahms

Piano Trio No. 1, Opus 8, 1853-4, revised 1889

          Trio Duende’s concert will launch 2023 with music to move and delight. Unlike the season’s first two concerts, where the Telegraph Quartet and the Verona Quartet presented a nourishing meal with a classical appetizer, a challenging main course, and a delectable romantic dessert, this concert will make you think more of a curated tasting menu. The concert begins by deconstructing the piano trio into its component parts. First we will hear a piece by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks for violin and cello alone. Next will come four pieces for piano alone, by Fred Hersch, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Frédéric Chopin and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Then the whole trio will come together to play the slow movement from Franz Schubert’s gorgeous Piano Trio in B Flat, Opus 99. After the intermission, all three players will again join in one of the most beautiful trios in the romantic repertoire, Johannes Brahms’ Trio Opus 8 in B Major. 

          We’re going to look at each of these seven pieces, but first, let’s take a moment to consider the difference between a string quartet and a piano trio. A string quartet is a unit, as indivisible as an atom. The instruments–two violins, a viola and a cello–belong to the same family, and the players combine them to create a unique quartet sound. A piano trio, on the other hand, is a divisible union of three soloists. They, and their instruments, are individuals who bring their brilliance and expressivity to the group. An Italian cellist I know once told me that he did not want to be in a string quartet because it reminded him of a marriage. A quartet spends its life together, and each player’s success depends absolutely on the others. My friend preferred to play in a piano trio because, he said, he was already married. The three brilliant artists that make up Trio Duende–pianist Awadagin Pratt, cellist Sophie Shao, and violinist Tom Stone, the artistic director of this series–thus have the freedom pursue their  individual life paths, and still come together to make beautiful music as a trio.

 

Castillo Interior for violin and cello, by Pēteris Vasks

          The first piece on the program, Pēteris Vasks’s Castillo Interior for violin and cello, was written in 2013. We heard this piece in a different form in September 2021, when Awadagin performed a solo-piano version that Vasks had transcribed especially for him. The version we will hear on this concert is the original version; Vasks also transcribed the piece for string trio in 2021. Awadagin will play the solo piano version for us again at the Sunday Concert+Conversation.

Vasks is a Latvian composer who was born in 1946. He trained at the Vilnius Conservatory as a double bass player and played bass in the Latvian National Symphony before turning his attention to composition in the 1970s. His early days as a composer were during the Soviet era; during his creative life, his website explains, “he has developed from a young, angry and avant-garde author who speaks the language of modernist music, into a remarkable artist who illustrates the eternal duel between good and evil with the so-called new principles of simplicity, as well as universally understandable sound expression.” His spiritual relatives include such composers as Arvo Pärt and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.

          The piece’s title refers to a book by the 16th century Christian saint and mystic Theresa of Avila called Moradas del Castillo Interior (Dwellings of the Interior Castle.) St. Theresa is describing her inner life, and Vasks’s music also seems to come from a deeply spiritual place. During its ten minutes, we hear sections of slowly evolving string sounds, with dynamics between soft (piano) and very, very soft (pianississimo.) These passages alternate with outbursts of loud, minimalist broken chords. There are four sets of slow-fast alternation, and one final slow section. 

          The slow sections, marked adagio, might remind you of medieval plainsong; the harmonies are open and almost hymn-like, and the music moves in slow, regular, phrases. There is no key signature written in the music, but we are mostly in d minor until the 4th slow section. As the piece goes on, the harmonies move gradually away from the more somber minor ode, and the piece ends in D major. The registers, too, are constrained; not until the end does the violin go above notes easily accessible by a quietly singing nun. The cello, too, stays in the middle range. Only at the end does the cellist even play on her lowest string, the C string. At this closing moment Vasks asks her to slide down to a low D, highlighting the note after the restraint of the meditative sections.

          The allegro sections are highly contrasting; the dynamic ranges from loud to very loud, and the arpeggios move rapidly between keys. But they are not especially dissonant or difficult to follow; there is a characteristic pattern to them which you will easily pick up. They also go by quickly. The longest allegro section is about a minute long, the shortest, just six seconds; the longest adagio section, by contrast, is almost three minutes long, and none is shorter than a minute. The fast sections can be read as interruptions in the steady flow of the contemplative adagio music. Since the title refers explicitly to St. Theresa’s mystical writings, we might be justified in a bit of programmatic thinking. Is the composer showing us meditation interrupted by uncontrollable outbursts of mental chatter? Worldly thoughts? Or even of sin, which St. Theresa worries about a good deal? Whatever your interpretation, Castillo Interior makes masterful use of just two-thirds of a piano trio.

 

Four Pieces for Solo Piano

          Next, pianist Awadagin Pratt brings us four pieces for solo piano: a Nocturne by contemporary jazz pianist Fred Hersch, a Prelude by the Russian romantic Sergei Rachmaninov, another Nocturne by the Polish romantic Frederick Chopin, and the Intermezzo from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, in an arrangement by the Russian pianist and composer Mikhail Pletnev. The four pieces together make a beautiful set which, to my ear, are all rather nocturnal pieces, perfect for a concert on a northern winter night.

          This theme is set in motion by the first piece, Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone, by the noted contemporary jazz pianist Fred Hersch. It is part of the robust repertoire, literally thousands of pieces of music, written for the left hand. Note that there is almost no music written for the right hand alone. I had never thought about why this should be so, but it’s obvious once you do. A melody is almost always in a higher register than its accompaniment, and the left hand is perfectly set up for this. The pianist can play the melody with the thumb and the accompaniment with the other four fingers, which can move freely away from the thumb. Skill is required, of course, to make a legato melodic line with just the thumb, but it is possible. Now picture doing this with your right hand. Do you play the melody with your pinkie? Can you separate the little finger from the other four to play a brilliant accompaniment? No! It just doesn’t work.

          This is the tradition Hersch stepped into when he wrote this piece, part of a set of three “character studies,” in 2004. It is dedicated to his long-time piano teacher, Sophia Rosoff, and he notes that it is his first fully notated composition (many of his earlier compositions were transcribed from improvised live performances.) The title “nocturne” tells us that the piece is in a romantic tradition of music inspired by, or invoking, the night. Nocturnes typically have a cantabile melody over an arpeggiated accompaniment. You might think of a serenade, where singers accompany themselves on guitar, but where serenades are evening pieces–“sera” is Italian for evening–nocturnes, from “notte,” night, invoke a dreamier hour. If a serenade might be played beneath a lover’s window at 9 PM, a nocturne would have to wait until at least 11.

          A nocturnal sense of lyrical melody with flowing accompaniment continues in the three pieces that follow. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in D, Opus 23 #4, is from a set of ten preludes he wrote in 1903, greatly expanding the baroque form of the prelude. Chopin’s beautiful Nocturne in B, written in 1835, is the longest of the four pieces at eight minutes, and is the apotheosis of the nocturne form. The Intermezzo from the Nutcracker, from a suite arranged by Mikhail Pletnev, also shares that character. If it’s not quite what you were expecting, note that it is drawn from a section of the ballet that Tchaikovsky did not include in his own Nutcracker Suite. Pletney’s Suite, which requires great virtuosity from the pianist, includes his personal choices, not Tchaikovsky’s. The Intermezzo, with its expansive melody, comes from Scene 2 of the ballet, Journey Through the Snow.

 

Piano Trio in B flat major, Opus 99, by Franz Schubert

          Next, having heard from the strings and then the piano, we will hear  the whole trio come together to play the slow movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in B flat, Opus 99. They are dedicating their performance to the honor and memory of Pearl Micheli, the founder and guiding light of this chamber music series, who passed away in December 2022. Pearl was an excellent pianist who loved the piano trio literature. Many of us have precious memories of Pearl seated at the piano, playing trios with her devoted friends.

          Schubert wrote two piano trios, this one and a second one in E flat, Opus 100. Both are expansive works composed during the last two years of his short life. The movement we will hear was composed in 1827, and the whole trio was completed in 1828. Unlike many of his last pieces, Schubert did actually hear his trio played at one of his concert evenings, gatherings his friends called Schubertiades, on January 28, 1828, almost exactly195 years ago before our concert. Listening to it, you might feel that the nocturne theme continues, with the string instruments taking up the melodic line once played by a thumb. The lovely melody, played first on the cello and then the violin, could be a lullaby. The mood grows less dreamy in the middle section, but it does not so much darken as jazz up. The sweet lullaby returns at the end.

 

Piano Trio in B major, Opus 8, by Johannes Brahms

          Following the intermission, the trio returns with one of the grandest of Romantic trios, Brahms’ Opus 8 in B major. Despite the early opus number, this version was actually written in 1889, after his so-called second trio, Opus 87 in C major, from 1882, and his third, Opus 101 in C minor, from 1886. Brahms had composed an earlier version of Opus 8 in 1853, and published it with trepidation not long after being hailed as a “young eagle” by Robert Schumann, fearful that Schumann’s praise had given the public high expectations he would not be able to fulfill. In 1889, the mature composer at down to revise his early work, in order to make it, he said, “not as dreary as before.” Not that it ever was!

          It is unusual for us to have two versions of any Brahms work, so Opus 8 does allow us to guess how the 56-year-old Brahms may have felt about his 21-year-old self. The best guess is that he found his younger self long-winded. The revised version is about a third shorter than the original, about 36 minutes to the earlier version’s 47. With the exception of the scherzo, which he left just as before, he made substantial changes to all movements. He simplified first themes and wrote new second themes, but if you listen to the first version (here on YouTube) you will not feel especially disoriented. "I didn't provide it with a new wig, just combed and arranged its hair a little,” Brahms claimed.

          It always strikes me how individual the movements of this trio are. The first movement begins with a singing theme in bright B major, and I’d like you to note one small detail. The piano plays the theme first. After four bars the cello takes it up, but changes the first two notes from an unsurprising fourth to a heart-lifting sixth, my favorite interval. It makes me happy to be a cellist. 

          The second movement, a scherzo, is in B minor and has a mysterious rhythmic theme, introduced again by the cello, which is anything but lyrical. It always impresses me how Brahms manages to finess this theme into a pastoral B major melody in the middle section, and then slip us right back into the snare-drum rhythm. He may have kept the 1853 version because Robert Schumann liked it. Or maybe it was Clara, who famously loved Brahms’s scherzos. In any case, it was perfect as it was.

          The third movement, at the heart of this expansive work, is intimate, melancholy, and otherworldly. As the Duende players did earlier in the concert, Brahms here deconstructs the piano trio into its component parts. First the piano plays alone, then the strings, then piano; then comes a heartfelt theme for cello and piano, new to this version, then a whispered, attenuated return of the opening music, played by the full trio. You will hold your breath through this extraordinary movement, scarcely knowing where in the universe you are.

          Finally, there is an elusive fourth movement. You will think, briefly, that Brahms is still in his “voice in the wilderness” mood, before he somehow breaks into a foot-stomping, Hungarian-inflected passage that might even make you think of Dvorak. And, in a final surprise, the trio, having begun in bright B major, ends in B minor. An early work has become a late one, an endlessly surprising, fascinating masterpiece. 

Program for Concert + Conversation

3:00 pm January 22, 2023

Lutheran Church of Arcata

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Piano trio No. 32 in A major, Hoboken XV:18 (1793)

Allegro Moderato

Andante

Allegro

Solo piano works performed by Awadagin Pratt

Including selections by Pēteris Vasks, Phillip Glass, and François Couperin

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