Trio con Brio
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.
Trio con Brio Copenhagen is well named: the group plays “con brio,” with great vigor and enthusiasm, and the Danish capital is home base, though the three musicians met in Vienna in 1999 and achieved prominence first in Germany. Shortly after receiving highly competitive and coveted chamber music awards, including the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award in 2005, the trio set off on a concert tour in the United States. Education Update was fortunate in catching up with the group recently in New York, where they performed at Rockefeller University as part of the Peggy Rockefeller Concert Series, renowned for attracting prestigious performers and sophisticated audiences.
To judge by the sustained applause, delivered “con brio,” the evening was a total success and might have occasioned an encore, were not everyone understandably almost wiped out by the group’s last number, Tchaikovsky’s unusually long and challenging “Piano Trio in A minor” (1882), with its slow thematic development and dramatically lush and tragic lyricism — hello future film directors looking to score another “Anna Karenina.” Not that the performers were not temporarily drained by the earlier pieces on the program — “Traumlieder for Piano Trio” — a difficult partly minimalist six-part piece by contemporary composer Hans Abrahamsen (oh that last movement with its jazzy syncopations!), followed by a stirring performance of Beethoven’s “Ghost” (1808) with its “explosive beginning” and daring second movement full of bass line trills.
Speaking for the trio, pianist Jens Elvekjaer talked about what it means to be in a chamber music group, about performance and about music education. The group’s much-lauded “color and shape” have been described as a convergence, in part, of “family ties, cultural blending and music.” Elvekjaer is married to the trio’s cellist, Soo-Kyung Hong, with whom he had been playing duos for three years, and she is the sister of the group’s violinist, Soo-Jin Hong. The two have been playing together since childhood. The result? “There are so many things they don’t have to talk about,” says Elvekjaer, which makes it “easier” and also makes it possible to take liberties, when you have bonded, “which takes a long time.” Soo-Kyong Hong, incidentally, plays on a Testore cello from 1731 and Soo-Jin Hong plays on a 17th-century Guarneri. And Mr. Elvekjaer? A Steinway.
The group performs approximately 70 concerts a year, a challenging schedule which actually sparks their creativity. When you do the same piece repeatedly on tour, Elvekjaer says, you don’t want to repeat yourself. Pause. He proffers that the highly abstract Abrahamsen “was the best performance” they had done to date. It’s not a piece that’s readily accessible to audiences, he points out, but it’s important to attend to contemporary music — especially something from Scandinavia — along with the traditional crowd pleasers (even so, the Tschaikovsky was hardly typical). Although the group devotes only 10 percent of its programming to modern music, Elvekjaer says how delighted they are when they feel they have persuaded an audience to listen and learn. He would like to do more in the line of explaining unusual pieces. American audiences, he suggests, seem more receptive than audiences abroad to such introductions. He also likes going into schools and getting youngsters excited about music.
Elvekjaer cites Cologne’s Alban Berg Quartet as a particularly important influence, encouraging the group to think about “how a performance really works on stage.” By that is meant emphasizing for an audience, depending on its degree of sophistication, of course, what will make a piece truly resonate. For example, it there’s something melodic in an otherwise atonal work, play out the melody. Emphasize the dynamics in the classical repertoire. And no matter what tensions emerge in rehearsal, resolve them for the performance, have an attitude that is good for the group. And stay with the announced program. Concert organizers are not exactly thrilled when players make changes.
Another important mentor Elvekjaer cites is the Hungarian pianist Ferenc Rados, who still gives master classes, an “amazing musical inspiration,” whose playing was like listening to a composer at work.
For further information on Trio con Brio Copenhagen go to http://www.trioconbrio.dk. And be sure not to miss their next New York appearance in 2011. #