Sunday May 23, 2021 @ 3:00 pm
Three renowned visionary artists of the next generation combine talents in this eclectic new piano trio, Junction. Violinist Stefan Jackiw (Evnin Rising Star, 2007), recognized for musicianship that combines poetry and purity with an impeccable technique, returns with pianist Conrad Tao and cellist Jay Campbell of the trail-blazing JACK Quartet. Tao, who appears worldwide as a pianist and composer, has been dubbed a musician of “probing intellect and open-hearted vision” by the New York Times. Approaching both old and new works with the same curiosity and emotional commitment, Campbell has been called “electrifying” by the New York Times. Join these soloists-turned-trio for two classic yet contrasting chamber music masterpieces.
Following the concert, there will be a Q&A with Junction Trio, with an opportunity for the audience at home to ask questions; moderated by Caramoor’s Artistic Director, Kathy Schuman.
Stefan Jackiw, violin
Jay Campbell, cello
Conrad Tao, piano
Shostakovich / Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67
Beethoven / Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke”
At a Glance
The program begins with Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, written in 1944 during WWII. This trio has the character of a ceremonial folk dance and its music has been compared to a war-dance or a grim processional. Shostakovich was not Jewish, but he felt empathy for the Jews, who he knew to be the most persecuted people of Europe. The piano music has even been compared to klezmer music. Ian MacDonald, in The New Shostakovich, comments that “horrified by stories that SS guards had made their victims dance beside their own graves,” Shostakovich created a programmatic image in his music.
The piano trio was one of the most popular chamber music ensembles in Beethoven’s time, and although he wrote relatively little music for piano trio, each of his trios is a very important work. Beethoven was revolutionary, taking his music where no other music had gone before. His Op. 1 was made up of a set of three trios that his teacher, Haydn, found so advanced and difficult that he advised young Beethoven not to publish them at the time of their composition. By his middle years, Beethoven had brought the form he had inherited from Mozart and Haydn to its greatest height; he then wrote three more trios: the two of Op. 70 and the B-Flat Trio, Op. 97, the latter dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, completed in 1811 and known as the Archduke Trio.
Piano Trio No. 2, in E minor, Op. 67
About the Composer
The 20th-century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) composed 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets, but wrote only two trios for violin, cello, and piano. The first, a student work, dates from 1923, when the composer was 17; it has remained in manuscript. He had a difficult time throughout much of his career due to official Soviet disfavor, although his early music met with approval not only in Russia but internationally. As soon as he composed his opera Lady Macbeth and his next symphonies, Pravda, the official Soviet news agency, condemned his work for its “bourgeois decadence,” describing the symphony as un-Soviet, unwholesome, cheap, eccentric, and lacking in songfulness. Authorities suggested he should attempt to compose music that would have greater appeal for the masses, music that was simpler, more melodic, more optimistic, and heroic in character.
About the Work
Piano Trio No. 2, in E minor, Op. 67 which Shostakovich composed in 1944, is a tense, tragic work, similar in tone to many he composed during the war years like his Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Symphonies. The siege of Leningrad, which had ended in January, cost Russia over a million people, and Russia was exhausted from the war. This work is imbued with Shostakovich’s feelings about the tremendous loss of so many of his countrymen as well as that of the Jews of Europe who were exterminated in the war.
Shostakovich dedicated the work to the memory of the Soviet wit, musicologist, music critic, linguist, professor, and artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Ivan Sollertinsky, one of his close friends and earliest supporters, who died in February 1944 at the age of 41. After Sollertinsky’s death, Shostakovich wrote to his widow: “ I cannot express in words all the grief I felt when I received the news of the death of Ivan Ivanovich. He was my closest friend. I owe him my entire development. You can scant imagine how difficult it will be for me to live without him.” Elegiac sections of the trio seem a fitting tribute to this friend. The work was premiered November 1944, with the composer as pianist.
A Deeper Listen
The opening movement is an elegiac and lyrical Andante that begins quite strikingly with the cello playing at the top of its range in eerie tones produced by artificial harmonics in canon with a muted violin, playing in its low register. The piano introduces the main theme against the strings’ repeated-note accompaniment. The sentiments are bleak, but the music is not without moments of happiness, muted introspection, and even anger. About halfway through the movement, the music becomes somewhat more animated, but overall, it retains its gravely lyrical character.
The second movement, a scherzo, Allegro con brio, is rhythmic and free, with discords that occasionally give it a menacing air. It is marked by compulsive rhythms and pizzicato that always seem on edge. In the movement’s center, the violin articulates fragments of a folk song. The contrasting trio is a kind of giddy waltz. The speed of this movement, as indicated by the composer’s metronome markings, seems to be so extreme as to make it impossible to perform it as written.
The trio reaches its emotional climax in the third movement, a short, simple, but eloquently expressive Largo, an “epitaph” in a form resembling that of a passacaglia or a chaconne, with the violin and cello weaving continuous contrapuntal variations over the sustained and repeated hymn-like chords emanating from the piano. This part of the music seems to have been inspired by the music of Bach. The music reaches a climax and then ends on an unresolved chord.
The Largo leads directly into the final Allegretto, whose principal theme seems to recall that of the first movement, and, like the second movement, the music expresses both happiness and sorrow and contains both lyricism and very dense counterpoint. In fact, all the moods of the earlier movements reappear.
The character of the music is like a ceremonial folk dance and has been likened to a war-dance or a grim processional. The material the piano plays has even been compared to klezmer music. The music finally rises to a grand climax that is suddenly interrupted by the opening movement’s theme; then, the main theme of the finale returns, followed by a theme from the first movement. At the very end, the piano chords from the second movement bring the work to its quiet and devastatingly bleak conclusion. Shostakovich’s friendship with many of his Jewish compatriots and his special awareness of the problems that they faced in Soviet society are well known. He gave them their grandest expression in a cycle of eleven songs to texts translated from the Yiddish into Russian in 1948, but had to withhold it from performance until 1955. The incorporation of the sounds of Russian-Jewish dance music in this trio has sometimes been misinterpreted as providing light relief in an otherwise serious and dramatic work. In fact, much of the literature about the composer and his works hardly mentions its presence here, but one Soviet-Jewish biographer of the composer, in a book published in Moscow in 1959, opined that Shostakovich did not intend this to be amusing at all, but wished this composition to be a tragic dance of death of Jews fated to be slaughtered by invading Nazis. Shostakovich meant for this musical dissent to be disguised, and it was often overlooked in the beginning of the composition’s performance history. After his death, when Shostakovich was honored by the public tribute given to his body in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, the slow movement of this trio was among the works performed.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke” (1811)
About the Composer
Beethoven, one of the most famous of German composers, is, in fact, one of the most revered and most performed composers in all of Western music. His work bridges the Classical period to the beginning of the Romantic period, making him a pivotal figure in the history of what we generally regard as “classical” music. He often rebelled against common composition practices of his day, accelerating the transition to Romantic music. A composer of symphonies, an opera, and music for piano as well as much chamber music, he was also a virtuoso pianist. At the age of 21, when he briefly studied composition with Haydn, he was solidifying his career as a pianist, but he was forced to stop performing around the time he composed the Archduke Trio because he was plagued with failing hearing. Increasingly cut off from the world by his deafness, he
forged his own artistic path, more and more unconcerned with what others thought of him.
Beethoven’s superlative reputation has been consistent throughout the centuries: Amadeus Wendt wrote, “Beethoven’s music inspires in its listeners awe, fear, horror, pain, and that exquisite nostalgia that is the soul of romanticism.” E.T.A. Hoffmann
felt he defined “a concept of genius, executed with profound deliberation, which in a very high degree brings the romantic content of music to expression.” The 21st-century British commentator John Suchet has declared: “Given the relatively small number of compositions by Beethoven – compared to the output of his two great contemporaries Haydn and Mozart – they stand as the greatest body of music ever composed.”
About the Work
The Archduke of Austria, the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, was a passionate music lover, who began to take lessons from Beethoven when he was about 18. The two became lifelong friends. In 1809, when Beethoven deliberated taking a post with one of Napoleon’s brothers, Rudolph and two young noblemen joined in guaranteeing him an annual income that allowed him to remain in Vienna. Beethoven, in return, with respect mingled with affection, dedicated fourteen scores to him. Rudolph had hoped for the dedication of the Op. 70 Trios, which went to someone else by mistake, but Beethoven dedicated the next one, Op. 97, to him.
Beethoven sketched the Archduke Trio in 1810 and completed the work during three weeks of March 1811, but withheld it for a long time, perhaps for some reason connected with Rudolph. Beethoven’s friends knew of the work’s existence, but none heard the Trio until a charity concert in April 1814 in a hotel in Vienna. This performance was the final one that Beethoven, by then completely deaf, played in public. The composer Louis Spohr, who was there, wrote in his autobiography, “It was not much of a pleasure, for, in the first place, the piano was badly out of tune, which didn’t bother Beethoven much, since he could not hear it. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in piano passages he played so softly that complete groupings of notes seemed absent. There was almost nothing left of his former great virtuosity, which used to be so admirable. I was moved to deepest sorrow. Since deafness is so great a misfortune for anyone, how can a musician endure it without despair? Beethoven’s continual melancholy was no longer a riddle to me.”
In addition to his hearing loss, Beethoven had other problems at that time. The composer believed that he was exhausting the expressive possibilities of the classical musical structures. A period of near-silence was coming, during which he would compose nothing, while he gathered his energies for the outpouring of future works in a new style that would dominate late in his life.
A Deeper Listen
Perhaps the elevated nobility of the Trio’s genial first movement, Allegro moderato, written in sonata form, has always made the title seem appropriate. The distinctive qualities of the work are all immediately apparent here with each of its musical ideas rich in great new possibilities. The brilliantly colorful writing for the three instruments perfectly matches the shifting moods of the music, by turns relaxed and expansive. After the broad grandeur of the lyrical main theme, the second theme provides a contrast, a cascade of repeated notes in a descending scalar figure, but what follows is nevertheless a charming and playful interlude. Then Beethoven gets down to the serious business of development in which every direction that can be taken is explored with the incomparable fertility of his creative imagination, including piano trills and protracted string pizzicatos. In the coda (after the recapitulation), the three join together proclaiming the initial theme triumphantly. The second movement, a long, complex, and rather idiosyncratic Scherzo, Allegro, has as a theme a simple rhythmicized major scale initiated by the cello, answered in a descending scale; the music that follows is playful and lyrical. The movement’s central section consists of a mysterious, chromatic, syncopated canon and a contrasting rhythmic section; at the very end, the first of these comes back as a coda, which includes a fragment of a chromatic fugue. Next comes an expansive Andante cantabile in a bright major tonality that looks forward to the slow
movements of Beethoven’s final works. The movement is built as a calm and beautiful theme, introduced by the piano, with five progressively elaborate variations of constantly increasing intensity. Its coda runs without pause directly into the last movement, Allegro moderato, a big, joyous, witty rondo, in traditional alternating sections with the initial A section returning as a refrain after each contrasting section (ABACAB’A). A coda in which the three instruments seem to chase each other brings the trio to a spirited Presto conclusion.
— Susan Halpern
Learn More About the Artists
Three renowned visionary artists of the next generation combine talents in this eclectic new piano trio, Junction. Violinist Stefan Jackiw, recognized for musicianship that combines poetry and purity with an impeccable technique, returns with pianist Conrad Tao and cellist Jay Campbell. Tao, who appears worldwide as a pianist and composer, has been dubbed a musician of “probing intellect and open-hearted vision” by the New York Times. Approaching both old and new works with the same curiosity and emotional commitment, Campbell has been called “electrifying” by the New York Times. Recent concerts of the trio have included performances at Washington Performing Arts, Portland Ovations and the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.
“Watching the trio perform, one really couldn’t tell who was happier to be there — the rapt audience or the musicians, who threw themselves into repertoire they clearly love…. These three are onto something special.”— The Boston Globe
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