CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Tuesday, November 29, 2011 | 7:30 PM

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio

Zankel Hall
Since making their debut as a group at the 1977 presidential inauguration, these three stellar musicians have astounded audiences around the world with trio repertoire both familiar and new. On this program, they perform Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and give the New York premiere of a Carnegie Hall co-commission by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich with guest artists.
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The Program

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11


About the Composer


Beethoven cut his musical teeth in his native Bonn, then (as later) a provincial backwater that offered little scope for a prodigiously gifted and ambitious young musician. In late 1792, he burst onto the scene in cosmopolitan Vienna, and spent the rest of the decade burnishing his reputation as a pianistic powerhouse; upon hearing him play, his fellow virtuoso Wenzel Tomaschek was so overwhelmed that he refused to touch his own instrument for several days. Beethoven’s first published works, the three Op. 1 Piano Trios of 1795, brashly asserted his credentials as an up-and-coming composer impatient to take his place in the public eye beside his beloved teacher, Joseph Haydn. The brilliance and likability of much of Beethoven’s early music reflect an understandable eagerness to ingratiate himself with audiences and aristocratic patrons. By his 30th year, he had an impressive clutch of masterpieces to his credit, including three piano concertos, six string quartets, and one symphony.


About the Work


The Piano Trio in B-flat Major was originally scored for clarinet plus piano and cello, but is just as often played on the violin. Written in 1797 and published a year later, it is more or less contemporary with the three sparkling String Trios, Op. 9—which Beethoven at one time considered “the best of my works”—and bears a strong family resemblance to the three Piano Sonatas, Op. 10; the two Cello Sonatas, Op. 5; and the Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, Op. 16. Op. 11 is sometimes called the “Gassenhauer” (“Street Song”) Trio, after a popular terzetto from Joseph Weigl’s long-forgotten comic opera L’amor marinario (Sailors’ Loves). “Before I begin work, I must have something to eat,” the three basses sing in this light-hearted ditty, which supplied the spunky theme for Beethoven’s final variations movement.


A Closer Listen


The opening of the Allegro con brio surges upward by half-steps before falling back on itself in mock exhaustion. Off-kilter accents, trills, melodic curlicues, and fleet-fingered passagework accentuate the movement’s playfully outgoing character. A more sedate second subject in F major is soon introduced, and these contrasting ideas provide fodder for an ingenious development section that wears its sophistication lightly. The radiant Adagio, in E-flat major, is notable for its rich, somewhat wayward harmonies and elaborate figurations. In the finale, Beethoven spins dross into pure gold: He puts Weigl’s bouncy, jovial tune through a series of eight compact variations—the first for piano alone, the second for strings, and so forth—each more imaginative than the last. After a rippling piano cadenza, the trio ends with a spitfire coda.

—Harry Haskell 

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH
Quintet for Contrabass, Cello, Viola, Violin, and Piano

Co-commissioned by the La Jolla Music Society, Chamber Music Society of Detroit made possible by a gift from Cecilia Benner, Carnegie Hall Corporation, Emilio Gravagno,  Ann and Harry Santen for the Linton Chamber Music Series, the John F. Kennedy Center Abe Fortas Memorial Fund, the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music made possible with a gift from Jean-Paul Bierny and Chris Tanz, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Seven Days Seven Nights Festival, Regional Arts at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, and Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle, through the International Arts Foundation, Inc.


About the Composer


Few contemporary composers have established a closer rapport with both audiences and performers than Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Over the past four decades, she has created a large and exceptionally diverse body of music that is thoroughly up to date in sound and spirit, yet at the same time firmly grounded in traditional values of expressivity and form. Trained as a violinist at The Juilliard School, Zwilich found her calling as a composer in the early 1970s, and her distinctive voice soon generated a steady stream of performances and commissions. The astringent modernism of her early works, honed by studies with Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter, gradually gave way to a simpler and more lyrical style. Her catalogue runs the gamut from the knotty Symphony No. 1, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, to highly accessible works like Peanuts Gallery, written for a Carnegie Hall children’s concert in 1997, when Zwilich held the Hall’s first Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair.


About the Work


The Quintet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Contrabass, and Piano, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, pays lighthearted tribute to Schubert’s beloved “Trout” Quintet, which is scored for the same combination of instruments. It is the fourth piece Zwilich has written for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, joining the Septet for Piano Trio and String Quartet (2008), the Triple Concerto (1995), and the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello (1987). As this lineup suggests, Zwilich has a knack for reimagining traditional ensembles by presenting them in varying contexts and configurations. Three major works by Zwilich are being premiered this season. In addition to the Quintet, which was first performed by the La Jolla Music Society in California on August 7, they include Shadows for piano and orchestra, written for pianist Jeffrey Biegel and premiered in Louisiana at the end of October; and Commedia dell’arte, which violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg introduces to San Francisco audiences in May.


A Closer Listen


The Quintet’s three movements share thematic material, a basic underlying pulse, and a firm anchoring in A, the key of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. The ineluctable pull of this tonal center is felt throughout the piece, both in the recurring pedal points that are one of Zwilich’s hallmarks and in her characteristically triadic melodies and harmonies. The first movement, by turns ruminative and urgently lyrical, shows her fondness for taut, pithy motives and transparent textures, with frequent doublings and wide spacings. Next comes a bluesy Fantasy, cheekily subtitled “Die launische Forelle” (“The Moody Trout”). It opens with a slithery, slowly striding pizzicato phrase in the contrabass and cello, against which a spectral violin plays the first four notes of Schubert’s familiar song. The musical “trout” becomes increasingly athletic and capricious, until the energy suddenly dissipates and the Fantasy dies away with just a hint of A-major tonality. The fast, nervous finale blends ingredients from the first two movements, contrasting jaunty rhythmic figures with cascading showers of 16th-notes.


In the Composer’s Own Words

 

My Quintet (for the same instrumentation as the great “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert) is in three movements, the second of which has the title “Die Launische Forelle” (roughly translated: “The Moody Trout”). I couldn’t resist using a very small quote from the Schubert song on which his Quintet is based. I also took the liberty of allowing that movement to spin out musical images of a “moody” trout. In all three movements, the weight and character of the contrabass is an important element in the overall design. I’m especially interested in the possibilities offered by the contemporary contrabass player’s virtuosity and artistry, which allows the composer to reach for that chamber music ideal of equal partners.

Because of my great admiration and affection for these artists, my work is dedicated to Yossi, Jaime, Sharon, Michael, and Hal.

—Harry Haskell

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50


About the Composer


For all Tchaikovsky’s heart-on-sleeve Romanticism and intimately revealing correspondence with his patron and confidant, Nadezhda von Meck, much about the man and his music remains enigmatic. The composer’s characteristically ecstatic effusions masked an inner life racked by anguish and self-doubt. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, he produced a string of sunny and extraverted works, including the brilliant Violin Concerto, the tub-thumping 1812 Overture, and the incandescent Serenade for Strings. Yet the same period saw the composition of the Fourth Symphony, with its portentous “fate” motif, and the opera Eugene Onegin, whose tragic overtones mirrored the homosexual Tchaikovsky’s unhappy marriage. By the time he appeared at the opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891, he was one of most celebrated musicians in the world. Two years later, shortly after conducting the premiere of his “Pathétique” Symphony, he died under mysterious circumstances.


About the Work


Tchaikovsky’s A-Minor Piano Trio, his sole contribution to the genre, has long been among the most beloved works in the chamber-music repertory. Indeed, so popular was it during the composer’s lifetime that it was played at the memorial concerts presented in Tchaikovsky’s honor in Moscow and St. Petersburg in November 1893. Ironically, Tchaikovsky had resisted the impulse to write a piano trio, even after Madame von Meck implored him to do so. “I simply cannot endure the combination of pianoforte with violin or violoncello,” he wrote to her in December 1880. “To my mind, the timbre of these instruments will not blend, and I assure you it is a torture to me to have to listen to a trio or sonata of any kind for piano and strings.” A year later, Tchaikovsky ate his words. The Piano Trio, conceived as a memorial to pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, received its first performance in Moscow on March 11, 1882, with Tchaikovsky’s friend, Sergei Taneyev, at the keyboard.


A Closer Listen


Tchaikovsky told Madame von Meck that he feared he had “arranged music of a symphonic character as a trio, instead of writing directly for my instruments.” In fact, for all its lush “symphonic” textures, the A-Minor Trio is written in a thoroughly idiomatic manner for each of the three instruments. The violin and cello take turns as soloists and duet partners, with the piano playing an alternately starring and supporting role. Perhaps the trio’s most outstanding feature is its unconventional bipartite form. The first of the two movements, Pezzo elegiaco (Elegiac Piece), establishes the prevailing mood, which Tchaikovsky aptly described as “a somewhat plaintive and funereal coloring.” The gloom is dispelled by the serenely limpid E-major theme of the second movement. First stated by the piano alone, the 20-bar melody undergoes a series of 11 highly imaginative variations, leading to a fiery finale and a short funeral-march coda that quietly echoes the trio’s impassioned beginning.


—Harry Haskell

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

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