Trio Solisti

Maria Bachmann, violin
Alexis Pia Gerlach,
Adam Neiman,

Sunday, August 17, 2014, 4 pm

American Landscapes IX: Piano Trio Landmarks


Piano Trio No. 1 in E Flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1 (1795) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Adagio cantabile
Scherzo: Allegro assai
Finale. Presto

Piano Trio No. 3, Op.122 (2012)
Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961)


Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 (1854/1889)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Allegro con brio
Scherzo: Allegro molto — Meno allegro
Finale: Allegro

next week

Saturday, August 23, 6:30 pm
Chamber Orchestra Concert:
In the House of Don Manuel: An Extravaganza Celebrating the Friendship of
Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca.

Lucy Schaufer, mezzo-soprano;
Maria Todaro, mezzo-soprano; Jenny Lin, piano;
Maverick Chamber Players;
Members of the Aurea Ensemble;
Alexander Platt, conductor

Sunday, August 24, 4 pm
Jupiter String Quartet; Ilya Yakushev, piano

The World of Richard Strauss: Interpreting Tradition
Music of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, and Strauss


Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


Trio Solisti, a "trio of soloists," has forged its reputation as “the most exciting piano trio in America” (The New Yorker) with a performance style combining exceptional virtuosity and penetrating musical insight, which yield cohesive and powerful musical narratives. Commanding a repertoire that encompasses most of the standard trio repertoire as well as many new works by contemporary composers, the trio garners rave reviews throughout its concert tours.

Strad Magazine wrote of the trio’s first CD, a recording of Brahms trios, “Trio Solisti plays this glorious music with rare commitment and insight—the free-flowing adrenaline has one on the edge of one’s seat.” The ensemble has been described by The New York Times as “consistently brilliant” and praised by The Washington Post for its “unrelenting passion and zealous abandon.” Noted Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout proclaimed, “To my mind, Trio Solisti has now succeeded the Beaux Arts Trio as the outstanding chamber music ensemble of its kind.”

Founded in 2001, Trio Solisti (made up of violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, and pianist Adam Neiman) has performed at many of America’s important concert venues and cultural institutions, such as Lincoln Center (including the Chamber Music Society), the Kennedy Center, People’s Symphony Concerts at Town Hall, Seattle’s Meany Hall, and La Jolla’s Revelle Series, to name a few

The newest addition to Trio Solisti’s rapidly growing discography is Dvořák Trios, released on Bridge Records in 2012. Critics swooned: “This is brilliantly performed” (International Record Review); “I cannot praise this recording highly enough” (Fanfare Magazine). Pictures at an Exhibition, on Endeavour Classics, features Trio Solisti’s original arrangement of Mussorgsky’s monumental solo piano work. Fanfare Magazine called the recording “astonishing in sparkling clarity…surging with sensuality and dramatic contrasts.” Café Music, on Bridge Records, is an assortment of music that can inhabit either the concert hall or the less formal setting of a café. The centerpiece, Paul Schoenfield’s jazzy Café Music, is surrounded by dancy and songful works by Piazzolla, Turina, and Gershwin.

Trio Solisti actively collaborates with some of today’s leading composers. Paul Moravec has written a number of works for the group, notably Tempest Fantasy, for which he received the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, the trio gave the premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s Piano Trio No. 3, which was commissioned by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music in Tucson. Earlier that season, Chamber Music Monterey Bay commissioned and presented the premiere of Living Frescoes, a work by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts for piano trio and clarinet that was inspired by visual artist Bill Viola.

Above and beyond performing together and individually at music festivals across the world, Trio Solisti founded Telluride MusicFest, an annual chamber music festival in the mountains of Colorado at which the ensemble presents two weeks of performances with celebrity guest artists. Trio Solisti is Ensemble-in-Residence at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, an honor that includes the presentation of concerts and master classes, and in-depth work with student composers.





Beethoven did for the piano trio what Haydn had done for the string quartet—he gave the instruments greater independence and the genre itself greater status. This was possible in part because of improvements in the design of pianos, so that they no longer required the support of an accompanying cello bass line or a violin to double the top melody.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in E Flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1, was the first work Beethoven felt deserved an opus number, although he had composed and published works previously. Joseph Haydn, who attended its premiere at Prince Lichnowsky’s home, praised it highly.

In the Allegro, the influence of Haydn can be readily felt. Pleasant themes in major keys are traded back and forth with perfect balance between the piano and the strings. The composer draws out the cadential material (teasing us into thinking it is about to end, then continuing), a characteristic that would become a feature of Beethoven’s music throughout his career.

The piano opens the slow movement (Adagio cantabile) with a sweet legato song, which is answered first by contrasting staccato strings, and then echoed by lovely arias in dialogue by violin and cello.

Beethoven made the piano trio into a more substantial genre by adding a fourth movement. In the Scherzo: Allegro assai, the strong downbeat, lively meter, and repeated sections are evidence of the Scherzo genre’s origins as a dance movement. The central Trio section, as always, is different in character, here more subdued and gentle, with sustained notes in the strings. The animated opening material returns to round out the movement.

The Finale: Presto follows the classical pattern of having the fastest movement at the end. Beethoven adds interest by moving into the minor briefly. The meter gallops happily along up to a dramatic final chord.

Lowell Liebermann is an American composer, pianist, and conductor. He received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Juilliard. He is a prolific composer, producing at least six major works each year, and has become one of the most widely performed American composers of his generation. He is known for polished craftsmanship, but his music defies categorization. His works have been performed and recorded by major artists, including pianist Stephen Hough and flautist James Galway.

Trio Solisti premiered Liebermann’s Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 122, in Tucson in January 2013. The composer writes: “Like my first two pianos trios, this work is in one movement. The Third Trio unfolds in three clearly discernible sections. Its opening introduction features two cadenzas—one for violin followed by one for cello—which are heard over repeated pianissimo chords in the piano and which serve to introduce the work's motivic material. The broadly lyric section that follows features long lines in the strings over a glittering ostinato in the piano. The final section of the Trio is a menacing and somewhat jazzy processional which bears the subtitle (They’re coming…..) in the printed score.

“The entire Trio was written during a year notable for events which revealed some of the most disturbing aspects of American culture, events ranging from multiple public shootings to the hate-filled rhetoric leading up to the 2012 election.

“For me, the viewing of almost any news media these days seems to inspire an encroaching sense of paranoia and despair. I think some of this feeling crept into the work’s final section, which has an undercurrent of pessimistic sarcasm running throughout. The Trio culminates in a climax which seems to be a musical embodiment of the triumph of banality, before it all comes crashing down in an abrupt ending. Individual audience members are invited to imagine a bogeyman of their own choosing to serve as the object of paranoia represented in this closing section.”

Johannes Brahms was an accomplished pianist and composer by the age of twenty. His talent and musicianship were championed by Robert and Clara Schumann, and they helped him get his work published. Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, was one of his earliest chamber works. Thirty-six years later, he reworked the piece, shortening it by one-third and, as he said, “making it less untidy.” The 1889 version remains a pillar of the trio repertoire.

The first movement (Allegro con brio) is the longest, at fifteen minutes. The piano states the theme, and then the cello sings harmony up a third. Finally the violin takes it on, and the three instruments weave it in and out. Brahms uses a profusion of musical ideas and a wide range of moods. The many different tempi make this movement seem like a piece within a piece.

The scherzo (Allegro molto) uses short, fast, staccato motifs in B minor that convey an intense but restrained energy. The central trio section returns to B major, sounding more like a classical minuet. After the return of the opening material, a short coda combines these two very different motifs, first playing the staccato theme in major, and then changing the gentle trio theme to minor.

In the Adagio, the piano again announces the theme, this time in a chordal progression. The violin and cello respond, and a dialogue is set up between the piano on the one hand and the two strings on the other. The cello sings a solo song, after which the dialogue returns.

The finale (Allegro) starts with a cello solo with piano accompaniment. The violin takes up the theme, and shortly all three are playing as an ensemble. Throughout this piece, Brahms uses pauses rather than musical transitions. Instead of aiming for a seamless texture, here he chose to articulate the sections. The piano is no mere accompanist in this work. Brahms explores endless combinations and uses of the three instruments, and achieves balance throughout. This is one of only a few Classical pieces that start in major and end in the minor.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg