Two winter concerts from Northwestern's Bienen School of Music Review- The Kalichstein-Laredo Robinson Trio and The Faculty and Guest Artists shine

Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music’s 2017 Winter Chamber Music Festival, performed at Pick Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, will conclude this weekend. Blair Milton, violin, of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Evanston Chamber Ensemble, and the Bienen faculty, is the originator of the Festival. This reviewer was lucky enough to attend two of the fine performances presented during the Festival. On Friday evening, January 13, the renowned Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, whose own inaugural concert was the inaugural of President Jimmy Carter in 1977, gave a dazzling concert.



First on the program was “Pas de Trois”, by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ellen Taafe Zwilich, written for this trio and dedicated to them this year “With great admiration and affection”. The piece was designed to open the concert and was modeled on the ballet tradition that bears its name. The trio “bounds onto the stage” and interacts, followed by solo turns for all performers, and ends with an ensemble conclusion. As Kalichstein advised this reviewer in our interview, the vibrant piece contains “A hint of ‘Hail to the Chief’”.

Blair Milton, violin; photo by Todd Rosenberg


 Next the audience heard “Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor”, Op. 67, 1944, by Dmitri Shostakovich, written in the midst of World War 2, and, as Kalichstein explained, “A reaction to his hearing about the Nazi death camps”. The beginning is extremely dissonant, beginning with a notoriously difficult cello portion, brilliantly handled by Sharon Robinson on her Stradivarius. The second movement is almost frenzied, biting, followed by a dark and somber melody and then the allegretto third known as the “Dance of Death”, somber and containing a “Jewish-style” melody, ending in a hush. The piece is tortured yet undeniably beautiful.

Joseph Kalichstein,piano Jaime Laredo, violin, Sharon Robinson, cello


Finally, the program closed with “Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major”, Op. 8, originally written in 1854, by a 21 year-old Johannes Brahms, and 35 years later extensively revised. As Kalichstein noted, “He edited it strenuously, exchanging, cutting, tightening, making it more inspired.” Kalichstein reveled, “First he had the courage to cut into his own flesh, with tremendous sureness and artistic honesty, and when you hear the second version, written shortly before his death, the only way you can differentiate the two is because we have the first version!” The piece develops like a symphony, with enormous breadth, incredible melodic order, passion and drama.

Gail Williams, horn


 On Sunday, January 22, the “Guest Artists and Faculty” program gave a versatile and virtuosic performance calculated to inspire. The artists included Geraldo Ribeiro, violin; Helen Callus, viola; Stephen Balderston, cello; Steven Cohen, clarinet; Gail Williams, horn; James Giles, piano and Andrea Swan, piano. Between the pieces, helpers rotated two different Steinway Grand’s apropos of the choice of the pianists.

Gerardo Ribeiro, violin and James Giles, piano


First on the program was “Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello in B-flat Major”, Op.11, 1797, known as “The Gassenhauer”, by Ludwig van Beethoven. A successful and sprightly, clever piece since it was written, it is nonetheless technically difficult; the 3rd movement contains no less than 9 variations on a theme.

Helen Callus, viola


Next we heard “Twilight Music for Violin, Horn and Piano”, by John Harbison, 1984, a pioneer of a compositional approach that  “mixes non-traditional triadic progressions, lyric chromaticism, and thyhmic patterns taken from pop music”.  Each artist in the trio gets a turn at solo, dominating then contributing to the whole piece, challenging the listener but not completely non-melodic.

Steve Cohen, clarinet


Third on the program was “Piano Trio in D Minor”, Op. 120, 1923, by Gabriel Faure, a piece beginning with 2 impending melodies, which are developed “with a coda of defiant despair”. It begins lyrically with cello and violin, then joined  with  and expounded by  a gorgeous piano melody,  the whole ending with an almost rustic dance- a lovely, magical trio!

James Giles, piano


Finally, the program ended with “Divertimento for Violin, Viola and Cello in E-flat Major”, K. 563, 1788, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a piece in 6 movements. Perhaps the best description of the work is contained in Albert Einstein’s “Mozart: His Character, His Work”, (Oxford University Press 1945), “It is a true chamber-music work….something special in the way of art, invention and good spirits…Each instrument is primus inter pares, every note is significant, every note is a contribution to spiritual and sensuous fulfillment in sound”. Einstein called it “One of his noblest works”.

Stephen Balderston, cello, Andrea Swan, piano


The concert as a whole was intriguing, fresh, rewarding.

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio


 All photos of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio by Noah Frick-Alofs


All photos of the Guest Artists and Faculty courtesy of Northwestern University Bienen School of Music

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