We are thrilled to welcome back virtuoso violinist Jeremy Bell, making his 14th guest appearance with Consortium in “Romantic Piano Trios”, a concert which we are happy to present both in person and live-streamed, now that this route has become available.
It is a great honour to have Jeremy join forces with two of our finest local musicians, pianist Evgeny Chugunov and cellist Marc Palmquist, as we move once more into the much-loved realm of Romanticism. The two piano trios by Schumann and Arensky, from 1851 and 1894 respectively, will sweep you away with their mix of rhapsody and lyricism.
It is exciting that Jeremy is with us again to create more magic as we return to our stage with our second live concert of 2022, in our series “The Magic Returns!”, as we have aptly named our 43rd season. He last performed for us as soloist in the concert “Magic and Fire” in November 2019, shortly before the pandemic closed us down in February 2020, after the final concert of our 41st season. He also appeared very recently with the Penderecki String Quartet, of which he is a member, performing music by Haydn, Mozetich and Dvořák. Please read my previous blog post about that event.
The chosen genre of this evening is the piano trio, whereby violin, cello, and piano join together, the dominant voice being that of the piano. This is actually my favourite kind of chamber music, and even though I specialize in music of the Baroque and in harpsichord playing, my chosen music to listen to at home frequently is the Romantic-era piano trio, followed closely by the chamber music of Brahms. This may surprise many who know me, but I love the sonorities, the soaring expressivity (something one does not get on a harpsichord), the lyricism, the passion, the musical vocabulary of these works!
I have been privileged to have heard live performances in Toronto in the past by such sublime groups as the Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio and the Beaux Arts Trio! Piano trios by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, and beyond I delight in, but they are generally also beyond the capabilities of the musicians we usually have at hand. Time, dedication, and enormous talent are needed to bring such works off successful, but fortunately we have such accomplished artists here for this special occasion. This concert will be a rare treat for us all!
I selected tonight’s works because they are amongst my favourites, and I know them inside out and backwards to listen to, although I would never be able to perform them. I have lived with these for many years, and know what is coming next! That is the reason that I am so delighted that our artists of the evening are able to perform these. I must explain that the piano part is particularly treacherous, a great challenge to the fingers!
It was interesting to bring together three artists working predominantly in totally different realms, with Jeremy specializing in the string quartet repertoire (although he does branch out to diverse ventures, including pop-influenced music), Marc operating in the world of symphonic, orchestral music, and Evgeny breathing the life of a concert pianist and pedagogue.
Each musician eagerly accepted my invitation to come together for this special collaborative occasion, bringing with them the gifts of their own particular rich background and experience, and approaching this opportunity with excitement and gratitude.
Marc Palmquist has had the longest association with us, appearing annually in Consortium’s concert series since 1985, the year in which he joined the TBSO as Principal Cellist. He is grateful that this experience offers him many opportunities to expand his musical repertoire in areas rarely explored by orchestras.
Pianist Evgeny Chugunov, who has the lion’s share of the action, is a sensitive artist and a critically-acclaimed concert pianist; he expresses a rare musicality, charming his audiences around the world. He impressed us greatly last September in our first virtual concert, “Rhapsodic Romanticism”.
“I greatly look forward to performing with Jeremy and Marc. It is both a great pleasure and a significant learning experience to work with such outstanding musicians as they are, and I always appreciate these opportunities. The two trios we are presenting are true gems of a piano trio repertoire which requires a substantial level of detailed collaborative mastery and inspiration from all of us”.
I asked violinist Jeremy Bell to add his perspective on tonight’s concert. He wrote enthusiastically as follows:
“Performing Schumann’s music is so enriching artistically and demands that we probe the gamut of fantasy and doom. Schumann’s spirit is one we all can relate to on some level. He suffered from intense emotions, highs and lows, and fears of not being able to live up to his extremely high ideals. He had big successes and disasters in his life, and this polemic of states is alive and lurking around every corner in his music. It is what makes it so human!
This trio in G minor has goblin marches and heroic leaps of faith, interspersed with loving melody and boiling terror. This trio will be paired with Anton Arensky’s D minor trio which captures the height of late 19th century Russian Romantic passion and drive.
I can’t wait to dive in to these two works and bring them to the Thunder Bay stage!”
Both works are in a minor key and are quintessentially romantic, deeply expressive, with soaring, expansive melodies and moments of passionate intensity. Arensky is the lesser-known composer but was influenced by Schumann and Tchaikovsky. Born in 1861, Arensky spent much of his life in St. Petersburg, studying composition with Rimsky-Korsakov. He subsequently became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, toured as a pianist and a conductor, and taught Rachmaninoff, among others. He died of tuberculosis in Finland in 1906 at the age of 44.
German-born composer, pianist, music critic Robert Schumann, on the other hand, born in 1810, had died 50 years before Arensky at the age of 46 in an insane asylum, to which he was admitted at his own request after attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge and into the Rhine. He had suffered from a mental disorder of a bipolar nature since he was 23, and had many tortured episodes in life, being plagued later by angelic and demonic visions. He was diagnosed with psychotic melancholia near the end, and died of pneumonia.
Arensky was much admired by the great Russian novelist Tolstoy, who genuinely considered him to be one of the best composers of the time. He was described by Mikhail Bukinik, a fellow student together with Rachmaninoff, as “mobile, nervous, with a wry smile on his clever, half Tartar face, always joking or snarling; all feared his laughter and adored his talent.”
But he wasn’t without his shortcomings. His mentor Tchaikovsky wrote: “He should be encouraged; he is liable to lose heart and die from all kinds of disgrace. Meanwhile, his is a real great talent.” Composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s memoirs, written soon after Arensky’s death, divulge that “… According to all witnesses, he spent his life dissolutely, plagued by drunkenness and gambling, yet his compositional activity was quite prolific.”
Arensky’s trio is magnificently written and is achingly beautiful, soulful, uplifting, and sometimes tinged with tender melancholy, as it was dedicated to the memory of the renowned Russian virtuoso cellist Karl Davydov. Melodies are passed from one instrument to another. The light, playful scherzo, spiked with pizzicato sections and rippling piano passages swings into a major-key cheerful waltz for its middle section. The elegiac third movement gives way to a dramatic, impassioned, somewhat stormy finale.
We were most fortunate to have procured Jeremy Bell to take the lead in this concert. He has been described as demonstrating an “impressive balance between mesmerizing display of virtuosity and fine musical sensitivity”. He is “fearless and eloquent”, with “breathtaking skill and focus.” We are delighted to announce that he will be back once more in 2022, marking his 15th Consortium appearance! He and his pianist Shoshana Telner will perform “Romantic Gestures”, a programme of sonatas for violin and piano by Norway’s Edvard Grieg, Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammer, and Italy’s Ottorino Respighi.
Heartfelt thanks to Diana Pallen for being the Sponsor of this concert! She has been a fan of Jeremy’s for many years, was Consortium’s first Patron when the organization was formed, and served on its Board of Directors. Thanks also to Trinity United Church and Sandra Cosbey for facilitating its use.
We would like to invite you to our next and final chamber music concert of this season. “Quintessential Quintets” will be performed live on Thursday, May 26 at 8 p.m. at Trinity United Church (30 Algoma Street South).
Five fine local musicians will charm us with three quintets for flute, oboe, violin, viola, and cello by Johann Christian Bach, known as “the London Bach”. He was the youngest son of J.S. Bach, and influenced the music of Mozart, whose celebrated Quartet in F major for oboe and strings, K. 370, and the Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285 are also on the programme. These Classic era works date from 1772 to 1781, and will be performed by Doris Dungan, Colleen Kennedy, Katie Stevens, Patrick Horn, and Daniel Parker.
This concert will be available both in person and livestreamed. Tickets will be available through our website starting May 15: https://consortiumab.org/tickets/
We look forward to continuing to share our music with you. Stay safe!