Consortium Aurora Borealis is thrilled to present Toronto’s renowned three-time JUNO award-winning Gryphon Trio in concert. Noted for its highly-refined, dynamic performances and superb interpretations, the ensemble enjoys an impressive international reputation. Pianist Jamie Parker, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, and cellist Roman Borys will perform a stunning programme
consisting of Beethoven’s middle-period “Ghost” Trio, Opus 70, No. 1; Brahms’s passionate, poetic Trio No. 1, Opus 8; and Dinuk Wijeratne’s rhapsodic, evocative “Love Triangle”, which was commissioned by the Trio. The Gryphon Trio has been long regarded as one of the finest chamber music ensembles in the world.
The Trio is passionate about community engagement, education and development of next generation audiences, affirming that their music reaches out to everyone, regardless of background. From the concert halls of Europe to the Arctic, from jazz clubs to high school music workshops, the Gryphons have made their mark, and convey a sense of fun as well as of highest professionalism. They are named after the mythical beast, half-lion, half-eagle, that guards treasures. They regard themselves as guardians of all the musical masterpieces that have been created.
The Gryphon Trio celebrates its 30th anniversary just as Consortium commemorates its 45th. Be dazzled by the virtuosity, expressivity, and the passion with which they perform. The Globe and Mail stated that pianist Jamie Parker has “ten of the nimblest fingers in the business.” His extraordinary skill will be much in evidence, especially since he has the most notes of anyone!
The concert begins with the first work the Gryphon Trio ever played together, Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio in D major. It also opened their 2011 Beethoven album which won them their second JUNO for Classical Album of the Year, Solo or Ensemble. We’re lucky to hear them performing it live in Thunder Bay twelve years later! It has remained as a favourite in their repertoire.
This work is written in a totally new vein. Beethoven’s first three piano trios were written twelve years earlier, more in the style of Haydn and Mozart. Opus 70 speaks with a different, more intense voice and belongs to Beethoven’s middle, “Heroic” period of 1802 to 1814, as he moved from Classical towards Romantic ideals. The “Ghost” Trio is very demanding, geared to more professional performers.
The two Opus 70 piano trios were written in the summer of 1808 while Beethoven was holidaying in a village outside Vienna, under doctor’s order. They were dedicated to the Hungarian countess Marie von Erdőgy, a fine pianist, close friend, confidante and supporter, who hosted Beethoven at her country estate. She also arranged for some princely support so that he wouldn’t leave Vienna.
Beethoven was dealing with fear, struggling with going deaf, and had to abandon his career as a virtuoso pianist because of his hearing loss, concentrating instead on composing. Beethoven’s income was unreliable, and he had even contemplated committing suicide at one point. His despair permeates the mournful, ominous D-minor middle movement which dominates the work and gave the “Ghost” Trio its nickname.
Yet despite this, he had composed the happy, pleasurable “Pastoral” Symphony, his sixth, with references to nature and things peaceful, just before writing the “Ghost”, and had also sent in the 5th symphony, a cello sonata, a Mass, and the two Opus 70 piano trios for publication at this time.
The “Ghost” Trio was written in three movements instead of the usual four. The central slow one was by far the longest. The two lively outer movements contrast greatly to it, far removed from its gloomy character. Parts are equal and independent, in varied and shifting roles, with much motivic interplay between them. The music is forceful and original, with varying textures, colours and emotions. Long considered a favourite, it ranks near the top of the list next to the immortal Beethoven’s sublime “Archduke” piano trio Opus 97 of 1810-1811.
Movement One, Allegro con brio, starts off Opus 70, No. 1 with a vigorous unison, quickly leading to the cello’s tender but short theme of sweet lyricism, soon picked up by the violin. Each of its two bars gets developed motivically. The cello plays a prominent role right from the beginning. We hear abrupt contrasts, with a range of suddenly changing dynamics. There are unison scale-like passages, with the piano playing in octaves.
Beethoven flaunted tradition by developing his two main themes simultaneously instead of consecutively, as was the normal rule. He boldly tossed short motifs back and forth in imitation, with abrupt contrasts. The active piano part provides a filigree of notes, sometimes scale-like, occasionally punctuating with chords. The movement is characterized by bright energy.
Gloom hangs over Movement Two with its mysterious, eerie harmonies. It’s unearthly and terrifying, with sinister piano tremolos in the lower range. Sudden violent outbursts, starts and stops, create tension and unease. Czerny, composer and Beethoven’s piano student, was reminded of Hamlet’s Ghost, speaking of “an appearance from the underworld”, thereby giving rise to the nickname later on. In fact, unbeknownst to Czerny, Beethoven had made preliminary sketches in the same dark key for an opera about Macbeth with its witches and Banquo’s ghost, which was never written.
This is the longest, weightiest movement, and Beethoven’s slowest. It is marked Largo ed espressivo. It begins softly, as the strings in octaves play a sombre three-note motif. The piano responds in between with a short motif of its own, incorporating an ornamental turn over repeated chords in the left-hand. Shortly thereafter, the violin takes over the piano’s opening motif, repeating it in every bar, separated by rests. This motif obsessively pervades much of the movement. Later, the cello takes it over, sharing it alternately with the piano, while the violin gives forth strong bold repeated notes.
Much is performed in a whisper. Melodies are fragmented and often broken up into short motifs, separated by silences, as we already saw at the opening. They are continuously developed, going through a great many permutations and keys. Sometimes it seems that the movement is about to finish, but that is deceptive, and instead it unexpectedly continues, even near the very end.
The written piano part is black on the page, with endless streams of the tiniest, fastest of note values, 64th-notes, with four flags to each stem. There are 48 notes to a bar near the end in the piano part, notably from bar 76! Then, nine bars before the conclusion of this movement, the piano commences a steadily downwards scale in 64th-notes notes, descending appropriately into the abyss by half-steps, from highest to lowest note, starting strongly and tapering to a quiet, dying fall. The ghost fades from view, the spirits return to their haunts, and we wait for the sun to break through in the next movement.
The brooding melancholy of the Largo is quickly dispelled in the lighthearted presto finale, a happy, sunny movement. It returns to the bright mood of the first movement, gracious and lively. Everyone gets a turn at the motifs and melodies, as they are shared around, sometimes broken up. There is both delicate and stormy piano playing, and the expected range of dynamic contrast, from soft and sweet to occasional fortissimo, but without the intensity found in the first movement. Pauses and hesitations provide playful bits of humour, and the piece rollicks to a cheerful conclusion.
We move on to something completely different but quite wonderful! This is a work which the Gryphon Trio actually performed for us five years previously, on the occasion of their 25th Anniversary, and our 40th, back in September 2018. “Love Triangle” was commissioned by the Gryphon Trio and written by Dinuk Wijeratne in 2013, during Gryphons’ 20th Anniversary year. It received its world premiere in Ottawa in August 2018. Our Consortium Aurora Borealis audience received it most enthusiastically indeed! We are delighted to hear it again, especially since we are making a point of harking back to a few previous performances during our anniversary year.
Sri Lankan-born Canadian Dinuk Wijeratne is a JUNO and multi-award-winning composer, conductor and pianist who has been described by the New York Times as “exuberantly creative” and by the Toronto Star as “an artist who reflects a positive vision of our cultural future.” He has received numerous commissions by various symphony orchestras and ensembles. His work has been performed recently by the Thunder Bay Symphony.
Roman Borys, Gryphon Trio’s cellist, has said that Dinuk “has a remarkable facility and flexibility…what he’s able to do so expertly is to articulate a mix of sounds and a mix of worlds. It’s exactly the kind of piece that appeals to me, and it’s the kind of direction I like to see composers who are writing for chamber music go in.” Gryphon’s pianist Jamie Parker affirms that “Love Triangle is very exciting…and very evocative.”
You are encouraged to learn more about him on dinukwijeratne.com.
For more information on the Gryphon Trio, please visit their website at gryphontrio.com.
Dinuk the composer now describes his “Love Triangle” in his own words:
The music evolved rhapsodically from the Middle-Eastern-inspired melody heard in the strings at the outset, and the underlying rhythmic pattern inspired by a seven-beat Indian classical ‘time cycle’. It integrates a Western Classical sense of structure with three improvisatory cadenzas from each instrument.
We can move into another world through this mesmerizing piece!
Finally, we hear Brahms’s gorgeous first piano trio. Written when only 19, the composer made major revisions after thirty-six years before republishing. The version we’ve grown to love and know reflects both youthful and mature writing. Brahms’s lengthy, impassioned heart-on-sleeve melodic lines contrast dramatically with Beethoven’s favoured use of short motifs, continuously developed. Here instead we have unabashed Romantic outpourings. They are two very different trios, each with its own greatness.
I must say at this point that although I am known as an early-music, Baroque type of person, I do have eclectic tastes, delving into a great variety of periods, genres, and styles. My favoured listening at home is of chamber music, most particularly of piano trios of the Romantic era. I have always been an unabashed Brahms freak since grade ten, when I first discovered his chamber music. The first movement of his trio on our programme epitomizes what I love! It speaks to my soul! However, I hold Beethoven and Schubert chamber music in especially high regard as well.
I have been an ardent fan of the Gryphon Trio for a great number of years, attending as many of their performances in Toronto and elsewhere as I can! As a long-time subscriber, I most often see them at their annual appearance in the Music Toronto “Chamber Music Downtown” series, of which Roman Borys is now Artistic and Executive Director. It’s a special joy to bring them to you!
The Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Opus 8, is in four movements, which was the norm, unlike Beethoven’s three-movement “Ghost” trio. They are marked as follows:
- Allegro con brio – Tranquillo – In tempo ma sempre sostenuto [always sustained]
- Scherzo: Allegro molto – Meno allegro – Tempo primo
- Finale: Allegro
This trio was begun in 1853 when Brahms was nineteen, and was completed in January 1854 (the year that my violin was made). It was premiered in 1855. It was a very youthful work, and had an interesting history. In 1877, Brahms made some cuts in the first movement for a performance in Vienna. But his famous revision didn’t occur for many years thereafter, not until 1889.
At that later time, Brahms made profound changes and shortened the piece substantially, by a
third overall, in fact! It was premiered in 1890 and published 1891. This is the version that we will hear; it is the one that is most commonly performed. It is interesting that it was composed when Brahms was still a youth, but was revised near the end of his compositional life (he died in 1897). It was his first chamber music work to be published. He had burned several earlier works, although he ended up not destroying his original version of Opus 8 after he created its revised form.
In 1853, the composer Robert Schumann had published an article in which he lavished praise on the young composer, seeing him as an up-and-coming figure on the musical scene. Brahms responded saying “The praise you have openly bestowed on me will arouse such extraordinary expectations of my achievements by the public that I don’t know how I can begin to fulfill them even somewhat.”
Brahms was his own worst critic. He confessed to his good violinist friend Joachim that he should have held on to the original longer before sending it to print, in order to revise it.
By the time he did revise it thirty-six years later, he had long since reached musical maturity. He had made drastic changes, shortening it greatly as well. He remarked to his good friend Clara Schumann, Robert’s sister, that it won’t be as dreary as before, but he had doubts as to whether it would be better. However, Brahms made a rather humorous comment about the process: “I didn’t provide it with a new wig, just combed and arranged its hair a little.”
He wrote as follows to his publisher:
With regard to the refurbished trio, I want to add expressly that while it’s true that the old version is bad, I do not claim that the new version is good! What you do now with the old one, whether you melt it down or print it anew, is quite seriously all the same to me.
He did regard the revision as a new work.
After its 1890 premiere, Brahms wrote again to Clara Schumann:
I had already sent this piece to the grave and had no interest to play it anymore. Now I enjoy that I did play it, and it was a very pleasurable day.
The composer’s choice of key was bold and unusual; B major wasn’t used much. It has five sharps, and is somewhat difficult to play in, especially with respect to tuning in the string parts. It is also unusual to keep the same tonality throughout; two movements are in B major and two in its parallel tonic key of B minor. We hear mostly minor sonorities, despite being in B major. Each movement starts quietly, and the work ends on a B-minor chord.
Rhythmic shifts, a hallmark of Brahms, are often in evidence. Rich textures prevail, often with thick chords appearing. I, as well as many others, find much of Brahms music to be autumnal in mood, as may be found in the opening movement, with its note of resignation.
The first movement was actually chopped in half in the revision, and tightened up, with large sections removed. Yet it is still very substantial, and makes up almost half of the entire piece. It opens with a gorgeous long-breathed cello theme (more prolonged than in the original, youthful version), rather wistful in spirit, with a touch of nostalgia. The piano introduces it very briefly for four bars alone before the cello makes it its own. It is handed over to the violin in bar 21, with the cello doubling the melody in sixths below it.
The music is warm and expansive, sensuous and passionate, with beautifully flowing lines. We hear the whole gamut of dynamics, from pianissimo to fortissimo, with crescendos and diminuendos carefully written into the score, as well as markings indicating character.
Fiery, impassioned drama surfaces as themes are developed. The violin sings out in its upper register. There are moments of restlessness and storminess, which subside and pick up again. There is a great deal of very intense playing on everyone’s part, with cross rhythms and soulful outpourings before eventually returning to the mellow lyricism of the opening theme, now embroidered by more keyboard activity around it.
Lots of energy is found in this movement. A short section follows close to the end, quiet and reposeful, marked dolce and tranquillo, in which the instruments slow down and unwind. Suddenly, they change gears, gradually building in momentum and volume as they dramatically push forward, and the movement concludes strongly and excitedly.
The Scherzo, uncharacteristically the second movement instead of the third, remained basically unchanged, and is in ABA form. The first theme is marked light and staccato in all parts, sprightly and rather playful in a way. It reminds one of Mendelssohn. It dances briskly in a very quick triple time, with a driving, repeated, agitated rhythm throughout.
The broader second theme is suddenly in a major key. It is introduced by the piano, and is mellow, gentle, lilting, somewhat waltz-like, with the pianist’s left hand marking the rhythm. It is taken up by the strings, in warm parallel sixths at first. The first theme is then resumed, with the return to section A. At the very end, there is a little coda. The piano rapidly cascades down, then up, and the music hushes and slows down. Triple-pianissimo held chords from everyone, repeated in three inversions, bring this movement to a close, as the rhythmic energy finally relaxes.
The third movement Adagio is soulful and lyrically expressive. Its mood is peaceful and meditative. The serene opening is actually marked pianissimo, legato, and espressivo. It starts with the very same thick B-major chord that the previous movement ended with. The darkly solemn chorale-like piano part leads off, and is answered simply by the strings, statement by statement, bar by bar. An achingly-beautiful cello melody takes over midway. It’s long, intense, and heartfelt, and is answered by the piano, soon joined by the violin, fragmentized. The violin gets a chance to sing alone too.
The piano dominates, but softly. It moves into an accompaniment of gently relaxed continuous triplets near the end, like musical embroidery. Then it, and the strings, resume the chorale-like chords of the opening, marked “dying away” in the score, and ending once more on a pianissimo B-major chord. This is an introspective, reposeful movement, calm and ethereal.
The Finale is another impassioned movement, and is in B minor, an unusual last-movement key for a work labelled as having been written in a major key. Once more the cello is in the forefront, entering right off with the chromatic first theme which is marked by agitated, dotted rhythms. It is picked up later by the violin, over plucked notes from the cello. Light but urgently-moving arpeggiated triplets in the piano part accompany the strings. Although the composer’s instructions are to begin quietly, things build to a fortissimo, as the piano part gets wilder, with crashing chords in the right hand.
The second theme now enters, in major. It is given first by the piano’s right hand in octaves, with the cello punctuating it with off-beat double stops, in synch with the loud off-beats of the piano’s left hand, also in octaves, together making for maximum sound! The strings then become soulfully melodic. Fiery, dynamic moments ensue. The piano reprises the opening theme, embellished by violin flourishes. The strings re-enter, and the dynamics and tempo drop down briefly as they go into longer notes.
But that moment is short lived. The piano remains very active and in control of the action throughout. Much rhythmic displacement (very typical for Brahms), the strong return of the major-key theme with its offbeats, and the presence of more restless drama, all serve to propel the work to its very powerful end. The frenzy heats up, driving everyone to crash confidently onto the final dark and tragic B minor chord!
“This is a piano trio that plays with strength and unanimity….big, bold, almost orchestral performances. The Gryphon brings bravura spirit to the piano trio.” – The Los Angeles Times
Experience the excitement of live performance by the glorious Gryphons!