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Three's company: Trio Elegiaco

24 November 2015, Kimon Daltas

Mutual appreciation: Pierre Doumenge, Hannah Dawson and John Paul Ekins
Mutual appreciation: Pierre Doumenge, Hannah Dawson and John Paul EkinsJean Wong ©

Formed to play for a specific occasion and a specific piece – from which it takes its name – the Trio Elegiaco could have parted as easily as it came together. But instead it looks like the beginning of a lasting partnership, writes Kimon Daltas.

‘I first heard Tchaikovsky’s piano trio on my parents’ vinyl turntable,’ says Pierre Doumenge, cellist with the Trio Elegiaco. ‘Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich were playing. I must have been nine or ten and these names didn’t mean anything to me yet, but I recall being drawn in by the intensity and expression in their sound.

‘What is remarkable about this work is that the intensity is present in every single bar – in the whole 50 minutes or so.’ 

The other members of the group also have vivid memories of their first contact with the work. Hannah Dawson, whose regular gig is as second violin of the Sacconi Quartet, ‘fell in love with its unashamed passion and deep melancholy’, while John Paul Ekins discovered it as a teenager, via a Borodin Trio recording.

‘I remember being instantly hooked, playing it on loop almost everywhere I went. It is a work with the sort of unrelenting fervour and emotional content that allows the performers (and therefore the listeners) next to no respite, and as such makes it impossible to switch off or be distracted from once started.’

Earlier this year, at the Folkestone chamber music festival run by the Sacconis, Doumenge was filling for the quartet’s usual cellist Cara Berridge, who was on maternity leave. He and Dawson discussed forming a trio for one of the concerts to add some variety – and give Dawson a crack at the first violin position for a change. They tracked down Ekins to join and, given their mutual love of the Tchaikovsky, needing a substantial work to stand alone in the late night concert, things fell into place pretty naturally – and the title of the first movement, ‘Pezzo elegiaco’, inspired the name of the new group.

What is considered one of the peaks of the genre might have surprised its first audiences both with its dimensions and rejection of the usual structures, with its two long movements – Ekins notes the renowned critic Edward Hanslick writing that when it was played in Vienna for the first time, ‘the faces of the listeners almost expressed the wish that it should be also the last … it belongs to the category of suicidal compositions, which kill themselves by their merciless length.’

‘The fact that Tchaikovsky composed a piano trio at all is in itself remarkable,’ says Ekins. ‘In an 1880 letter to Madame von Meck, Tchaikovsky had confessed his firm belief that the piano was incapable of blending adequately with solo strings. In his opinion, the piano could only be suitably balanced by the full orchestra: otherwise, it should be heard alone.

‘However, when his mentor, supporter and friend Nikolai Rubinstein (who had composed five piano trios) died at 46 in 1881, Tchaikovsky set to work on this project, seemingly out of defense to his dear friend, to whom the work is dedicated.’

Having decided to go for it, the composer doesn’t give the strings an easy ride, with the piano being a constant presence, rarely taking more than a bar’s rest, and ‘full of thick textures and rich chords,’ says Ekins. 

‘Stamina plays an important part too, particularly as the entire 50 minutes builds to an excruciatingly powerful and prolonged climax, and once must have sufficient reserves in store for that when it comes!’

The forthcoming Rhinegold LIVE recital is an opportunity to hear the Trio Elegiaco give its second ever live performance of the work – and perhaps to witness the start of something special. 

The next Rhinegold LIVE recital will take place on 7 December at Conway Hall. Tickets are free and include a glass of wine at the drinks reception (6.15pm). 

Trio Elegiaco – John Paul Ekins (piano), Hannah Dawson (violin), and Pierre Doumenge (cello) – will perform Tchaikovsky’s piano trio in A minor (Op 50) before taking part in an informal Q&A conducted by Classical Music editor Kimon Daltas. 

Sign up for a free ticket at www.rhinegoldlive.co.uk

Rhinegold LIVE: Trio Elegiaco

Seong-Jin Cho releases live album

10 November 2015

Seong-Jin Cho's debut album
Seong-Jin Cho's debut album

Record shops across Korea were inundated on 9 November as music-lovers flocked to buy Seong-Jin Cho's debut live album.

The 21-year-old South Korean pianist was announced as the winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition on 20 October 2015. He received a cash prize of €30,000 (£22,000), and won a further €3,000 (£2,200) for the best performance of a polonaise.

The live recording features highlights from Cho's performances during the competition, including the complete Preludes and the second sonata.

The CD (released on Deutsche Grammophon) went straight to no. 1 in the pop album charts on pre-orders alone.

Cho said of his debut release: 'Chopin’s music tells us so much about human nature and goes straight to the heart. I hope that the Deutsche Grammophon album will move everyone who listens to it.'

Costa Pilavachi, international senior vice president at Universal Music Group, said of Cho: 'During the three intense weeks of the competition and wonderful music-making, we were captivated by his performances, and we believe that he will become one of the best artists of his generation.'

The album marks the start of a long-term collaboration between the Chopin Institute and Deutsche Grammophon with the aim of presenting outstanding interpretations of Chopin’s works to the largest possible audience.

Seong-Jin Cho: Chopin

Martha Argerich awarded RPS gold medal

5 November 2015

RPS chairman John Gilhooly presented the pianist with the award at Wigmore Hall on 2 November.

Argerich said that she was very humbled to receive the medal, especially when she read the list of previous recipients, and that she would cherish it.

The RPS citation reads: ‘Martha Argerich’s combination of technical mastery and passionate artistry make her one of the most compelling and expressive pianists, and her extraordinary live performances are a musical and intellectual tour de force.

‘She is a consummate chamber music collaborator. It is this spirit of collaboration that led to the Progetto Martha Argerich at the Lugano International Festival, now in its 15th year, through which she demonstrates her enduring generosity and personal commitment to emerging musicians and by mixing established and up-and-coming artists has created many inspirational chamber music partnerships.

Argerich is the 101st recipient since the medal was founded in 1870 to mark the centenary of Beethoven’s birth.

Other current RPS gold medallists include Janet Baker, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, György Kurtag, Sir Simon Rattle, András Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Antonio Pappano.

British pianist wins Long Thibaud Crespin competition

28 October 2015

Julian Trevelyan following the performance and prize-giving
Julian Trevelyan following the performance and prize-giving

The final round of the Long Thibaud Crespin competition took place on 27 October at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris. No first prize was awarded, meaning that the highest placed contestant was British pianist Julian Trevelyan, who won the €12,000 (£8,678) second prize.

Trevelyan, who also won the special prize for the best concerto interpretation, was a BBC Young Musician finalist in 2014, and is currently an Aldeburgh Young Musician. He won the Grand Prix at the Festival Contest for modern piano repertoire in Paris, and both second prize and the Moscari Prize at the Île-de-France piano competition.

He said of his success: 'The competition was a very intense and wonderful experience. I am honoured to be the top prize winner and particularly delighted to be awarded the Prince Rainer of Monaco Concerto Prize for my performance of the third piano concerto by Bartók.  I consider his concertos to be among the most inventive and fascinating of all piano concertos. The audience gave unstinting support and encouragement throughout and I gave them the heart of my music.'

The other prize winners were: Kaoru Jitsukawa (Japan), third place, the award for the best recital, and the Sacem prize (for the best interpretation of the work commissioned by the contest); Joo Hyeon Park (South Korea), fourth place; Madoka Fukami (Japan), fifth prize and the Ravel Foundation award; and Daria Kiseleva (Russia), sixth place.

This is the third time in a row the competition has not awarded Premier Prix in piano, after the editions of 2009 and 2014, and the eighth time since its creation in 1943.

Founded in 1949 by Marguerite Long, the biennial competition alternates between piano and violin. Previous winners include Samson François (1943), Aldo Ciccolini (1949) and Cedric Thiberghien (1998).

Long Thibaud Crespin

Chopin Competition winners perform live in Warsaw

22 October 2015, Warsaw, Poland

Chopin Competition winner Seong-Jin Cho
Chopin Competition winner Seong-Jin Cho(Photo © Ramistudio.com)

Report by Stephen Wigler

Last night in Poland’s Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, the first of three Prizewinners' Concerts (the programme will be repeated tonight – 22 October - and tomorrow) marked the grand finale to the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition, the oldest and most celebrated of the world’s major instrumental classical music contests. The concert, which started at 7pm and lasted until nearly midnight, actually began with almost 90 minutes of speeches by several Polish dignitaries, including President Andrzei Duda, honouring not only the contest's six prizewinners, but also the memory of Chopin. He was not only his country’s greatest composer, we were told, but also the greatest composer who ever devoted himself to a single instrument: the piano.

The Prizewinners then gave performances before a wildly enthusiastic, sold-out audience. They were, in reverse order of appearance: the 21-year-old South Korean first prize winner, Seong-Jin Cho, who reprised his performance of Chopin’s E minor Concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and its music director, Jacek Kaspszyk; second prize winner, Canada’s 25-year-old Charles Richard-Hamelin, who performed a Nocturne and a Ballade; third prize winner 21-year-old Kate Liu of the United States, who performed three Mazurkas; fourth-prize winner, 17-year-old Eric Lu, also of the United States, who played a selection from the 24 Préludes; and fifth prize winner, Canada’s Yike (Tony) Yang, at 16 the youngest of the six winners, who played an Impromptu and the Barcarolle. Because he was said to be indisposed, the 23-year-old, sixth prize winner, Dmitry Shiskin, neither performed nor appeared on stage.
Of the world’s five major piano competitions (the others are Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth, Russia’s Tchaikovsky, Great Britain’s Leeds and America’s Cliburn), Poland’s Chopin is the oldest (founded in 1927 and held every five years) and generally considered the most important. Its prestige is less a matter of its prize money (the total prize money of slightly more than €100,000 is less than half of what the Cliburn offers) than its accuracy as a predictor of successful careers. Unlike other competitions, whose prizewinners often fade into relative obscurity ), the  first prize winners in Warsaw, and a significant number of the finalists and semi-finalists, usually have gone on to lead important careers. On Tuesday, almost immediately after his first prize was announced, Cho was signed by DG for a debut album to be released early next month.

The International Chopin Piano Competition Prizewinners' Concert recorded live on 21 October 2015 is now available to watch online at Medici.tv

International Chopin Piano Competition

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