The Concert That Wasn’t

Prometheus Trio's cancelled February concert will be performed March 20-21.

By - Mar 17th, 2017 11:52 am
Prometheus Trio, 2015

Prometheus Trio, 2015

For the first time in 17 years of playing, Milwaukee’s Prometheus Trio (pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Margot Schwartz and cellist Scott Tisdel) had to cancel a concert. That was last month. The good news is the concert will now be performed this Monday and Tuesday, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and should be worth the wait. The concert includes a trio by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one by Dmitri Shostakovich and a new trio by Pierre Jalbert — quite a varied repertoire.

Pierre Jalbert

Pierre Jalbert

The concert opens with Mozart’s charming Trio in G Major, K. 564 (1788). A classic sonata form opening movement is followed by a theme and variations central movement. The finale embraces what Jacob calls a “tuneful country-jig.” The somewhat lightweight Mozart trio sets the palette for a thoroughly challenging pair of 20th and 21st century works.

To some, the concert may seem predominately contemporary. But Jacob reminds us that “none of us think of the Shostakovich as a contemporary piece – it was, after all, written 70 years before the Jalbert and become a classic that all trios play.” True. The Shostakovich Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 (1944) is likely to be the highlight of the concert for most. Written in 1994, the work reflects the impact of World War II and the personal loss of a friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, in a Nazi concentration camp. Critic Basil Smallman identifies the complex emotions Shostakovich often built into compositions. “Its aura of mingled bitterness and forced gaiety, of wild hysteria and despair, together with its prominent use of a ‘Jewish theme’ (recognizing the faith of his friend) was chiefly inspired by the agony of wartime Russia.”

Shostakovich was able to create unique soundscapes, but in this work the effects are extraordinary. He explores the effects of harmonics in the strings – especially through a virtuoso cello. At times, the stratospheric notes of the cello roam above the violin. The violin explores the somber range of a viola. The piano resounds with a weighty percussive urgency. Jacob concludes, “This is a profoundly affecting piece.”

Pierre Jalbert, an American composer who has been publishing compositions since 1989, premiered his Piano Trio No. 2 in 2014. He titles the two contrasting movements “Mysterious, nocturnal, desolate” and “Agitated, relentless.” At times the work seems like John Adams in its urgent images inspired by a hectic urban life. At other times, the tranquil sections – lovely crystalline passages – remind me of Debussy as reinterpreted by Ned Rorem. Jacobs observes “eerie harmonics,” “organized chaos,” “wailing glissandi” and “distracting meter changes” in her program notes. But this challenging work for the players is ultimately approachable and satisfying to the listener. I would recommend listening to the premiere of the trio in an online concert to set your bearings for the live performance. (The link is found at the title of the piece.)

As usual, the Prometheus Trio will be offering a rich and interesting program that challenges the players and satisfies a loyal audience.

The Prometheus Trio will perform on two days — Monday & Tuesday, March 20 & 21, at 7:30 p.m. — at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music on 1584 N. Prospect Avenue. For ticket information see the WCM website or call 414-276-5760. Additional evening parking is available at Milwaukee Eye Care, 1684 N. Prospect Ave. (at Brady St).

The Trio completes this season with a concert on Monday & Tuesday, April 24 & 25, 2017 at  7:30 p.m. The concert will feature the Trio in E-flat, D.929 by Franz Schubert, Trio No. 2 in D minor by Bohuslav Martinu and a recent work by Kenji Bunch entitled Swing Shift.

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