Prometheus Gets More Modern

Is violinist Margot Schwartz having an impact?

By - Apr 21st, 2017 03:15 pm
Prometheus Trio, 2015

Prometheus Trio, 2015

The Prometheus Trio (pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Margot Schwartz and cellist Scott Tisdel) offer their final concert of the season on Monday evening and Tuesday morning at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. The repertoire includes a trio by Bohuslav Martinů, a major work by Franz Schubert and recent composition by Kenji Bunch.

Bohuslav Martinů in 1945. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Bohuslav Martinů in 1945. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) appears often on Prometheus Trio programs, although heard less elsewhere. Tisdel has been a champion of his music. I have come to agree. Long an expatriate of his native Czechoslavia during turbulent times in the middle of the last century, Martinů spent time in France, the United States, Italy and Switzerland. His output is equally eclectic, sounding at times like Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky or Albert Roussel. But his work is always unique. Tisdel appreciates that Martinů has written great music for cello.

Tisdel observes within Martinů’s Trio No. 2  in D Minor (1950) “the very Czech juxtaposition of harmonies, folk-like and uniquely Martinů’s.” Some of the weight of a Robert Schumann chamber work may be found in this piece. Critic Barbara Moroncini notes that “The final Allegro is a fantastic ride, a tour-de-force dialog between the piano and the strings, brilliant in energy and dynamics, yet unwilling to mask completely the underlying anxiety that pervades the whole piece.”

Although the Prometheus Trio has often performed contemporary works, their inclusion of 21st century music has taken on new energy with the addition of Schwartz to the group last year. Her experience with the Present Music ensemble informs the Trio’s level of comfort with new, challenging pieces.

Kenji Bunch. Photo by Erica Lyn from Bunch's website.

Kenji Bunch. Photo by Erica Lyn from Bunch’s website.

Swing Shift (2002) by Kenji Bunch (born 1973) seems unique among others Prometheus has programmed – merging jazz, tranquil musings and classical forms in a very approachable hybrid work. No “allegro” markings here. A section named Club Crawl has the instruction “Chilled-out lounge feel, with mild swing.” The mood shifts through six sections, but remains cool (in the 1950’s sense.)

Bunch has written about his composition: “I’ve never been a night owl, but living in New York seems to encourage everyone to stay awake a few hours longer. The music of Swing Shift is an attempt to capture the unique essence of the city at her most exciting time of day – the hours between dusk and dawn. This is the New York of Edward Hopper‘s collective loneliness: smoky clubs, the reflection of streetlights on rain-soaked pavements. It is dedicated to anyone whose business stays open all night.”

The concert concludes with something very traditional, a major work by Franz Schubert: Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major, D. 929 (1827). This large work can be dense and powerful, but contains the trademark moments where the melody alone captures the listener’s attention. As interesting as creative development of classical motives may be, Schubert knew how to write a memorable song. Jacob praises all aspects of the work, describing it as “an enormous, sprawling piece… the sonata form in both the first and last movements is almost perfectly articulated — and, much more important to the listener, the melodies and harmonies are absolutely sublime.”

This concert offers a satisfying mix of contemporary atmospherics, a now-comfortable 20th century energy and a great selection from the traditional trio literature.

The Prometheus Trio will perform on two days – Monday, April 24 and Tuesday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music on 1584 N. Prospect Ave. 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.

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