Boreal Trio

clarinet, viola, piano

March 10, 2019, 4 pm

Music Room

Lauded as “versatile, intelligent, and deeply musical” by The Washington Post, the Boreal Trio is composed of clarinetist Uriel Vanchestein, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez, and pianist Carlos Avila. The Trio consists of  prizewinners from the Geneva International Competition, International Johannes Brahms Competition, and Gina Bachauer Competition, and will make their Phillips debut with Mozart’s Kegelstatt, Max Christian Friedrich Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, and Jean Françaix’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, among others. 


Kegelstatt Trio in E Major, K. 498

Märchenerzählungen (Fairytales) for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 132


Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83

Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano

The Boreal Trio comprises three award-winning musicians who are passionately dedicated to the art of chamber music. Clarinetist Uriel Vanchestein, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez, and pianist Carlos Avila—prizewinners in the Geneva International Competition, International Johannes Brahms Competition, and Gina Bachauer Competition, respectively—unite through this unusual and compelling combination of instruments to bring performances of the highest caliber to audiences. The Trio has been lauded by critics as “versatile, intelligent, and deeply musical” (The Washington Post) and as “tender, lyrical, loaded with personality” (Atlanta Constitution). It strives to further the repertoire for clarinet, viola, and piano with new music and arrangements of existing works. This includes original compositions by Vanchestein including his Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, and Moment Musical, which was written for the Trio’s 2014/2015 season. 
As soloists they have performed with such orchestras as the Verbier Festival Orchestra, Geneva Chamber Orchestra, Trois-Rivières Symphony Orchestra, I Musici de Montreal Chamber Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, Rochester Philharmonic, and California Symphony; the Tanglewood, Aspen, Sarasota, Banff, Schleswig-Holstein, Montreal Jazz, Brevard, and Pablo Casals festivals; and the Guarneri, Juilliard, Tokyo, Ying, St. Lawrence, and Borodin String Quartets. Juan-Miguel Hernandez was founding violist of the Harlem Quartet, and is currently violist in the Fine Arts String Quartet as well as in the viola-guitar-flute ensemble Trio Virado.

The Boreal Trio has a strong commitment to educating and engaging new audiences around the globe. Its musicians have reached communities through art convoys in South Africa and Venezuela, music festivals in South America and Asia, and outreach projects in Europe and North America. Uriel Vanchestein—whose talents as a composer have led to commissions from such organizations as the New York Classical Players, New York Woodwind Quintet, and Canada’s Orford Arts Centre—has given clarinet masterclasses at China’s Central Conservatory of Music and Xian International Clarinet Festival. Hernandez founded the Musical Heights Foundation, dedicated to supporting talented young artists in the US and in developing nations. Carlos Avila, a member of the Collaborative Piano Faculty of the Heifetz Institute in Virginia, is also active in South Korea’s “New York in Chuncheon” chamber-music initiative and in the Doublestop Foundation, a nonprofit founded by New York Philharmonic Assistant Concertmaster Michelle Kim that provides young musicians with no-cost instrument loans.

Vanchestein holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School, where he studied clarinet with Charles Neidich and conducting with Derrick Inouye. Hernandez received a bachelor’s degree in viola from the Colburn Conservatory and a graduate diploma in string quartet performance from New England Conservatory. Avila is a graduate of The Juilliard School, where he studied with pianist Jerome Lowenthal. The Boreal Trio is managed by Sciolino Artist Management

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Kegelstatt Trio in E Major, K. 498
In the summer of 1786, after the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart found time to write some intimate chamber works, including the second of his piano quartets and his only trio for clarinet, viola, and piano. Both of these were new genres that he pioneered. The Clarinet Trio, which entered into the composer’s catalogue on August 5, 1786 has become known by its nickname Kegelstatt, the German word for the alley where skittles would be played (in summer months, outdoors), typically accompanied by drinking. “Skittles” here refers to a game related to bowling, which involves throwing wooden balls to strike down pins. 

Mozart lore is filled with anecdotes about the young genius composing beautifully crafted scores in his head while occupied with games—skittles, billiards, etc.—and a manuscript dating from earlier in the summer for horn duos (K. 487) indeed mentions having been composed “while playing skittles.” Somehow, that image became conflated with K. 498, which Mozart’s catalogue describes simply as “a trio for piano, clarinet, and viola.”

Whether any of the ideas for the trio occurred while he was in fact relaxing to a game of skittles is up to the imagination. But Mozart was apparently motivated by friendships and a spirit of musical camaraderie. In Vienna he had befriended Emil Gottfried and Franziska von Jacquin, children of the eminent botanist and explorer Baron Nikolaus von Jacquin (also a flute player). Franziska was Mozart’s most “diligent and eager female piano student,” he emphasized in a letter to Gottfried, and he wrote the piano part for her. It was at the Jacquin home that the trio was likely first performed. 

The clarinet part reflects the personal style perfected by Anton Stadler, who became a legendary exponent of that (still) young instrument. He was also a good friend of the composer and a fellow Mason, and the trio is in the key of E-flat Major, which carried Masonic connotations for Mozart. The latter, who loved taking the viola part in his quartet gatherings with Haydn and others, would have completed the group. In 1788, a transcription of the piece for violin, viola, and piano was published.
The Kegelstatt Trio is in three movements, beginning, unusually, with a slower one (Andante) that foregrounds an intimate, gentle lyricism. In the middle is an amiable Menuetto, which folds charming counterpoint into the dance. The theme of the rondo finale seems ideally tailored to the clarinet’s particular gift of singing.

Robert Schumann: Märchenerzählungen for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 132 
“Today Robert completed four pieces for piano, clarinet, and viola and was himself quite happy at the result,” wrote Clara Schumann in her diary on October 11, 1853. “He thinks that this combination will be highly romantic [mysterious] in its effect.” Clara—whose 200th birthday is being celebrated in September—refers here to one of her husband’s most remarkable chamber compositions: the Märchenerzählungen (literally, “Fairy-Tale Narratives”), which replicates the instrumentation Mozart used in his Kegelstatt Trio.

Schumann composed these four pieces quickly, in a span of three days. Less than two weeks before, the young Johannes Brahms had come to meet Robert and Clara at their home in Düsseldorf on the Rhine, and within less than half a year, Schumann would attempt suicide and be confined to a mental home (where he died in 1856). 

Yet one would be hard-pressed to detect in this work of Schumann’s final period an anticipation of his impending breakdown. As with the Märchenbilder (“Fairy-Tale Pictures”) of 1851, for piano and viola, the composer heads each piece with tempo descriptions but provides no program or correlation with actual fairy-tales of the sort, say, that the Grimm Brothers began publishing in 1812, which would mark a key development in German literary Romanticism. 

The sequence of movements, according to Schumann, could be seen to trace the familiar four-movement design of a classical chamber piece. He wrote: “The first piece includes a middle section that is like a ‘development,’ and the second piece, clearly articulated in three sections that repeat, fills the position of a Scherzo capo form.” The emotional center lies in the third piece—also most unusual in its form—which relies on such a beautiful dialogue between clarinet and viola and plays the role of a slow movement. In the fourth are “reminiscences of a rondo in the outer sections.” At the same time, Schumann was an artist steeped in literature and poetry, and his method of musical narrative is so evocative that each piece immediately evokes a special aura, inviting the listener to imagine scenarios triggered by the interplay of these instruments. 

Max Bruch: Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83
For the second half of their program, the Boreal Trio moves into the 20th century, presenting music by two composers who remained conservative in style. The long-lived German composer Max Bruch was firmly planted in the 19th century. He published his Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83 in 1910, when he was 72 and nearing the end of his years teaching composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin (Ottorino Respighi and Ralph Vaughan Williams numbered among his students). 

Bruch had made his opposition to the onslaught of Wagner’s music long since known, and he was consequently typecast as a conservative even more in love with the past than Brahms, who also turned to the clarinet in his late chamber music for some of his loftiest, most autumnally expressive compositions. In 1911, just a year after the Eight Pieces appeared, Arnold Schoenberg moved from Vienna to Berlin to give a series of lectures, and there he would soon introduce his revolutionary chamber piece Pierrot Lunaire (1912), with its music “from another planet.”

As a composer working against (or simply obvious of) the currents of Modernism, Bruch has joined the circle inhabited by “one-hit wonders” and is nowadays almost exclusively known for the first of his three violin concertos, the much-loved Concerto in G minor (from 1868). Mendelssohn and Schumann, two of his musical idols, were still alive and fully active while he was a boy, and he became the best-known protégé of the conductor Ferdinand Hiller, Mendelssohn’s friend and successor at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Born just six years after Brahms, Bruch lived on a whole generation past him. 

The Op. 83 pieces are decidedly retrospective, looking backward to an era that had rapidly vanished. Indeed, they might easily have been composed decades before. In the event, Bruch composed these pieces for his clarinetist son Felix, and was clearly well-versed in the small literature for clarinet trio (of which the two pieces on the first part of this program, along with the Brahms Trio, rank among the pinnacles). With his Op. 83 pieces, Bruch hoped to offer his son a selection of additional repertoire for clarinet trio to give him more programming flexibility. He envisioned individual pieces being selected from the set, which might readily complement a concert with the Mozart, Schumann, or Brahms. 

Seven of the eight pieces are written in the minor mode—only No. 7 turns to the Major. For reference, the specific keys are: A, B, C-sharp, D, F, and G minor for Nos. 1-6, respectively; B Major for No. 7; and E-flat minor for No. 8—the key, incidentally, in which the last of Brahms’s farewell pieces to the keyboard, Op. 119, ends. Bruch gives descriptive titles to only two of the pieces: “Romanian Melody” (No. 5) and “Nocturne” (No. 6). 

The tempos alternate between Andante and Allegro in Nos. 1-5; No. 6 continues as an Andante con moto, while No. 7 is another fast movement (Allegro vivace, ma non troppo)—in keeping with its cheerful air, an exception amid what are otherwise shades of melancholy (or, in Nos. 2 and 4, agitated and passionate). Bruch exploits the melting lyricism of the clarinet’s low range while also integrating all three instruments into the musical flow. The final piece of the set, Moderato, seems to sum up the overall wistful outlook of the 70-something composer, ending with a memorable sunset. He envisioned individual pieces being selected from the set, which might readily complement a concert with the Mozart, Schumann, or Brahms. For this performance, the Boreal Trio has selected Nos. 4, 6, and 7.

Jean Françaix: Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano
As a child prodigy, Françaix won the admiration of no less a figure than Maurice Ravel, who praised his sense of curiosity and told his father (himself a composer and director of the Conservatory in Le Mans, where Jean was born): “You must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither.” A composition submitted when he was 10 led to studies with Nadia Boulanger. Françaix also became a renowned pianist and a devoted chamber music performer. 

His catalogue comprises more than 200 works across a spectrum from solo pieces to concertos, choral pieces, operas, and film scores. Françaix held onto tonal language during a period of rapid, often cataclysmic, change around him, and he had a preference for conservative forms as well. Of his style, Muriel Bellier writes: “The incessant jocular dialogues breaking out among instrumental parts in his works agreeably turn the musical discourse into something very like animated conversation …” 

Chamber pieces poured from his pen. The Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, (which dates from 1992, the year he was awarded the Grand Prix Arthur Honegger), is a jewel-like example of Françaix’s Neoclassical penchant and amiable lucidity. It also makes delightful use of colorful juxtapositions of timbre and rhythmic gesture, at the same time seeding thematic connections across the work. The composer evokes stories in each of the piece’s five movements—but here, the narrative sensibility of a Schumann accommodates itself to the age of cinema. 

After a slow Preludio serving as a kind of atmospheric musical establishing shot, the players take off for one of those “jocular dialogues,” while the third movement (Scherzando) sparkles with playful textures and catchy rhythms, frequently passing the spotlight back and forth among the instruments (who are clearly longstanding friends). There follows a spell-binding Largo—slow music that builds melody from the haunting low register of the clarinet in dialogue with the richly expressive viola of the opening measures. It sets the stage for the crisp, elegant rhythms and good spirits of the Presto finale.

Thomas May, 2019