Aspect Chamber Music concerts aren’t just concerts. They’re cultural tours of specific milieus, stylistic movements, extra-musical associations and the like. Each features world-class musicians performing music from the classical tradition and beyond, pieces sometimes familiar and sometimes less so, always illuminated by an illustrated talk by a scholar. The series continues March 16 with “Spanish Impressions,” chamber music by Joaquín Turina and three other Spanish composers of the early 20th century, performed by the Hermitage Piano Trio.
The last Aspect concert was a typically enlightening one. Cheers were not reserved for the musicians only; the audience at New York City’s Bohemian National Hall on February 9 also whooped for biographer and composer Jan Swafford, who had delivered mini-lectures illuminating the evening’s music. Chamber works by Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Clara Schumann comprised a program titled “For the Love of Clara.” It shed light on the triangle of professional angst, personal affection, and tragedy among those three icons – a story that became one of classical music’s most pulsating legends.
It was a joy to see such popular enthusiasm not only for beloved works of classical chamber music but for the personal stories behind them. The audience’s reaction spoke to the quality of the programming, the artists, and the audience itself.
The Hermitage Piano Trio and ‘Spanish Impressions’
We’ll be covering the rest of Aspect’s spring 2023 series over the coming weeks and months. The Hermitage Piano Trio consists of violinist Misha Keylin, cellist Sergey Antonov, and pianist Ilya Kazantsev. The scholar on tap to give dimension to the music of “Spanish Impressions” on March 16 will be Stephen Buck, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music and a composer, arranger, scholar, and pianist.
Joaquín Turina is the best-known composer on the program. His Piano Trio No. 2 in B minor, Op. 76, is one of his many chamber works. (Personally, I also appreciate Turina because he was, like Robert Schumann, a critic as well as a composer.)
Enrique Fernández Arbos’s Three Spanish Dances, Op. 1 includes, naturally, a bolero.
Cellist-composer Gaspar Cassadó studied composition with Maurice Ravel and Manuel de Falla (and cello with Pablo Casals) but composed just one Piano Trio.
Mariano Perelló, who was known primarily as a violinist, is represented by his relatively obscure “Tres impresiones.” When Trío Salduie recorded the piece for their 2013 album, they tellingly titled the release Joyas Recuperadas de la Música Española (Recovered Jewels of Spanish Music).
The Hermitage Piano Trio will bring the piece to life again March 16. I asked Misha Keylin, the Hermitage’s violinist, how the ensemble became interested in the music of these early-20th-century Spanish composers generally.
Cycles of Musical Fashion
He told me that having been together for over 10 years, they are always looking out for new material. Many groups, he said, “of course choose to look for new and contemporary pieces (something we also do). But we oftentimes want to re-examine the past.” They target composers active from 1840 through 1960 who have “maybe fallen out of fashion.”
“We all know that fashion has cycles,” Keylin said, “and quite often, some fads go away only to come back. Not all composers are as lucky as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and so on. Having come across the more mainstream works of Turina and the Cassado, which we have performed and admired for many years now, we started to get curious to see if there were other Spaniards from around the same time period.”
They found many. But the quality of the composition is also important to the Hermitage musicians. All three must firmly believe in it if they are to perform it.
“After much filtration, we were lucky to come across the two works written by Enrique Fernández Arbós and Mariano Perelló. These two composers are virtually unknown today. However, they are important figures in Spanish romantic music.
“Luckily for us, we have an excellent contact who is able to scour for hard-to-find music parts, and after we got a hold of both works, and having a chance to go through them a few times, we loved them even more.”
The Spanish Stamp
I asked Keylin to expand on what this music – all original works for piano trio, not transcriptions – was like, both for the musicians and for audiences.
“The Spanish way of life has always had a strong stamp on the world stage,” he told me. “A country with such rich history in culture, food, art, architecture, traditions is also well-known when it comes to its influence on the world’s music. The rhythms, passion and the oftentimes spirited dancing that accompanies the unmistakable melodies that come from ‘España’ are presented in this program in various forms and different periods.
“Notwithstanding the technical challenges,” he went on, “the ever-changing rhythmic patterns and the variance of sound are always there to remind the performer and the listeners that we are in the land of La Piel de Toro (The Bull Skin).
“We hope that the audience is able to join us on the journey to hear some of Spain’s great composers present their cultural gems!”
The Hermitage Piano Trio plans to record all four of these works for a release later this year on Reference Recordings, which also put out their 2019 debut, Rachmaninoff.
That album, which included Rachmaninoff’s two Piano Trios and his Vocalise, netted the trio three Grammy nominations.
The Hermitage Piano Trio performs at the Aspect Chamber Music Series on March 16, 2023. Tickets are available online along with information about the rest of the Aspect season.