The next recital in the St. Mark’s chamber music series has to be among the most unusual concerts to come our way in a very long time.
Titled “Hidden Gems of Eastern Europe,” the Jan. 19 recital will feature two violinists and a violist playing works by Dvorák, Kodály, Martinu and Ysaÿe.
“There’s not a lot of repertoire for three string instruments,” violinist Brandon Christensen said in a recent interview. “It’s more normal to hear a violin, viola and cello, giving you that low voice. But, we’re all playing in the upper range of the tessitura of the string family. Coloristically, it’s interesting.”
Christensen and his two colleagues will play three rare string trios by Dvorák, Kodály and Ysaÿe. Violinist Ching-Yi Lin and violist Andrew Braddock will perform Bohuslav Martinu’s “Three Madrigals,” another rarity, as it is a 20th century work inspired by Mozartian duos for violin and viola that incorporates madrigal forms and elements from American jazz.
Lin and Braddock are in transit this week from Taiwan to Durango, Christensen said.
“They’ve just performed at the National Concert Hall in Taipei,” he added, “and since they both are on the faculty at Western Kentucky University, they have delayed their teaching responsibilities to be here and give this recital.”
The three musicians met in different settings over the years. Christensen, who is relatively new to Durango, has established a private violin studio, performs with the San Juan Symphony and made his local solo debut in the Unitarian Recital Series last fall. After 15 years as professor of music at Southwest Missouri State University, Christensen and his wife have moved to the Southwest. He holds a doctor of musical arts degree from Stony Brook University in New York and has served in the music departments of Dickenson College and the Pennsylvania Academy of Music.
“This recital is somewhat serendipitous,” he said. “My colleagues are flying from Taiwan as we speak, then back to Bowling Green. It’s what we do. I know a lot of musicians from all over the world, and Durango is a pretty easy sell to come and perform – easier than Missouri.”
The trio will open the St. Mark’s recital with Dvorák’s “Terzetto, Op 74,” a work the composer originally created in 1887 as a party piece to be performed with two friends. The amateur in the trio found it too difficult, so the composer created a new work for the party. The original Terzetto continued as a four-movement performance piece. You can listen to various recordings on YouTube.
Kodály’s Serenade Op. 12 was composed in 1919-20 and blends folk-like melodies with modern harmonies.
After the Martinu violin duet, the trio will return to conclude the program with Eugène Ysaÿe’s haunting “Trio de concert: ‘Le Londres.’”
Like Dvorák’s “Terzetto,” Ysaÿe’s trio was originally created with a different intention. The Belgian composer was tutoring his country’s queen on the violin. Ysaÿe composed a sonata for her to perform. But the work was too difficult for the queen, so in 1914, the composer transformed the sonata into a string trio. It premiered as a serious chamber work in London in 1916, hence the title. Over the next few decades, the composer continued to revise the trio, but at his death in 1931, it was still unpublished.
Finally, in 1970, this spellbinding work was published, and that’s the version you’ll hear Jan. 19. Hidden gems, indeed.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.