Toru Whā, Ka Rewa a Matariki

Chamber Music New Zealand celebrates Matariki 2019 with:
Toru Whā, Ka Rewa a Matariki (‘Three, Four, The Rise of Matariki’)
Featuring NZTrio & Taonga Pūoro master Horomona Horo
This beautifully curated performance of works written especially for NZTrio by kiwi composers Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead, Victoria Kelly, Martin Lodge, Richard Nunns, Jeremy Mayall, and Gareth Farr, explores the meaning of Matariki in modern day Aotearoa and includes tuonga pu
A collaboration that contemplates and invites discussion on the first encounters between Māori and European explorers and the resulting effects on our shared culture, as well as the significance of Matariki in our Aotearoa/New Zealand today.
Watch Toi Huarewa (The Suspended Way) by Victoria Kelly
Watch Nga Whetu Hou by Martin Lodge
Watch Te Waka o te Rangi by Gillian Whitehead
Watch Ahakoa he iti he pounamu by Jeremy Mayall

One of the worlds outstanding musical groups

NZTrio’s recent concert, Origins, was one of the first live concerts post Coronavirus in Auckland and showed that they are one of the worlds outstanding musical groups, effortlessly spanning the classical and contemporary repertoire.
The five works in the concert spanned 200 years from Beethoven’s Piano Trio through to a recent commission by the New Zealand composer Sarah Ballard along with works by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Isang Yun and Alexander Zemlinsky. The five works were intended to show the range of influences on the various  composers  as well as the backgrounds and choices made by members of the trio.

The Beethoven work which gained its title for the  ghostlike second movement relies on the talents of the three players and the NZTrio showed that they are threesome with a real sense of purpose. Individually they are exceptional musicians but when playing together they are electrifying.
Ashley Brown provided the bedrock of the piece, his cello moved from whispering to howling and rumbling, capturing an underling sense of tension. Amalia Hall gave a sensitive and energetic performance while Somi Kim at the piano never dominated the two string players integrating her beautifully expressed playing with verve.

Throughout the piece the three players seemed to communicate not only through the music but also with an empathy and awareness of each other. They brought a depth of understanding to the piece as through revisiting the composers own personal sense of nostalgia  and the mysterious.
Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “A Fast Stomp” was radical mixture of classical music infused with punk, jazz and film music. The work encapsulates the evolution of music from the classical through to modernism with a number of experimental sequences.
Sarah Ballard’s commissioned work  “Prema Lahari”  was inspired by Indian music and Sanskrit poetry and made use of a  drone as well as prayer bells. The Western instruments replicated the sounds of  Indian instruments  such as the sitar with the trio played in a  relaxed, almost yoga-like contemplative style.

Isang Yun’s  “Piano Trio”  was an acknowledgement of pianist Somi Kim’s Korean heritage. Yun’s music  is an amalgamation of Asian musical styles and Western avant-garde. The work composed in the 1970’s  pushes the boundaries of music with techniques and sounds the violin and cello being played in unconventional way  – using the wood of the bow to lay the strings and extended glissandos, sliding up and down the strings. the strings brushed and lucked in the violin and cello ss well as the piano with  Kim leaning into the piano to create eerie sounds.
The music provided watery sounds; rain falling, lakes shimmering and  water dripping. These sounds provided a sense of nature but also the ventured into the realm of electronic music.

The final work on the programme was Zemlinsky’s Piano Trio” written in the 1890’s when he impressed Brahms with his originality. This work was a far cry from his more modernist works such as his opera “The Dead City”, although it prefigures his more experimental music. The first movement  was late Romanticism on a grand scale  worthy of Brahms  while the middle section had theatricality to it with the finale displaying a passionate emotionalism. This was all delivered with flawless technique capturing the late flowering of Romanticism and hinting at an emerging modernism.
John Daly-Peoples, NZ Arts Review

We felt the players bouncing energy off one another, having a real musical conversation

Breaking the silence imposed by the COVID-19 restrictions, NZTrio returned to the stage last night in the Concert Chamber of Auckland’s Town Hall.  Their programme titled Origins touched on the performers’ own ancestral backgrounds as well as paying homage to Beethoven’s 250th anniversary.

Alas, we were not in the cosiness of Q Theatre’s Loft, and it is a puzzle that the theatre has not opened its doors when artists such as NZTrio are battering it down with a programme at the ready.  However, the Concert Chamber offered a bigger acoustic and maybe a richer experience.  And not to be sniffed at after such a lean year, more actual seats to generate ticket income.  And how appropriate for NZTrio to have the bigger venue as a fanfare for their first performance of the year.

To come out of COVID silence then and open with Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major, the “Ghost” had a whiff of audacity.  It opens with such adrenaline that players must need to be already pumped to bring it off with full aplomb. Not to mention it is outrageously well-known that one nervous stroke could be noticed.  And perhaps the slightly tricky octave string tuning of the second movement betrayed a little of the awe of the situation. However, the professionalism of NZTrio kept things beautifully moving and it was a real pleasure to hear this live.

Backlit by pink, NZTrio eased into the rich acoustic of the Concert Chamber by the third movement. The drive of this last movement caught vigour and excitement. Here we felt the players bouncing energy off one another and having a real musical conversation.  The Town Hall Steinway piano was given full glorious voice under the flying fingers of Somi Kim.

Having paid due homage to the master, the British lineage of cellist Ashley Brown was next. Contemporary composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s A Fast Stomp was a complete change of soundscape.  Brown described that Turnage would really like this work talked of in punk terms, or perhaps ska or grunge. But, as my companion observed, this could have been Shostakovich’s lost trio, it had the revolutionary sounds of the 1930s. With it’s driving voltage and rhythmic syncopation the Turnage was a hugely energising piece.  Kim gave great depth to the piano stomping. The strings of Amalia Hall and Brown had brilliant Bartok-like pizzazz. It had the kind of raw acidity that was a good foil to the rich Germanic temperament.

New Zealand composer Sarah Ballard’s Prema Lahari was a new commission and offered up a sanctuary next. Opening like liquid sun it poured peace upon the audience. The title is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘waves on the ocean of pure love’ and arose from Ballard’s own meditative practice.  A recording of the Indian tampura created a meditative cycle against the strings, albeit a bit too loud against the acoustic Trio at the start. It was appropriate that Amalia Hall with her one-eighth Indian ancestry took up the first ‘voice’ of the piece. Richly developed through cello with sitar-like ripples on the piano, this was a beautiful piece that I would love to hear lengthened a little. Ballard’s own chanting infused the finish with beauty and the handbells created a spine-tingling ending.

After an interval in the classy foyer of the Town Hall, it was on with the concert and a visit to Somi Kim’s Korean ancestry. Not a sound world I am familiar with, it was with truly fresh ears that I heard Korean composer Isang Yun’s Piano Trio. Written between 1972 and 1975 immediately we were somewhere new. It was a more spacious soundscape with quiet intensity punctuated by bursts of tone clusters, a more challenging piece for the audience and I imagine for performers too. Kim reached into the body of the piano and plucked strings. A soft rainstorm, the groan of ancient trees and the waking of insects could almost be heard.  A very refreshing soundscape and maybe a first for New Zealand?

Finishing this Origins programme we were swept into 1890s Vienna with Alexander Zemlinsky’s Piano Trio in D minor. It was Romantic pinot noir to the Korean ginseng tea.  Here the Trio seemed to stretch out, Kim on piano luxuriated in the runs from top to bottom of the keys. Here was Hall’s honeyed tone that has wooed us in previous concerts.  And Brown’s consummate beauty of tone and pliable give-and-take created a rich string interplay. It is a perfect choice to bookend with “The Ghost”, and such a peach of a piece which allowed all players to shine.

Last night was a night of firsts – the official launch of the new permanent line-up of performers for the NZTrio, their first concert of the year and (surprisingly) the first show in the Auckland Town Hall since lockdown.  The Trio took themselves and their audience to full stretch in terms of both diversity, sound and technical challenge. And they delivered an ambitious and triumphant night in full celebration of being 100 percent back in business.

Radio 13  – Clare Martin

From storming tsunami to murmuring breezes on the turn of a phrase

The evening set off with the familiar — Beethoven’s Ghost Trio.

The central Largo, which gives the piece its nickname, was atmospherically laid out around the remarkable piano of Somi Kim. However, I suspect it was the exciting outer movements that caused the adrenalin to rush, with the musicians veering from storming tsunami to murmuring breezes on the turn of a phrase.

Closing the evening, a lush 1896 trio by Alexander Zemlinsky was given a virtuoso workout. This, too, engaged the audience, even if Amalia Hall’s elegant violin couldn’t quite catch the sweet-and-sour klezmer of the composer’s original clarinet.

On the contemporary side, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s A Fast Stomp took us from Bartok to boogie-woogie in a jittery, runaway scherzo.

Isang Yun’s 1976 Piano Trio proved a revelation and was, for me, the highlight of the evening. This Korean composer wrote demanding music; indeed, he seems staunchly modernist in times when composers are not afraid to woo ears. Yet, live, how could one not be spellbound by the delicacy of Hall and Ashley Brown’s feathery exchanges, or Kim, in an elegant lame jumpsuit, leaning over her piano and unlocking a new world of sonic magic?

NZTrio has always stood up for our local composers. Tonight, Sarah Ballard’s Prema Lahari subtly explored the spiritual world of Indian culture. The players were accompanied by the meditative drone of taped tanpura, and the work ended with a recorded Sanskrit chant, sung against the chimes of the players’ temple bells.

It was a beautiful miniature with much to savour, from the yearning of the strings’ raga-like melodies to Kim’s pearly keyboard runs evoking the cascading notes of the Indian sitar.

NZ Herald article here
William Dart, NZ Herald

Left me wanting more

After years of being a cultural institution in Q Theatre’s Loft, NZTrio has moved to Auckland Art Gallery.

The light-filled North atrium is a haven for experiencing afternoon drifting into evening with Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s suspended ceiling sculptures of cardboard cities tumbling from upturned dinghies perfectly echoing the torrents of musical notes below.

However, the venue has disadvantages. With the audience wrapped around the musicians, sight lines and acoustics suffer on the peripheries. I missed the lively interaction between violinist Amalia Hall and cellist Ashley Brown, while the back of Somi Kim’s magnificently sequined gown was no compensation for seeing this remarkable pianist in full action.

This second instalment of NZTrio’s Tectonic series, Impact, opened with Brown talking of “slightly fraught relationships between countries”, placing will-o’-the-wisp Frank Bridge miniatures against two local commissions.

Martin Lodge’s new, short Nga Whetu Hou was a beautifully crafted response to the sonorities of taonga puoro and left me wanting more. It was quite a toccata, with its dizzying rush of muted strings against delicious piano chords that I yearned to savour up close; and that opportunity eventuated in an evocative interlude.

The delicate patchworking of Ross Harris’s 2006 Senryu suffered, alas, from my vantage point.

The first major offering was Rebecca Clarke’s 1921 trio, a score of remarkable passion, well caught, but prone to blandness when the mood turned pastoral.

After interval, Brown talked of the Russia-versus-America cold war.

Here, Russia won, with Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Trio. The composer’s repeated “Happy Birthday” phrases, presented in 50 shades of sweet and sour, nominally celebrated the centenary of composer Alban Berg, but also caught life on the edge in pre-Glasnost USSR.

After Schnittke’s harrowing, almost cinematic Adagio, a trio by Daniel Schnyder was thin stuff, its lengthy first movement determined to make three classical musicians sound like a seasoned jazz trio. And they did, but never have I heard so many notes say so little.

William Dart, NZ Herald