Anyone can sense the presence of mastery. Awareness of it shows up in various ways – goosebumps, shivers, a sudden vision of your own smallness. Any expertise can create these feelings, from sweeping architecture to Pixar animation. I am willing to bet that at least once this kind of awe touched everyone who attended the concert of the Kandinsky Piano Trio at the University of Oklahoma on February 5th. Such professionalism, precision, and tone quality stands out, even to people who are surrounded by good music.
Right before the concert, the violinist’s music was misplaced. The cellist stood and explained the dilemma at the beginning of the concert while the violinist and the pianist scrambled to arrange his newly-printed music. They were obviously flustered, and yet the first piece on the program, a short and somewhat ethereal commissioned work called “Burst,” was flawless, and the performers’ nerves seemed to disappear the moment they began to play.
My favorite part of piano trios is the exchange of the theme or of motives between the instruments. This was most obvious in the writing of the Mozart trio. The pianist is one of those musicians who put their hands down on the piano and heaven floats out in their tone. Some call those kinds of people a “musician’s musician.” Whatever they are, oh, the tone was beautiful. That and the precise exchange between the parts throughout the entire first sonata were the best aspects of this second piece on the program.
The next piece after intermission was a bit of an enigma. The audience’s attention was immediately caught by the title of this brooding contemporary work. Searching for razbliuto by Robert Pannell has two depressingly titled movements, “(or, I’ve slept on the couch since you went away)” and “(or, I want my skillfully stuffed memories).” A quote in the program notes by the composer explained this bizarre title somewhat. “Razbliuto is a word that describes the feeling one has towards someone they were once in love with but no longer love. It’s a word that is multifaceted for me. It’s got elements of beauty, sadness, nothingness and monotony. When I first heard of the word, I immediately thought of an e. e. cummings poems, ‘It is so long since my heart has been with yours.’ From the poem’s structure I gathered the initial pitch sets for the piece.” This music is definitely worth hearing.
But the most powerful music on the program was the last piece, Smetana’s Trio in G Minor, Op. 15. To ensure that the audience noticed the story of the music in the program notes, the cellist (apparently the spokesman of the group) told the story of how Smetana had composed his trio after the death of his first child, his daughter Bedriska. She was only four and a half and was proving to be a musical prodigy. It is tragic music, interspersed with funeral marches, snatches of children’s songs, and angry, sawing themes. The Kandinsky Trio expressed these emotions so well, so poignantly, so pristinely, that when the triumphant, optimistic ending came, the whole room felt uplifted.
This performance made me thankful to go to OU and get the chance to hear this. I think lots of people walked away from this concert inspired. I know I did. And so, perhaps, did the little girl who sat in front of us till intermission and was crying when her parents and she had to leave. Who knows if that night a young life was set on a path of artistry? You never know who is paying attention to what you do.