By Constantine S. Sirigos and Constantinos Vouzakis
NEW YORK – More than three hundred people filled Manhattan’s Merkin Concert Hall to hear The Olympus Piano Trio in a concert presented by the Hellenic American Cultural Foundation (HACF) and the Onassis Foundation (USA) on November 5.
HACF Chairman of the Board Nicholas Kourides described the program and Vice President Robert Shaw introduced the musicians, all of whom studied at the renowned Julliard School of Music. Both welcomed the audience and thanked all who made the event possible.
The Trio consists of pianist Konstantine Valianatos, violinist Regi Papa, and cellist Benjamin Capps. It was formed at Julliard in 2010 “to celebrate a common Hellenic Heritage” among the artists and to perform “a repertoire of classical masterpieces and champions the music of native Greek and Diaspora composers,” according to the program.
Valianatos, who has to most Greek-sounding name – each of the trio has Greek roots – told TNH of his appreciation and joy over being able to perform before a Greek-American audience and emphasized that “we selected works that we love, and added a Greek piece, Christos Hatzis’ ‘Odd World (a movement from the larger “Constantinople”) which received its New York premiere.
“We thank the organizers for creating opportunities for young artists, and we want that to continue,” he said.
Judging from the standing ovations the Trio received, the audience and organizers will be looking forward to hearing from more of their young colleagues.
Music from three other countries – Russia, France, and Germany – were blended with the Greek piece, and each offered the musicians opportunities to show off the gifts of the ensemble as a whole and individual artists’ virtuosity.
The “Trio Elegiaque No. 1” of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) opened the concert with each of the instruments sounding their voices in distinct statements that were nevertheless a single musical conversation. Musical geniuses can do that.
Each instrument was insistent, but the emotions never degenerated into conflict. Each voice gradually softened and melted into a serene close.
The music of Ravel, like that of his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, is described as impressionistic. While both rejected that label, it is difficult to listen to pieces like the former’s “Piano Trio in A Minor,” the second offering at the concert, and not think of the masterpieces of painters like Monet.
Indeed the beginning of the recording of the piece available on YouTube is accompanied by an image of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
The Ravel, like all trios, also allows each instrument full expression – and there was a lot of emotion to express – ah, those French!
There were times when the audience got so excited they applauded in the middle of pieces, although one guest pointed out that some of the movements had climax-sounding endings, and even those who knew better succumbed to the temptation to applaud.
“Odd World” followed the intermission. It is the first of three purely instrumental movements in “Constantinople.” Described as “rhythmically driven” the audience delighted following the musicians up and down the scales and over rises and falls of volume.
The movement begins with a jaunty violin passage by Papa echoed by Capps on Cello while Valiantos’ fingers danced lightly on the piano keys. Later the strings’ pizzicato was mirrored by plinking on the piano. As the movement approached its ending there were some pregnant pauses – and then a restrained climax.
The concert’s final piece, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio no. 2 in C minor,” had a turbulent beginning, and while it later took some more peaceful, lyrical paths, the agitation would be manifested again and again in passionate passages alternating with moments of serenity.
Mendelssohn in this piece brings a Romantic approach to some familiar church music. Jacket notes to a Hyperion recording emphasize that “what he offers to the listener is his own contemplation of this ancient religious music, and the majestic climax shows that Mendelssohn shared the Romantic vision of the sacred as personal experience, as an aspect of the sublime.”
Kourides told TNH “this is our 20th event in four years and try to present one every November. Over the past three years we have co-operated with the Onassis Foundation, which is well-known in the cultural sphere,” in New York.
He was very pleased to present such a talented group of young musicians. Maria Galanou, Manager to the Executive Director of the Onassis Foundation who is in charge of Media Relations, told TNH “it is a great honor and pleasure to support HACF initiatives,” her delight and appreciation echoed by the audience at the reception which followed.