Morrison Artists Series: Calyx Piano Trio

Saturday, October 19, 2013, 5:00 pm
In performances described as "perfectly attuned, perfectly delightful" by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Calyx Piano Trio thrills audiences with its musical partnership, expressive ensemble playing and brilliant virtuosity. These bright, accomplished musicians focus their programming on repertoire that juxtaposes classical masterworks with fresh pieces by living composers, including commissions written expressly for the trio. Free.
Creative Arts Building, McKenna Theatre
May T. Morrison Chamber Music Center
SF State Box Office
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Formed in 2001, the Calyx Piano Trio takes its name from the botanical term meaning the sepals of a flower, often in multiples of three, that encase a flower bud. Enjoying this organic and protective imagery and its application to chamber music, the trio features violinist Catherine French, cellist Jennifer Lucht and pianist Nina Ferrigno.

The trio has been featured at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis and on series including the Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music, American Century Music and Washington University in St. Louis, Pamlico Musical Society in North Carolina, and James Library in Massachusetts. The trio has enjoyed multi-year residencies at the Carolina Chamber Music Festival and Missouri Chamber Music Festival. Earlier this year, the Calyx Piano Trio premiered the Chamber Music America Award commission kiss to the earth by Amy Beth Kirsten.

“Whether you’re a confirmed fan of chamber music, or simply curious about this time-honored genre, Calyx Piano Trio never fails to delight audiences.” — New Bern Magazine


  • Beethoven (1770–1827): Trio in E-flat major, Op. 70, No. 2 (1808)
  • Festinger (1948–): Tapestries (1997)
  • Intermission
  • Mendelssohn (1809–1847): Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839)

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Calyx Piano Trio

Program notes

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827): Trio in E-flat major, Opus 70, No. 2 (1808)

The two piano trios published by Beethoven as Op. 70 come from the same fruitful year that produced the Fifth and Sixth symphonies and the Op. 69 cello sonata. During the last months of 1808 and the beginning of 1809, the composer was living in the house of the pretty and refined Countess Anna-Marie Erdödy, a friend and supporter since their meeting in 1803. In this house Beethoven composed the Op. 70 trios (apparently noting down the first sketches for the second one first, while still completing the Sixth Symphony), and it was where both trios were performed on Christmas 1808, with Beethoven himself playing the piano.

For some reason the first Op. 70 trio (nicknamed The Ghost) has long overshadowed the E-flat trio, which is in fact ranked by many critics among the most original of Beethoven's creations. The first movement begins with a slow introduction that seems slight and formal, but which leads wittily to the Allegro. It turns out to be integrated unexpectedly with material involved in the establishment of the dominant, and returns briefly in its original form just before the end of the movement. The distant harmonic travels of the development end in what Donald Tovey called “perhaps the most unexpected return in all music”—The cello begins the recapitulation in the wrong key of D-flat, but the piano immediately squelches this impertinence and engineers a hasty return to the tonic E-flat.

The second movement takes one of Haydn’s favorite forms—on two themes, alternating major and minor—for Beethoven’s new look at a familiar idea. The third movement, in A-flat (this is the first Beethoven work to have movements in three different keys), bears no generic title. Though Beethoven’s sketchbooks reveal that he conceived it as a Minuet, its final form seems more akin to a Romantic character piece. The finale is one of Beethoven’s most remarkable achievements. There are at least five distinct themes in the exposition, but they only reach their fullest illumination when the first two are brought together at the beginning of the recapitulation, with the effect of understated jubilation. The elaboration of the recapitulation brings the entire work to a close of unrestrained energy.

—Steven Ledbetter

Richard Festinger (1948–): Tapestries (1997)

A professor of composition at San Francisco State since 1990, Richard Festinger has achieved international recognition for his extensive catalogue of instrumental and vocal compositions. He received M.A. and Ph.D. in composition from University of California, Berkeley, and in the mid 1980s co-founded the San Francisco-based modern-music ensemble Earplay. His music is published by C.F. Peters and Wildcat Canyon Press and his works have been recorded for the Centaur, Bridge, CRI, CRS and Naxos labels. He has received major awards from the Jerome, Fromm, Koussevitzky, Barlow and Argosy foundations, National Endowment for the Arts, Aaron Copland Fund, American Composers Forum and American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Tapestries consists of three movements connected by transitions, and played without pause. The opening Maestoso juxtaposes a number of very different musical elements to create a dramatic tableau. These musical elements are themselves inherently dramatic, utilizing for example, in the opening, glissandi to extreme highs and lows, laser-like crescendos and densely packed piano chords, out of which emerges a more lyrical and richly contrapuntal fabric.

The second movement also exploits the glissando recurringly as an expressive device, evoking this time an opposite affect of poignancy and tender expression. This movement is marked “with deepest feeling,” and has the character of an instrumental recitative.

The finale juxtaposes two contrasting textures, each full of rhythmic dynamism. The first is marked appassionato, and returns later in the movement at a very soft dynamic level; the second texture, a perpetuum mobile based on running sixteenth notes, is marked con fuoco, and charges along to a climactic conclusion.

Tapestries was commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, in the Library of Congress, and Laurel Trio.

—Richard Festinger

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847): Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839)

The piano trio (piano, violin and cello) was a common medium in the 19th century for family music making in the parlor, and dozens of composers poured out an enormous volume of compositions in the medium. Yet only a comparative handful of masterpieces resulted. The two mature piano trios of Felix Mendelssohn are the only really major works in the genre between those of Beethoven and Schubert (the last of which was composed in 1827) and those of Brahms (beginning in the mid-1850s).

Chamber music played a constant role in Mendelssohn’s childhood. He played piano duets with his sister, and before he was out of his teens, he had completed three piano quartets, printed as his Opera 1, 2 and 3, as well as an unpublished piano trio that has disappeared.

It was not until 15 years later that he produced the first of his two surviving piano trios, the present one in D minor composed in Leipzig in July 1839, first performed Feb. 1, 1840, in the Gewandhaus. The work attained immediate popularity (which it has never lost) for the appealing directness and warmth of the themes, starting right with the first tune presented by the cello, and for the even distribution of material among the performers, which makes it a grateful piece to play.

The piano part, for all its brilliance of conception, is not allowed to overpower the others. Mendelssohn generally has the violin and cello sing in duet, while the keyboard fills out the harmony and varies the textures. Mendelssohn’s lyricism predominates in the first and second movements (the latter, especially, coming across like one of the Songs Without Words expanded into an aria) and even in the energetic finale, while the scherzo scintillates with gossamer fairy music of the kind found in the Midsummer Night’s Dream music, the scherzo of the Octet or the finale of the Violin Concerto—Mendelssohn at his most typical and delightful.

—Steven Ledbetter

Beethoven and Mendelssohn program notes copyright Boston Symphony Orchestra Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.