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Felici Piano Trio

November 2, 2019 @ 7:30 pm
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Felici Piano Trio

The Felici Piano Trio is the musical home of Belgian pianist Steven Vanhauwaert German violinist Rebecca Hang and American cellist Brian Schuldt.

Felici members are prize winners of the Los Angeles Liszt, Yellow Springs, and Osaka music competitions. The vibrant threesome has performed over 350 concerts in Europe, South America and the U.S. and has distinguished itself as a unique presence on the national music scene since coming to Mammoth Lakes as grantee of Chamber Music America’s Rural Residencies Program and as a California Arts Council’s (CAC) Touring Roster ensemble. The ensemble has concertized in Germany under the auspices of Rhineland-Palatinateís Kultursommer, and appeared on 3SAT and ZDF Television as well as recorded for German Southwest Radio (SWF).

The trio has recorded four CDs, Chamber Music of Women Composers, Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A Minor, a 2004 live recording of Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio & Brahms’ Trio op. 87, and Ravel’s Piano Trio and Saint-Sans Piano Trio, opus 18. Along with the traditional repertoire, Felici regularly programs works by female and contemporary composers.


Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) – Piano Trio in G Minor, opus 17

Donald Crockett (*1951) – Night Scenes for Piano Trio

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) – Piano Trio in G Major, opus 1 no. 2


Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) – Piano Trio in G Minor, opus 17

Clara Schumann (née Wieck) was born in 1819 in Leipzig, Germany, and began to study the piano at age five with her father, Friedrich Wieck, a much sought-after piano teacher. She gave her first public performance in the famed Gewandhaus Hall at the age of nine, her first complete solo recital two years later, and with her father’s astute management, embarked on a tour to all major European musical centers a year after that.

Already as a teenager she was considered by many noted musicians to be one of the finest pianists of the 19th century; the Viennese poet Franz Grillparzer wrote a poem about “Clara Schumann and Beethoven,” the violin star Niccolo Paganini, and her virtuoso colleagues Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, and Franz Liszt attested to her “complete technical mastery, depth and sincerity of feeling.”  Likewise, her early compositions were met with respect for solid crafts(wo)manship and great expressivity.

Among Clara’s greatest fans was Robert Schumann, nine years her senior, who first met her in 1830 when he lived at the Wieck home to study piano with her father.  He was enchanted by the little virtuoso and, after a couple amorous adventures with other young ladies, officially proposed to the barely eighteen-year-old Clara in 1837.  Father Wieck strongly opposed the union on grounds of Robert’s “unreliable character,” and only after a 3-year long court battle was the matter resolved in favor of the two young lovers.

In the initial years following the wedding, the absolute silence Robert needed for composing posed a considerable obstacle to Clara’s own productivity, while at the same time her immersion into her husband’s creative work was deeply stimulating to both.  Soon, Clara’s maternal duties of bearing and raising eight children left her little time available for composition.  Nevertheless, she succeeded to keep up a busy teaching schedule and a performing career that took her across Europe.  Eventually, the Schumanns moved to a bigger house, and this development brought about a number of compositions of Clara’s that show great skill and maturity of style. Our Piano Trio opus 17 dates from the year 1846, and is a beautifully crafted, emotionally charged work which shows Clara Schumann at the peak of her achievement as composer.

She had begun work on the trio in May and finished it in September, during a summer break from concertizing and teaching.  Upon hearing the piece performed for the first time, she noted in her diary: “Nothing exceeds the pleasure of first composing and then hearing your own work!” The trio is a vibrant example of the early Romantic style featuring long lyrical phrases, colorful harmonies and poignant emotional outbursts, while keeping with a distinctly classical sense of balance and proportion in the overall form and structure.  The lyricism of Clara’s musical language has a natural affinity to that of her husband’s, and her interest in contrapuntal texture, which demonstrates itself frequently in the trio, had been kindled by months of intense study with her husband in 1844.

Throughout her long life, Clara remained an ardent promoter and dedicated performer of Robert Schumann’s works and those of their younger friend, Johannes Brahms.  She took a lively and critical interest in the creative work of these two composers, and her immediate influence on their output, as documented in extensive correspondence and diaries, was considerable.

It is only fair to say that Clara Schumann’s life was one of triumph and tragedy.  Her achievements as a pianist and the seriousness with which she pursued her artistic goals as a performer helped shape concert life throughout the 19th century.  But while as a child she was able to express herself through her own compositions, having received a thorough education in instrumentation, counterpoint and fugue, the adult artist was ambivalent about the value of her creative work and ceased writing music following her husband’s death in 1856.

Robert Schumann’s struggle with mental illness and his attempt at suicide in 1854, after which he remained hospitalized, threw a long shadow over Clara’s life.   A widow at the age of 37, she supported her children and eventually also grandchildren with the earnings from her performances and teaching.  With little complaint she assumed the responsibilities of being her own concert manager, and in a true labor of love, she managed the complete edition of her late husband’s works.

Following the heartbreak of her husband’s death, she found active support in her mother’s family and her many musician friends, most notably in her lifelong friendship with Johannes Brahms.  In the end, her successful career as a concert pianist had spanned six triumphant decades, but in her personal life, she had endured much hardship and tragic loss, beginning with the separation from her mother at the age of five, the difficult relationship with her father…  Three adult children predeceased her and her one surviving son spent 40 years in a mental hospital.  Her remarkable strength and willpower with which she battled the odds sometimes struck others as superhuman, but Clara credited her indestructible health and longevity to her love for music and her habit of taking daily three hour long walks…

— Notes by Rebecca Hang


Donald Crockett (*1951) – Night Scenes for Piano Trio

Los Angeles-based composer and conductor Donald Crockett has received commissions from a wide spectrum of organizations including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (Composer-in-Residence, 1991 – 97), Kronos Quartet, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hilliard Ensemble, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Xtet, the San Francisco-based chamber chorus, Volti, the California EAR Unit, the Guitar Foundation of America, and the University of Southern California for its 125th anniversary, among many others.

The recipient in 2013 of an Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for outstanding artistic achievement, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, Donald Crockett has also received grants and prizes from the Barlow Endowment, Bogliasco Foundation, Copland Fund, Copland House, Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards, Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA and many others.

A frequent guest conductor with new music ensembles nationally, Donald Crockett has been very active over the years as a composer and conductor with the venerable and famed Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, and most recently the Jacaranda concert series in Santa Monica.  In 2018, he returned for his third season leading the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble for three weeks at the Aspen Music Festival.  As conductor of the USC Thornton Symphony’s annual New Music for Orchestra series, Donald Crockett has premiered over 150 new orchestral works by outstanding Thornton student composers.  Deeply committed to education, Donald Crockett is Professor and Chair of the Composition Program, Director of Thornton Edge new music ensemble and Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs at the USC Thornton School of Music, as well as Senior Composer-in-Residence with the Bennington Chamber Music Conference.Night Scenes for piano trio is a look at the cinema in four vignettes.  The movement titles, Scatter the Barbarians, The Blue Guitar, Midnight Train and Night Hawks, are meant to evoke scenes from imaginary movies or very possibly scenes of the movie-goers themselves.  The titles are invented or found objects, not the least of which is the evocation of the famous Hopper painting.

One might say of “Night Hawks” that perhaps the subjects of the painting inhabit the late show in an old art-cinema house, or maybe the music underscores a scene in a movie about them.  The “Midnight Train” is evoked in an ostinato and the violin and cello sing “the song of the riders on the midnight train” using fiddle-like open strings passionately.  The “Blue Guitar” accompanies sinuous lines first in the cello, then in the violin, before moving into a kind of Ivesian overlapping of chords.  Perhaps several guitarists showed up and it’s too dark or too late to play together.  “Scattering the Barbarians” in this case requires intricate passagework and sudden noisy chords.  These are just suggestions, though, and I invite you to create your own scenes as the music unfolds.  Night Scenes was commissioned for the Claremont Trio by Laguna Beach Live! and completed in November 2009.

— Notes by Donald Crockett


 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) – Piano Trio in G Major, opus 1 no. 2

Ludwig van Beethoven decided to publish his three piano trios as his opus 1 in the year 1795, because he knew he had created three masterpieces! To the 24-year-old pianist/composer, this publication was the assertion that his apprenticeship, which had begun at the age of 12, was completed.  His choice to compose three piano trios (in E-Flat Major, G Major and C Minor) was deliberate and the publication intended to be a major musical event in his new home town of Vienna.  He had settled there, in the major musical center of his time, coming from the German provinces, in order to put the finishing touches on his musical education, and he had been welcomed warmly, for his talents as an improvising pianist were without rival.

Studying with Joseph “Papa” Haydn, as well as the great theorist Johann Albrechtsberger, young Beethoven had made great strides in the art of composition.  By 1794 he was confident that he was able to control the process of composition to a degree that would not only find approval from the most accomplished of his colleagues and teachers, but also allowed him to release a universe of thoughts and emotions in a single work.  In order to prove himself next to such greats as Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven did not only have to assimilate their musical idioms but, at the same time, develop his unique musical persona.  Only when he was also sure of his individuality as a man, he was finally ready to publish his works.

Beethoven dedicated the three piano trios of his opus 1 to Prince Karl Lichnowsky, his foremost patron and friend at the time, at whose residence he lived for several of his early years in Vienna.  A leading force in the musical life of Vienna, Lichnowsky had supported Gluck, Haydn and Mozart prior to embracing the young Beethoven.  The Prince had been Mozart’s piano and composition student, as well as his Freemason   brother, and he certainly felt that Beethoven was going to fill the musical void that had been left following Mozart’s untimely death in 1791.

Prince Lichnowsky and his wife Christiane seemed to have quasi adopted the young composer as a son, in the course earning his deepest affection and gratitude.  Yet, given Beethoven’s belligerent nature and his strong sense of independence, this very close relationship with his generous patrons eventually caused a considerable amount of emotional tension: their protectiveness at times appeared to Beethoven suffocating, and the Lichnowsky’s interference in a love-affair was, well, not appreciated.  But according to Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny, the Prince treated the young hot-head composer “as a friend and brother, and induced the entire nobility to support him.”

The Prince, [another friend recalled] “once directed his servant that if ever he and Beethoven should ring at the same time, the latter was to be first served.  Beethoven heard this, and the same day engaged a servant for himself.” When Beethoven was learning to ride horseback, the prince’s stable was put at his disposal, but Beethoven bought a horse of his own to avoid the feeling of dependency that came with such a gift.  Sometimes…the Prince’s gifts were made circuitously in order to avoid Beethoven’s rejection.  Thus, Lichnowsky seems to have secretly subsidized the publication of the Trios op, 1, from which Beethoven reaped a profit of 843 florins – equivalent to almost two years of salary from the Bonn court.

(Maynard Solomon, Beethoven)

The publication of the opus 1 did indeed make the calculated splash in Vienna’s musical life, and thus from the onset of his career as a composer, Beethoven’s works were sought after by publishers and the public alike, receiving “extraordinary attention” and “undivided applause.”  Our trio tonight is the second trio of the set, and it is the most brilliant and flashy of the three.  It reflects Beethoven’s at the time rather carefree existence, showing nothing but unabashed joy, great sensitivity, and the luminosity of a mind that would make him one of the world’s most beloved composers.

At the opening of the first movement we hear a slow and stately Adagio introduction which leads into the lively Allegro section, the main body of the movement.  While the piano drives the dialogue, the violin and cello join the discourse as equal and essential  partners, and the rhetoric is marked by great transparency and attention to detail.  The piano also opens the second movement in the unexpected key of E Major, an unusual choice in the context of the work’s home key of G Major.  This feature allows the composer to cast his long-range harmonic action in extended modulating stretches, and thus “show off” his skill.  The melodic lines of the Largo espressivo flow gracefully, and its slightly lilting pulse generates a delightful serenity, a reflection of the solace Beethoven found in nature.

The Scherzo briefly features the cello in the role of leader of the ensemble, and forecasts the Sonatas for Cello opus 5, written for an instrument that was just beginning to emancipate itself from its traditional role as an accompaniment bass.  Defying expectations grounded in Viennese traditions, it is the Trio section of this movement that features a brighter character than the Scherzo proper, which revels in dark sonorities.  The Presto finale is opened by a quick-fire theme in the violin sparkling with wit and simplicity.  As if he wanted to demonstrate that he is able to create cohesive musical form even from “scrap” material, Beethoven explores the possibilities of that initial theme with great flair and incredible confidence.

Fashioned on a grand scale, the trio’s four-movement scope and its independent writing for the cello as a third solo instrument had no precedent in the trios of Haydn and Mozart.  With his first publication, Beethoven had set a new standard in a genre that was almost as young as he, and for which in his amazing capacity as virtuoso pianist he must have felt predestined.  Reflecting the strive of the young artist for emancipation in an enlightened society, this trio, like many of Beethoven’s works, embodies the timeless utopian ideal of a self-contained world of beauty, rationality and playfulness. –

Notes by Rebecca Hang


November 2, 2019
7:30 pm
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General $25
Student $10