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Having lived past the age of 100, pianist Mieczysław Horszowski touched the musical sensibilities of several generations of audiences, composers, pupils and fellow performers. Among them was Rieko Aizawa, who began studying with the Ukrainian-born Horszowski (1892-1993) when she was just 14. "She was his last student," says violinist Jesse Mills, Aizawa's husband and musical collaborator.
Four years ago, Aizawa and Mills joined with cellist Raman Ramakrishnan to form a trio that would honor Horszowski's musical ideology. Horszowski himself was an exponent of a diverse repertoire bridging the traditional with the contemporary. That ethos will fill the air in Raleigh on November 22nd as the trio performs works by Beethoven, Schumann and Tower as part of Chamber Music Raleigh's Guild Series.
"Touring has been a full-time endeavor since we started," says Mills. It will be only the second performance by the group in the Triangle. The Horszowski Trio has appeared before audiences as far away as India, Japan and Hong Kong. "We feel fortunate to have these kinds of performance opportunities, and we enjoy doing them," he adds.
Mills, Aizawa and Ramakrishnan clearly share a personal and professional affinity for each other. "I first met Raman at music camp when we were 12 years old," Mills recalls. "I was impressed with his playing then and have been ever since." While Mills and Aizawa are married, they prefer to keep the emphasis on their musical union. The two also perform together as part of Duo Prism, which they founded in 2005. Both serve as faculty members at the Longy School of Music at Bard College in Cambridge, Mass., commuting one day a week from their home in New York City.
The Howszowski Trio's concert in Raleigh kicks off with Beethoven's Trio in E-flat major, Op. 70, No. 2. Composed in 1808, the work is heard less often than Beethoven's ubiquitous "Ghost" and "Archduke" trios. But the Op. 70, No. 2 offers unique insight into Beethoven's "thought processes," explains Mills, who counts the Trio in E-flat major among his favorite pieces in the piano trio literature. "It's really a different side of Beethoven," he says. "The piece is very orchestral. There are sections of this music that are very grand and spacious."
Contemporary U.S. composer Joan Tower's "For Daniel" was begun in 2003 and completed a year later. The work is a study of Tower's nephew, who ultimately lost his struggle with respiratory disease. "This piece is the opposite of anything you'd expect to hear her write," Mills says. The 17-minute elegy juxtaposes hope and joy with the frustration, anger and occasional serenity associated with terminal illness. "You hear the struggle with breath that is a recurring theme in the piece," says Mills. The trio performs the work fairly regularly, he adds, with audiences reacting very positively to it.
Schumann's Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 rounds out the Howszowski's November 22nd program. The 1847 work is among the most popular in Schumann's chamber music catalogue. "It's incredibly emotional in a different way than either the Beethoven or the Tower," Mills says. It encompasses a wide range of emotion, weaving together expansive, universal themes with the subscopic and deeply intimate. "It goes from massive and powerful to really tender," according to Mills.
In addition to performing and teaching, Mills is also a composer. His efforts stretch across jazz and classical genres. Composing "helps me as a performer of other people's music as well," he says. He reveres names like John Coltrane and Bill Evans on a par with Beethoven or Schumann, seeking creative insight from each. He hopes to continue honing his compositional skills in the classical genre. "It gives me a better understanding of the thought-processes of other composers."
Mills and his colleagues value – even celebrate -- the singular relationship between composer and performer, something that Horszowski also emphasized. "He knew a lot of composers personally – including Saint-Saëns, Fauré and Ravel." When the trio performs in front of packed and even sold-out houses around the U.S. and the world, it knows it is proudly carrying the torch mentors like Horzowski handed to them. "It is our job to pass this art form on to the next generation, and we take that responsibility seriously."
Chamber Music Raleigh (formerly the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild) presents The Horszowski Trio on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church in Raleigh. For additional information and advance ticket purchases, visit www.chambermusicraleigh.org.
Submitted by Lawrence Bivins, president of Chamber Music Raleigh