Friday, March 20, 2015

Trio Eunoia favors the excitement of the new at Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Almost a century of music was spanned in Trio Eunoia's concert for the Ensemble Music Society Thursday evening at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which took its annual turn as co-presenter for the kinds of EMS presentations that stretch beyond the norm.

Trio Eunoia is a new group without (yet) a group photo: Hanick (from left), Dalby, and Campbell played as much more of a unit than these images imply.
This program qualified handsomely.  Anchoring all the still-unfamiliar sounds of 20th-century music on the program was Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne," chosen (as cellist Jay Campbell explained) to illustrate the musicians' concern to display the link between new and old music. It probably was the piece that went down easiest with the audience, being a particularly vivid setting, with some piquant harmonies, of the composer's adaptation of Pulcinella, a ballet on 18th-century themes commonly attributed to Pergolesi.

Campbell and pianist Conor Hanick offered a crisp, colorful account of the suite. Though the piano part is no walk in the park, most of the melodic and figurative emphasis is on the cello. Campbell's playing was meltingly expressive and, where needed (especially in the Tarantella), fleet and rambunctious. The performance provided as keen a display of the aspect of modernism that looked backward past the 19th century as anyone might ask for.

Otherwise the program consisted of 20th-century trio music. The only reminiscences were fragmentary and spiced with dissonance. The vehicle, of course, was Charles Ives' 1909 Piano Trio, which ended the concert. Performers putting across Ives well have to throw themselves entirely into the melange of old tunes and the clash of independent lines — any of which is liable to be suddenly interrupted by a new section in another key or tempo.

Trio Eunoia met every one of these challenges. It's important that the apparent confusion in Ives' scores is not represented as indecision or aimlessness. It all heads in a firmly planted direction, although with a wide sweep that is likely to gather just about every musical souvenir that Ives wants to present and display it proudly.

In the 1909 Trio, after the exalted mishmash of "Tsiaj (This Scherzo Is a Joke)," that pride ends on a high plan of nobility with a full statement of "Rock of Ages" on the cello, which Campbell played exquisitely. I also admired the two-fisted projection of thumping themes in the piano during the middle movement, and Dalby's assertive projection of melodic material while fighting the sometimes formidable odds of what Ives' detractors would frankly call noise.

The program opened with the work of a still-living American composer, Charles Wuorinen, a prolific exponent of serialism whose personal language expresses high spirits, rhythmic vigor and surprise.
The recording I own featuring the composer at the piano is more aggressive and bristling, particularly at the outset. But without knowing the score it would be presumptuous to fault Trio Eunoia for taking some of the edge off the piece. I found Thursday's musicians adept at exploring the variety and gracefulness of the work, particularly toward the end.

The program's other two works are characteristically well-focused statements by two modernist Japanese composers — Toru Takemitsu and Toshio Hokosawa.  The venerated master Takemitsu's "Between Tides" provides a steady look at an abstract seascape of considerable calm. Passages of stately unison become delicately unraveled, then coalesce once again. Suggestions of conflict are held at arm's length, as nothing is allowed to disturb the detailed tranquility. The mood was admirably sustained by Dalby, Hanick, and Campbell.

Hokosawa, the youngest composer represented, pays tribute to his Korean teacher Isang Yun, in  "Memory." This 1996 work strips away any interest in melody and harmony to push forward tone color and texture. The players are required to maintain a blend of dissonant sound that allows not even a momentary disintegration of the total ensemble effect.  "Memory" is an enthralling piece that asks us to set aside some of the handholds we usually depend on as listeners. Trio Eunoia helped us feel comfortable giving up that security, especially in compelling us to listen to so much well-controlled playing at the wispiest, softest end of the dynamic spectrum.