Heart and Hearth
92nd Street Y
Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio # 3
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Trio
Felix Mendelssohn: Trio, Op. 66
Emily Bruskin (violin)
Julia Bruskin (cello)
Donna Kwong (piano)
Chamber music, by its very nature, is designed to be performed and appreciated at all levels. Nineteenth century pieces in the genre in particular were written primarily for the home, an art form steeped in conviviality and familial cohesion. The very idea of each instrument personified as a participant in a conversation reinforces this domestic setting. In attending the opening night performance of the Young Concert Artist Series at the 92nd St. Y last evening, I was struck with the homespun roots of chamber music not only because of the high level of amateurism but also because the two string players were twin sisters. Not wishing to fan the flames of sibling rivalry too enthusiastically, I will simply state that the cellist, Julia Bruskin, seemed to be the better of her sister, violinist Emily, in terms of technical prowess, accuracy and tone. All three members of the group struggled
with the Beethoven but settled down once they attempted music which appeared to be closer to their own aesthetic preference.
All that I really know about Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is that her music seems to be everywhere these days. As her trio begins in medias res, it was instantly apparent that the Claremont was more heavily invested in its realization than in the performance of the prior work. This is of course a terrible thing to say, but the dissonances and tense clusters of notes (compare Penderecki’s Threnody) suffered much less from the lack of singing tone of these musicians than had the normally graceful melodies of Beethoven. Ms. Zwilich was on hand to receive the applause of the crowd and will in the process expose her music to the greater audience of the airwaves as a result (this concert was taped for future radio broadcast).
As a former Juilliard parent myself, I have heard hundreds of student musicians over the years. In the Mendelssohn, these three young aspirants meshed a bit better than in the opening work, but there was still little sense of melodic thoughtfulness in their phrasing. Ms. Kwong, for example, was the most technically competent of the trio, but, as Josef Hofmann used to say, one does not play the piano with one’s hands. The Bruskins are currently matriculating at Juilliard while Ms. Kwong has her master’s from there. The implication of their appearance at this recital (they won an audition and this event was part of the prize) may be that they are expecting to become professional chamber musicians in time. If so, it is necessary to point out that they are quite far from their goal; what’s missing beyond a tremendous amount of hard work and proper instruction to correct their technical shortcomings is the innate ability to phrase intelligently, to feel the music within one’s soul and to communicate that essence to a faceless and nameless public. This elusive quality is extremely hard to teach. However, if the group is constantly improving their skills in order to nurture their own love of music and ability to congregate in its glory (a much more noble pursuit), then they are well on their way to success. I’m sure that Mendelssohn would have appreciated this performance; after all, he had a very talented sister as well.
Frederick L. Kirshnit