The popular chamber group has been forced into the cloud for Cumulus, writes Richard Betts.
Leading chamber ensemble NZTrio has announced a late alteration to the group’s much anticipated Dramatic Skies: Cumulus concert. Covid’s stubborn refusal to sod the hell off means the concert, which was to take place on Tuesday 16 November at the Auckland Town Hall concert chamber, is now an online-only affair, and will be live-streamed by JX Live (also responsible for Auckland Philharmonic’s online gigs) and RNZ Concert.
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NZTrio cellist Ashley Brown says that the group hoped to be able to play the concert to a live audience but there was “no expectation”.
Online viewers will get the trio’s usual eclectic mix. The concert’s most substantial work is Smetana’s anguished Piano Trio in G min, Op.15, a piece written to commemorate the death of the composer’s daughter Fritzi. It was just one tragedy endured by Smetana in what was a generally tragic life – Fritzi was the third of his four daughters to die in childhood, and he lost his wife to TB when she was in her early 30s.
Other works include Hommage a Ravel by Lalo Schifrin, who’s more famed for his soundtracks, notably this iconic 5/4 ditty; a brief, rarely heard – and likely unfinished – piano trio by Grieg; and Kiwi Alex Taylor’s off-kilter Burlesques Mechaniques, an early, intriguing work from the composer who was still in his early 20s when NZTrio commissioned it in 2012.
The most interesting piece, though, is a new commission, Clouds, from Jenny McLeod, who turns 80 this week. (Elizabeth Kerr has written a lovely birthday tribute to McLeod here.) At the time of writing (just before Auckland goes to level 3.2), Covid restrictions mean that the trio has barely had a chance to work on it together.
“The day before this lockdown we had a chance to look through what she had sent, and luckily managed to record a few bars so she’s had a chance to hear our first look through,” says Brown.
“It’s a piece that demands a lot of us individually and as an ensemble, and we’re so busy doing the music-making that it’s only when we listened back to the recording that we noticed the amazing textures: multiple layers of busy near-transparent voices combine to create a fluffy, translucent sound world, constantly morphing into imagined shapes, as seen in the clouds of the title.”
Even without a live audience, the trio is looking forward to getting together again after a number of months without concerts.
“It’ll take some getting used to, throwing heart and soul into a performance, to be met with a deafening silence in the room,” admits Brown. “That’s the kind of thing we have to get used to as performers in this new weird and slightly artificial environment. But the audience that tunes in will be treated to an amazing array of music.”
- NZTrio’s Dramatic Skies: Cumulus concert screens live from 7pm, Tuesday 16 November, and in recorded form for a limited time after that. More details on the group’s livestream web page. There is no charge but viewers can make donations here.