BY ALAN RICH:
Those who would bemoan the early demise of classical music -- of splendid new performers arriving on the scene and avid audiences to greet them -- are simply out of the loop these days. In that loop the outlook is far rosier. Young composers, rising through the ranks at schools and conservatories here and abroad, are indeed getting their music heard by sympathetic and enthusiastic audiences. More and more performing ensembles -- chamber groups, small orchestras, live-plus-electronic mixes -- are coming to the fore, carrying off major prizes and pulling down major dates in music centers across the map. As small but impressive positive evidence, here is this disc: performances by three splendid young string players who, as students, decided to come together as a finite ensemble, now have carried off two of chamber music’s most prestigious prizes, and are devoting time and effort on this, their first recording, to music by past, established masters but also to two composers of their own time, who, like themselves, are just now pushing their way through toward public acclaim.
The three members of the Janaki Trio -- violinist Serena McKinney, violist Katie Kadarauch and cellist Arnold Choi -- found common cause while students at the Colburn Music School in Los Angeles, and the quality of their performances there won first recognition in the 2005 International Coleman Foundation Award. Only a year later the Trio had moved skyward, with New York’s much-coveted Concert Artists Guild Award. Now, as inevitable and delightful consequence, they are ready with the first recorded evidence of their high skills -- and also, in the breadth of this program, of their awareness of the broad scope of the musical world they are now out to conquer. Their program includes one familiar masterpiece by one of music’s established masters, another by a contemporary master also becoming well known, and music by two Southern California composers, still active and working their way upward.
The medium of the string trio, as compared to the more familiar quartet, is a challenging one. The texture is, naturally, sparse; instead of the lushness of two violins in harmony we concentrate on the strength of the melody, and we also concentrate on the lower voices, most of all the cello.
Beethoven’s Trios -- he wrote four in all -- are early works, but already in the C-minor work on this disc the tread of the dramatic master is apparent. Just the opening, a dark, menacing melody that shows up again in the great Opus 131 Quartet of many years later, tells us that. C-minor was, of course, Beethoven’s most dramatic tonality throughout his lifetime; even though this early trio tends to slither into happier C-major tones rather readily, the dark shadows are never completely out of earshot.
The short, two-movement String Trio of Krzysztof Penderecki dates from 1990 -- later, therefore, than the time of his violent, dramatic heaven-stormers like his opera The Devils and the big choral works. Here is Penderecki in a conversational, almost neo-romantic mood. His instruments chat each other up during the agreeable slow movement, and then do so again at a busier pace in the second movement. This charmer of a movement begins as a fugue and gallops congenially toward its end.
After earning his Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies at Occidental College, Los Angeles-based composer Jason Barabba studied music at the University of Chicago, the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Los Angeles. His teachers include John Eaton, Andrew Imbrie, Christopher Dobrian and David Lefkowitz. His DNR for Large Orchestra was recently recorded by the Kiev Philharmonic for ERM Media’s “Masterworks of the New Era” recording project, and will be released on Volume 10 of that series. His recent commissions include this Trio for Janaki and Study in Orange for the Orange County High School for the Arts. His Trio is in four movements. Bela Bartók looks in now and then, especially in the haunting third-movement nocturne and some rhythmic hijinks in the finale.
David Lefkowitz, on the UCLA Faculty, is Jason’s teacher and teacher as well of hundreds of young hopefuls. His Duet for Violin and Viola was originally written as a violin solo, and premiered by Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Mark Kaplan. Lefkowitz later dedicated it and transcribed it as a duet in memory of Danish composer Thomas Koppel (1944-2006).
Yarlung Records had the pleasure of recording Janaki String Trio’s debut album in February and March, 2006. As with previous Yarlung Records albums, we used minimalist recording techniques to best capture the individual sound of these musicians, their instruments, and the natural warmth and transparency of Zipper Hall in Los Angeles. For this recording, I chose the AKG C-24 tube stereo microphone and recorded directly to two tracks through our own tube microphone preamp and custom cables. We recorded analog tape, as well as high definition 24-bit PCM digital media at 176,400 samples per second. I hope you enjoy these performances and the sound.
Capturing Janaki Trio on this recording, and doing justice to the group’s talent, dynamics and energy, was a challenge and a treat. The album’s repertoire, from Beethoven’s Trio in C-Minor written the late 18th century to Barabba’s String Trio, commissioned for Janaki in 2006, provides Serena, Katie and Arnold with rich material to showcase their ability at this time in the trio’s budding international concert career.
David Lefkowitz’ duet for violin and viola delves courageously into the internal world of the composer, and hence entices us as listeners toward a meditative place as we enjoy the work. Lefkowitz describes the composition’s “…introspective feeling, like a dialogue with oneself.” Lefkowitz writes further that the duet “…is also an exploration of a side of string writing not usually explored, from slow sustained notes to extremely high harmonics. It was originally composed in April, 1994 [and titled Miniature VIII]; the arrangement here for Violin and Viola is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Koppel, and to the members of the Janaki Trio.”
We wish to dedicate this album to the memory of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whose magnificent voice sounded like Katie’s viola, and whose musicality inspired all of us.
Bob Attiyeh, producer
Janaki String Trio brings together three friends and virtuoso musicians whose passion and commitment captivate their audiences as they tackle their music with freshness, energy and maturity. Founded at The Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles in early 2005, the group soon won the 59th Annual Coleman Chamber Music Competition, and in March 2006, the threesome came to national attention as the first string trio ever to win the Concert Artists Guild International Competition. The Trio also garnered the inaugural BMI Foundation Commission Prize, awarded by Concert Artists Guild at the 2006 Competition.
The Janaki Trio makes its New York recital debut in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in January 2007. Selected to participate in Canada’s Banff Music Festival in June 2006, this honor follows an exciting 2005-06 season, highlighted by performances on such series as Sundays Live at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Lagerstrom Chamber Music at Caltech, South Bay Chamber Music Society and the Music Guild Chamber Music Series.
The ensemble takes its name from the Sanskrit word Janaki (YAHN-uh-kye), which symbolizes self-realization, a quality Janaki Trio aims to facilitate in themselves and in their listeners through their music. Indeed, the Trio makes a unique connection with audiences, not only with the standard works of the repertory, but also with rarely heard new masterworks, such as the string trios by Penderecki and Barabba on this album. The audience’s consistent enthusiasm for this adventurous programming has convinced the Trio that listeners are open to new music when it is presented in an exciting way. This has strengthened the ensemble’s commitment to expand the string trio repertoire by commissioning new works from both celebrated and emerging composers. Janaki Trio commissioned Jason Barabba’s String Trio for their upcoming concert repertoire and for this recording.
Each member of the Janaki Trio has a strong commitment to music education and has organized and performed in outreach concerts across the United States and Canada. In 2006-07, the Janaki Trio works with the Da Camera Society in promoting music education in elementary schools, hospitals, retirement communities and other community venues throughout the Los Angeles area.
Individually, the members of the Janaki Trio have performed at the Marlboro, Tanglewood, Yellow Barn, Aspen, Great Lakes, and Schleswig-Holstein music festivals and have performed with such eminent musicians as David Soyer, Ronald Leonard, Jaime Laredo, and Mitsuko Uchida.
Members of the Trio have studied with Kim Kashkashian, Isodore Cohen, Sylvia Rosenberg, and the Guarneri, Juilliard, Cleveland, Orion, and Takacs Quartets. Currently, the Trio studies individually and collectively with Robert Lipsett, and with Paul Coletti and Ronald Leonard, who also serve as the Trio’s coaches at The Colburn School.
Serena McKinney performs on a Camillus Camilli violin (circa 1742); Katie Kadarauch performs on a Giovanni Grancino viola (circa 1695); and Arnold Choi performs on a Carlo Tononi cello (circa 1725).