Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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Fanfare Magazine on Brahms- Serenade, Schoenberg- Verklärte Nacht

From Fanfare Magazine

“…Unlike the chamber version of the Brahms Serenade, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht in its original string sextet version—my preferred way of hearing the piece, though the string orchestra version is magnificent—is no rarity on recordings. Happily, this is a competitive performance with no technical weaknesses, a taut interpretation, and all the more impressive for being recorded live. The three members of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo, one of whom is the conductor Kenneth Woods, playing cello, are joined by three “friends.” The six string players sound far more secure than the players of the Orchestra of the Swan in the Brahms, and the miking of the sextet seems better focused. Paul Orgel

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The Classical Reviewer- String Trios by Schnittke, Penderecki, Kurtag and Weinberg

From “The Classical Reviewer,” December 7, 2014. Read the whole thing here. 

A new release from Avie Records brings a really fine collection of works from composers that experienced, in varying degrees, the turbulent post war years, in first rate performances from Ensemble Epomeo…

 

Ensemble Epomeo released their debut recording for Avie Records www.avie-records.com in 2012 featuring the complete string trios of Hans Gál and Hans Krása which received critical acclaim includingCritic’s Choice from Gramophone Magazine.

 

 Epomeo-NEW


Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) 
wrote his String Trio in1985. The Moderato opens with a melancholy, dissonant theme before developing moments of intense passion Ensemble Epomeo really bite into the more anguished phrases often with the strings thrusting forward with frenetic energy.  Occasionally the music reveals an almost classical style with a lovely little passage that is soon attacked by an outburst of ferocity. There are anguished dissonances that are exceptionally realised by this trio. An insistent falling passage arrives just before the little classical theme again peers through and the music slowly fades. 

The Adagio picks up on the descending theme and inverts it as the movement gently and quietly develops. A ghostly motif is shared around the trio and quietly decorated with some striking unison chords. Soon the violin holds a note under which the viola and cello intone a darker theme. A hushed wistful theme appears, offset by a passionate motif that bursts out fervently but the mournful, dissonant theme returns between outbursts with a slow melancholy tune appearing a number of times before the music fades at the end.

A few weeks after the premiere, Schnittke suffered his first stroke.

This is music that really tears at the soul, particularly in this performance.

Mieczysław Weinberg’s (1919-1996) String Trio dates from 1950. The Allegro con moto rises up gently in an attractive little theme on the cello with occasional pizzicato accompaniment, developing and slowly becoming more passionate. The music moves through some very fine passages, building each time as it becomes more and more dramatic, the gentler theme always retuning. The music develops a rather Jewish lilt before winding to a hushed coda.

The Andante opens with a gentle flowing theme that is expanded as it is shared around the trio in a kind of fugue, with these players weaving a lovely melancholy tapestry. There are moments of exquisite sensitivity in the little hushed sequence where some ghostly harmonies appear before leading to a beautifully hushed coda.

A rhythmic theme opens the Moderato assai with a steady and rather grotesque dance.  A wistful tune is then weaved around it on the viola, becoming more and more dynamic and insistent. Harmonics are played by the violin over the theme on viola and insistent cello motif before the players push ahead, full of heavy pathos, to a coda that feels as though the music just runs out of energy.

Weinberg was arrested by the KGB shortly after completing this work. It was only Stalin’s death and the intervention of Shostakovich that saved him. This is a strangely unsettling, yet very fine work.

György Kurtág’s (b.1926) Signs, games, and messages, written between 1989 and 2005 can be played in any order. Here Ensemble Epomeo have selected seven of the pieces starting with Virág az ember that emerges from silence, hesitatingly before little notes appear. The dramatic Perpetuum mobile follows where Kurtag plays with the perfect fifth and thirds through a tremendous and highly absorbing sequence.

The trio play dissonant harmonies in Ligatura Y before the music grows faster with astringent dissonances and outbursts. Jelek VI bursts out full of drama with sudden string chords ending suddenly. Sliding strings create odd sound world in Virág – Zsigmondy Dénesnek with ghostly echoes of sounds rising and fading at the end.

Hommage à Ránki György has pizzicato opening as a rhythmic waltz theme is developed that oddly throws up memories of Weinberg’s string trio, before just fading. Hommage à J.S.B opens high in register as the violin and viola weave a theme over a pizzicato cello before slowly falling and weaving around before just coming to a halt.

These are strange little sound bites of the composer’s moods and receive a very fine performance here.

 

Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933) began his compositional career as an arch modernist with works such asThrenody for the Victims of Hiroshima. In later years he has adopted a more conventional style yet still retains elements of his early dramatic, even violent nature. His String Trio dates from 1990-91 and has, in the composers own words, ‘the language of …late Bartok.’

 

The Allegro molto opens with a violent insistent motif before quickly changing to a mournful viola theme. The number three is important here with three outbursts and three cadenzas one each for the players. The cello cadenza has a three note motif that is rather skittish. After the second outburst there is a forceful virtuosic violin cadenza before a melancholy viola cadenza. The music is shared around with harmonics and a theme that darts around between the players. Eventually the music becomes more restrained with a flowing melody rising in angst before the cello holds a high note as the violin and viola play with the three note motif.

The second and final movement, Vivace starts with an insistent theme that is worked around the players, rising at times with strident chords but with moments of quieter yet equally insistent music.  These players weave some tremendous sounds with the music soon becoming dynamic and insistent before quietening. But the opening theme slowly returns before the decisive coda.

This is a work full of drama and vital ideas finely realised by this trio.

This new release is a really fine collection of works from composers that experienced in varying degrees the turbulent post war years. Ensemble Epomeo provide first rate performances and are given an excellent recording, very detailed. There are excellent booklet notes from the Ensemble’s cellist Kenneth Woods.

 

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CD Review- The Arts Fuse on Schnittke, Penderecki, Kurtag and Weinberg Trios

Published Feb 17, 2015

Read the whole thing here

The string trio, the sad sister of string chamber music genres, had a pretty good 20th century, at least in the hands of Eastern European composers. Or so one might conclude after hearing Ensemble Epomeo’s outstanding new album from Avie Records.

Epomeo-NEW

Its highlight is, without a doubt, Alfred Schnittke’s awesome, powerful Trio. I’ve often found Schnittke a frustrating composer: he tends to ramble and embrace dissonance as an end in itself rather than a means to an expressive goal. But in this 1985 score, the music’s tragic power is focused and concentrated. Not a crunching chord is out of place. And there’s plenty of soaring melodic writing, too. In sum, it’s a winner and gets an appropriately fiery performance from Ensemble Epomeo. György Kurtág’s Signs, Games, and Messages also comes across strongly, its richly acerbic harmonic language packing a mighty punch.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s and Krzysztof Penderecki’s respective String Trios complete the album and, while neither possesses the fearsome immediacy of the Schnittke, they complement its shadows with various shadings of light.

There are moments when Ensemble Epomeo’s playing sounds downright orchestral – I could have sworn there were more than three players at work at several points in the Kurtág – but is always engaged with the spirit of each piece. Avie’s recorded sound quality is excellent and the album’s substantial liner notes are deeply informative. In short, this is a can’t-miss disc that heralds an ensemble to watch.

— By Jonathan Blumhofer

 

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The Independent on Schnittke, Penderecki, Kurtág and Weinberg Trios

“Dissonant gusto brilliantly negotiated by the Ensemble Epomeo”

 

Epomeo Indy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CD Review- “Verbunkos” on Complete String Trios of Hans Gal and Hans Krasa

A review from Stefano Gulizia on the blog “Verbunkos”. Read the whole thing here.

Epomeo Play Krasa and Gal

 

It is hard to think of composers of perhaps insufficiently recognized importance in the chamber music canon such as Hans Gál and Hans Krása. And there could hardly be a more serendipitous alliance than for them to be performed by Kenneth Woods and his Ensemble Epomeo, featuring Caroline Chin at violin and David Yang at viola. Both in his musical writing and in his score reading, Woods is fiercely committed to ideals of clarity and transparency and the results are always exciting and often astonishing…

…The chamber music performed by Woods and his Ensemble Epomeo is an exemplary site for thinking together not only about the legacy of Hans Gál and Hans Krása, but also about the current state ofEntartete Musik as belonging to a time that is ‘out of joint’, for thinking about spectrality and for thinking about a future of small-sized orchestral music whose enlightenment is indissociably bound with the exemplarity and clarity of their execution and what they have to teach us. We might see Gál and Krása, then, as a sort of night watchman in ghostly gathering: they have come to tell us about the non-contemporaneity with itself of the living present, and to suggest, Hamlet-like, that time is off its hinges.

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Concert Review- ConcertoNet reviews Epomeo at Tenri

Critic Harry Rolnick chose Epomeo’s appearance at the Kyo-Shin-Arts series at the Tenri Cultural Centre over a trip to Carnegie Hall to hear Yo-Yo Ma. Did he make the right choice? Read the whole thing here.

EPOMEO TENRI

One can never underrate Mieczyslaw Weinberg, though he is little heard in New York. The last time was the St Petersburg Orchestra with his Moldavian Overture. Mr. Weinberg, like his friend Dmitri Shostakovich, were truly fecund composers. Weinberg had written about 21 symphonies and much chamber music, like the Trio played this afternoon. New to this writer, but filled with zest, juicy violin solos by Dianne Pascal, and succinct movements.

That same trio sparkled through Beethoven’s early C Minor Trio for a finale. But it was the opening work, seven selections from György Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Dances which impressed most of all.

Kurtág, I must confess, has become an obsession. Infinite works, each different, each a one-carat diamond, a flash, a bolt of lightning, an epigraph…

Yes, it was Mr. Schlefer who supplied the Japanese music. But György Kurtág’s music was closer to a Japanese sketch, half a haiku, an inhalation, an inspiration.

The seven works were dissimilar. An out-of-tune Romanian dance, a crazy waltz, an embrace of softness…each demanded not only full attention from the audience, but

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Composer interview- Victoria Bond on “Rashomon”

On Sunday, the 23rd of February, Ensemble Epomeo and shakuhachi virtuoso James Schlefer will give the world premiere of composer Victoria Bond‘s new work for shakuhachi and string trio, “Rashomon.” We asked Maestra Bond a few questions about her new work and her distinguished career.

composer Victoria Bond

EE Your new quartet is titled Rashomon. Most people will recognize the title from the iconic Kurosawa film. Can you tell us a little bit about your use of the title- is the piece based on the film, and if so, how?

VB: I have actually based my composition on two short stories by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa; “Rashomon,” and “In a Bamboo Grove.”  These, in turn, were taken from Konjaku Monogatarishū’s Anthology of Tales from the Past, also known as the Konjaku Monogatari, a Japanese collection of over one thousand tales written during the late Heian period  (794-1185). The volumes cover various tales from IndiaChina and Japan. The subject-matter is largely drawn from Buddhist and secular folklore. The folkloric tales mostly depict encounters between human beings and the supernatural. The typical characters are drawn from Japanese society of the time — nobility, warriors, monks, scholars, doctors, peasant farmers, fishermen, merchants, prostitutes, bandits, beggars. Their supernatural counterparts are oni and tengu. The work is anonymous. The date of the work is also uncertain. From the events depicted in some of the tales it seems likely that it was written down at some point during the early half of the 12th century, after the year 1120. Many of the tales which appear in the Konjaku are also found in other collections, such as ghost story collections; having passed into the common consciousness, they have been retold many times over the succeeding centuries. Modern writers too have adapted tales from the Konjaku Monogatarishū: a famous example is Akutagawa Ryūnosuke‘s In a Grove, well known in the West from Kurosawa‘s film Rashomon.

EE- Rashomon is structured as a theme and variations, one of the oldest Western musical forms. What is the appeal for you of this formal structure as composer working today? Is your approach to variation form in this work based on any existing formal models?

VB: theme and Variations is one of my favorite musical forms and I have written many throughout my compositional career.  It was this convergence of musical and literary forms that drew me to the story of Rashomon in the first place, and I was struck by the implications of this abstract musical form in a dramatic context. Within each of the four movements, each being a variation of the theme presented in the first movement, is another form, as follows:

I. The Gate – Theme
II. The Murder: A Crime of Violence – Variations
III. The Murder: A Cold Calculation – Passacaglia
IV. The Murder: A Crime of Passion – Rondo

 

EE- The Rashomon story suggests a strong Japanese influence on the piece. Did you feel like the sound of the shakuhachi almost mandated some Japanese element in either the musical language or programmatic structure of the piece?

VB: The theme itself has a Japanese character, being a descending pentatonic scale with an ambiguous chromatic element. In addition to the shakuhachi, I also wanted to imply the sounds of traditional Japanese instruments in the string parts.

 

EE-Does the piece have any typically Japanese melodies or stylistic traits?

VB: The melodic material is original, though influenced by traditional Japanese melodies and timbres.

 

EE- If so, had you ever written in a cross-cultural style before?

VB: I have been influenced by many cultures, having travelled extensively as part of my life as a conductor. Some of those cultural influences are: Chinese, Brazilian, Irish, Puerto Rican, English, French, German, and Italian.

 

EE-Are there different challenges working with material from a non-Western musical tradition?

VB: The challenge of working with materials from other cultures is to maintain one’s musical identity and not to simply adapt folkloric influences.  My desire is to absorb these influences and make them my own, so that they become part of the musical fabric of my creative world.

 

EE- You’ve managed to maintain a diverse and successful career as both a conductor and composer- that’s quite an achievement. How has composing shaped your work on and off the podium? Do feel you study scores or rehearse differently because of your experience as composer?

VB: Having a double life as composer and conductor has many advantages, the principal one being an intimate and working knowledge of the literature and of performers. I approach the study of a score looking for clues, and asking myself “why has the composer made these decisions?” These insights become an important component in shaping my interpretation of a work. Conducting instrumentalists and singers gives me valuable insight into what works technically and dramatically for each artist in the context of a given work, and especially what doesn’t work. This information becomes an essential part of my own compositions.  I often feel as though I have had the opportunity to be my own “Composer-in-Residence” during a rehearsal period with an orchestra, opera company or chamber music ensemble.  The one great challenge of maintaining a conducting and composing career is that of time, and in that regard, I have decided that composing is more important to me, and I am devoting the majority of my time to it, cutting back on all of my conducting activities.

 

EE- What are your conducting and compositional ambitions for the future?

VB: I am completing work on an opera about Clara Schumann, called “Clara” which will have a concert reading next season, and a Hanukkah opera called “Miracle!” which will premiere next December.  I am also completing two concertos, one for violin and string orchestra and one for trumpet and brass ensemble as part of a project for Albany Records and Roosevelt University.  This project is called “Four Presidents” and celebrates George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt with works for narrator and a variety of ensembles, the text being adapted from the writings and speeches of each of the presidents by historian Dr. Myles Lee.  In addition, each work features a solo instrument and pays homage to the music of the period as follows:

George Washington

Pater Patriae, a concerto for flute and wind ensemble, using material adapted from fife and drum tunes of the revolutionary period.

Franklin Roosevelt

The Indispensable Man, a concerto for clarinet and wind ensemble, using material from the big band era of the 1940’s

Thomas Jefferson

The Soul of a Nation, a concerto for violin and string orchestra, using material that Jefferson actually played on the violin

Theodore Roosevelt

Title TBD, a concerto for trumpet and brass ensemble, using material from the time

 

EE– What music excites you these days? Have there been any “wow” moments in the last year or two where you discovered a new piece, a new work or a new insight into a familiar one that really made a huge impression.

VB: I produce a new music series called Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival each year in New York, and present a wide variety of composers and performers throughout the month of April at Symphony Space in Manhattan.  This allows me to be in touch with established as well as emerging composers, and I have so many positive impressions of what is being written today, that the list would be very long!

 

Concert information:

 

Ensemble Epomeo – Diane Pascal, violin; David Yang, viola; and Kenneth Wods, cello with James Nyoraku Schlefer, shakuhachi. And exciting combo os shakuhachi and strings featuring two new KSA premieres: Rashomon by Victoria Bond, for shakuhachi and string trio and Sidewalk Dances by James Nyoraku Schlefer for shakuhachi and cello. Plus Beethoven, Kurtág and Weinberg.

Tenri Cultural Institute

43A West 13 Street

New York, NY

Tickets $25 and $15 for students. Advance purchase with priority seating at  brownpapertickets.com or 1-800-838-3006

Beethoven – Trio in C minor Op.9, no. 3
Victoria Bond – Shakuhachi Quartet – World Premiere (a Kyo-Shin-An Arts Commission)
György Kurtág – Signs, Games and Messages (String Trio)

James Nyoraku Schlefer – Duo for Shakuhachi and Cello
Mieczyslaw Weinberg – String Trio

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CD Review- McAlister Matheson Music on Gal/Krasa Trios

Gal and Krasa – Complete String Trios
Ensemble Epomeo
Avie AV2259 

Release date September 2012
Read the original here

Epomeo Play Krasa and Gal

The Avie catalogue now boasts no fewer than ten discs featuring major works of Hans Gál (1890-1987), the Vienna-born composer who settled in Edinburgh after being forced to flee by Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938. His music is well worth hearing. Gál’s musical roots lie with Brahms and Strauss; his style ‘remained resolutely uninfluenced by the output of Schoenberg and his school’, as Conrad Wilson notes succinctly in New Grove. He has a great gift for melody and lyricism, amply demonstrated in his first work for string trio, the Serenade of 1932. It is a refreshing piece in four movements, lasting thirty minutes. The intricately contrapuntal first movement Capriccioso has a jaunty, Haydnesque feel, with lightning-fast changes of mood. There follows a congenial Cantabile with long-breathed melodic lines, a deliberate but elegant Menuetto and a crisp-textured Alla Marcia final movement imbued with humour. By 1971, when his threemovement Trio in F sharp minor Op. 104 was written, Gál’s style had moved on, as evidenced by the winding chromatic phrases of the sombre first movement – although the second movement (a cheerful, catchy kind of perpetuum mobile) has much in common with the earlier trio. The work started life as a commission for violin, viola d’amore and cello from the London Viola d’amore Society, but Gál cannily made this version for traditional string trio simultaneously. Gál and the Czech-born Hans Krása shared a Jewish heritage, but whereas Gál escaped Nazi oppression, Krása was interred in Theresienstadt where he was instrumental in organising the cultural life of the concentration camp, before dying in Auschwitz in 1944. Both his string trios were composed in the last year of his life. Tanec (Dance) is a short, unsettling work, much of it revolving around the sound-world of trains. His Passacaglia and Fuga for violin, viola and cello is more substantial, the short and very spirited fugue being preceded by a Passacaglia with a gravely beautiful opening that transforms into something quite combative. Ensemble Epomeo give eloquent and convincing performances. Should you be interested in listening further to Gál’s music, I would recommend the second and fourth symphonies, the latter having very much the feel of late Strauss.

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CD Preview- Epomeo play Penderecki

 

We’ve just completed four days of recording for our newest Avie Records CD with producer Simon Fox at Bengrove Studios. It was a really fun but completely exhausting project- four incredibly interesting, rewarding and challenging works in very different styles.

The CD will be out in the Autumn, but we thought those of you who have been following the project might want a little sneak peak at the disc- an excerpt from the 2nd movement of Penderecki’s incredible String Trio from 1990-1.  Wild stuff- one doesn’t play this fast every day.

 

Ken's iPhone Feb 14 085

The Bengrove Studio control room

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CD Review- Tempo Magazine on Gal and Krasa- Complete String Trios

From the July 2013 issue:

 

Epomeo Play Krasa and Gal

“…In yet another release from Avie, Gál’s two pieces for string trio are performed by Ensemble Epomeo, whose cellist is none other than that all-round musician, Kenneth Woods. The Serenade in D dates from 1932 and is light and droll in character without any lowering of the composer’s usual high standards of inspiration and formal mastery. A varied, protean opening Capriccioso delights in catching the unwary listener off balance with its sudden shifts of harmony, texture and dynamics. The ensuing Cantabile features a flowing and luxuriant melody introduced by violin and later assumed by the viola over richly harmonized textures. Classical grace informs the Menuetto, with a romantic trio theme unexpectedly languishing at its centre. The concluding Alla marcia matches the opening movement in devious twists and turns of melodic invention and contains at its heart a typically song-like theme which takes wing effortlessly.

The other Gál piece on the disc, his Trio in F sharp minor, dates from 1971. Commissioned by the London Viola d’Amore Society, it was originally scored for violin, viola d’amore and cello, though the composer also made a version for standard string trio at the same time, and it is in this latter form that the piece appears on the  Avie CD. Though it dates from the same ‘late’ period as the composer’s Triptych for orchestra and Fourth Symphony reviewed above, the Trio is made of sterner stuff. In this rigorously worked-out piece Gál seems to be consciously making connexions with the Austro-German legacy to which his carefully honed musical voice is entirely attuned. An expressive viola solo launches a deeply passionate yet at times wistfully introspective opening Tranquillo con moto. The central Presto’s pointedly rhythmic, principal idea, sempre staccato, is contrasted with a more flowing trio-like episode and is wafted away in a delightfully insouciant closing gesture. Genuine emotional depths are plumbed once again in the concluding theme and variations, each of which is distinctive, yet assumes a logical place within the movement’s cogent overarching structure. One of the most impressive and penetrating of Gál’s later works, the Trio’s craftsmanship is impeccable and, as with all worthwhile compositions, it demands and rewards repeated listening.

These two contrasting Gál works for violin, viola and cello are accompanied by a pair of similarly scored pieces by the Czech composer Hans Krása (1899–1944). Both were written in 1944, whilst the composer was in the Terezin concentration camp and shortly before he was murdered at Auschwitz. Tanec (Dance) shows the quirky influence of Janáček, whilst substantial Passacaglia and Fugue, the last music Krása completed, is more profound and disquieting, at least in the Ensemble Epomeo’s performance, which, at an initially measured tempo, digs deep into this deeply moving score, ensures that each variation is effectively delineated, and brings instinctive virtuosity to the frenzied and terrifying deconstructive conclusions to both the Fugue and Passacaglia sections of the piece.

All four items are played with palpable commitment and inspiriting vigour by Ensemble Epomeo and they are faithfully recorded in a warm and vibrant acoustic. This disc helpfully presents fine examples of Gál’s craft nearly four decades apart and the insightful, bravura performances of the Krása pieces set the seal on a highly recommendable release… “

—Paul Conway

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