Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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On the skis, at the top of a new run, Part IV

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podium

On tour with Ensemble Epomeo– day 5 and 6

Wednesday morning I awoke with a sense of gleeful expectation, in spite of another raft of emails. Why? If you think I was looking forward to the concert, you guessed wrong. Longtime Vftp readers may have twigged that for me, coffee is close to a religion. We’d had a wonderful, wonderful visit to Fredericton, but, from what I could tell, it is not a coffee city. I hadn’t had a decent cup-o-joe, even a Starbucks-ee level one since Sunday. However, I know Halifax, and on Wednesday morning, I knew my first stop was Coburg Coffee, where I used to re-fuel during Scotia Festival in years long past. Heaven. Relief!

On arrival at The Music Room, we decided to carry forth the vibe from the night before- today was to be a day of calm, un-hurried but intensely-focused rehearsal, just cleaning house as if there was no concert to play. The Music Room acoustic is idea for this kind of work- it’s more of a recording studio acoustic than a concert hall one, so you can hear everything with tremendous clarity and precision. It was a tiring day, but cleansing, and after a nice late-afternoon break, we were ready to play.

The concert that night was to be memorable. We started with the Gál Serenade, a piece we’ve now performed many times, but never at the beginning of a concert. It’s as virtuosic and unforgiving as any piece I’ve ever played, so we always thought a warm-up was a good idea, but in this case, it felt good starting the programme with it while we were still fresh and at the top of our concentration.Next up was Schnittke. After the bow-hair massacre the day before, I was trying to be extra cautious, and the destruction this time was nowhere nearly as memorable. Still, after intermission, I decided it was safer to play the Beethoven on a newly-rehaired Hill that came with the cello.

The first movement of the Beethoven was great fun, although the Hill lacks the depth and focus of the Lee, but not long after starting the 2nd movement, I became aware of impending disaster. The dry climate had caused the plug holding the bow hair to shrink and the knot came loose. This meant that in the midst of this serene slow movement, I suddenly had no tension on the bow at all. After struggling as best I could for a while, I finally  stopped in mid-phrase and said “ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, this has never happened before, but I’m afraid I have to get another bow.” David and Caroline looked completely stunned!I went up and got my beautiful Jin Wu Lee bow, with its 10 or so remaining hairs, and tip-toed through the rest of the concert. In spite of this, it was great fun, as was our final visit to the Chebucto Room, which in my mind will always be the Rainbow of Halifax (OES members will know what I’m talking about).

With the ferry from Nova Scotia to Maine now out of business, we had no choice but to re-trace our steps on Thursday. At least we had no concerts! And, I could start the day with one last trip to Coburg Coffee. Over 600 miles later, but still speaking to each other, we pulled into Maine to stay with some friends of David. I’m always a bit nervous about home-stays with people I don’t know, but they couldn’t have been nicer. A husband and wife cello/violin couple with a big Suzuki practice, they took us to a fantastic brew pub for a great night out. We’ve me so many brilliant and kind people on this tour.

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PS- you can follow Ensemble Epomeo on our Facebook Page here.

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Kile Smith- Thrice Blest with Ensemble Epomeo

From kilesmith.com. Read the original here.Ensemble Epomeo has performedThrice blest a few times since last Spring, and is bringing it to Philadelphia this Friday, October 1st. They’re playing at the First Friday Concert Series at Christ Church in Old City, on 2nd Street just above Market. The free concert starts at 8 pm.Read about the work here.Ensemble Epomeo is violinistCaroline Chin, violist David Yang, and cellist Kenneth Woods. Click on the names to read about the vast experience each brings to the group. Ken is also an excellent blogger.Here’s a recent post of his about playing on a borrowed cello. I love reading inside-baseball stuff from musicians. Things I’d never consider play such a big part in the lives of those who make the music for us.Caroline, David, and Ken play with many different people and ensembles, and they each run groups of their own. They are busy as can be, so I’m delighted that they’ve taken on this little work. I’m writing a companion to it, but it’ll have to wait until after Friday.In David’s kitchen a week ago I heard part of a recording of Thrice blestfrom a recent performance, and David was telling me how much the piece has come together and how much they’re enjoying it. I think I nodded but I really wasn’t listening; the lentils and sausage he was cooking grabbed all my attention. Sure enough, “cooking” is in his bio, but you can take my word for it: he’s the real deal.Hans Gál, SerenadeKile Smith, Thrice blestRichard Strauss, Variations on “’s Deandl is harb auf mi”Ludwig van Beethoven, Trio in D Major, Op. 9, No. 2

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The Old Cello Switcheroo

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podiumI am in Philadelphia this week for some work with my string trio, Ensemble Epomeo.I have to say, Philadelphia has become one of my favorite cities- I love the neighborhood feel in the part of town where I’m staying, with some lovely shops and restaurants as well as the incredibly characterful Italian Market, where you find the most astounding array of produce, meats, fish, cheeses, oils and just about anything else to cook and eat you can imagine.It’s our first concert together since May- we’re heading into our busy part of the year, with small projects this month and next followed by a pretty substantial tour of New England and the Canadian Atlantic Provinces in November. We’ve got new repertoire to learn and old repertoire to refresh.  (This week we’re playing Kile Smith’s Thrice Blest, a short trio by Richard Strauss, the Gal Serenade op 41 and Beethoven’s Op 9 No. 1 n G major).In a capitulation to the ever increasing costs, risks and hassles of traveling with a cello, I’m playing this week on a borrowed instrument. I don’t expect much sympathy from pianists out there (other than Krystian Zimerman), who have to cope with different instruments all the time. However, I played on one cello for every single concert I did between 1991 and 2001. The relationship between most string players and their instruments is incredibly close. I’d say that string players are, in general, only slightly less reluctant to change their instruments from gig to gig than singers, who are stuck with one for their whole lives.Musicians will go to great lengths to have their instrument with them for a gig- including buying seats where possible, and investing in incredibly expensive and bulky flight cases. Unfortunately, as I found out in 2001, the best flight case is no match for a fork lift, which ripped off the top of my case and cello.(That’s not Ken’s “real” cello)Switching cellos on a short rehearsal schedule can pose a number of challenges. In this case, the cello (a pretty nice one) hadn’t been played at all in many months, and at the first rehearsal it felt incredibly stiff and unresponsive. I couldn’t get anything to speak on the lower two strings that first night. I can hardly think of a piece that depends more on effortless precision of attach than the Beethoven Trio we’re playing this week- trying to rehearse that music when I had to play with elephantine effort amidst a panorama of squwks and whistles to get anything out is  not fun. String instruments can be temperamental creatures- if they are feeling neglected and unloved, they’re certainly let you know.(A promo photo of  the trio, with Ken holding someone else’s cello)There are other challenges- pitch is the most obvious, and string trio is the most demanding medium for tuning. Far easy to switch cellos for solo playing or orchestra work than for small chamber ensembles.However, the most challenging thing is to find ones own sound and voice on an instrument that may have very different properties to your regular axe. After a couple of days of near-constant playing, this instrument is opening up, and I’m finally starting to feel like I can hear my “self” when I play it. Really, I should be encouraged by how fast it all goes- from day one where no sound comes out at all, to day two where I’m just focusing on getting the notes to speak reliably, by day three, I’m actually beginning to get some colors and tone.Anyway, I try to accept the challenge for what it is, to take it on the chin in those early rehearsals when I can’t stand the sound I’m making and to have confidence that we’ll get there by concert time. I’ve dealt with these challenges many times before- see here or here.Still, I  feel like more and more we’re expected to produce under ever more difficult working conditions as musicians. The squeeze is on from all sides- as orchestra budgets collapse, musicians have to put on concerts with fewer rehearsals, while taking on more teaching and freelance work to make up for lost income. That means less time for everyone to prepare for concerts with less time to rehearse. Not good.Last night, we ran the program and recorded it. There are many things I’m pleased about (both in my own playing and that of the group), and there are “other” things there too that we’ll fix today. I think the cello will sound fine in the concert, but I can hear how much of my mind is going into thinking about the mechanics of what I’m doing. Not in the obvious sense of things sounding mechanical- it’s more that I can hear myself overlooking little details I would normally catch because 40% more of my brain is going into getting that low F# to speak than it normally would. I don’t have any spare brain these days- I need that 40% back! At this point, I can just about get the right sounds- now I have a few more rehearsals to get to the point where I can get that result with a level of effort similar to what I’d expend on my own cello.Maybe the trick isn’t to rehearse or practice at all- I’ve occasionally managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat in concert when I’ve had to do a quick switch, and there was the incredible situation a few years back in Cardiff when Alban Gerhardt had his Guadanigni stolen just before a recording session. He switched instruments on no notice and nailed the concertos in the sessions. A good, if tragic, reminder that we shouldn’t make excuses for ourselves.(Why so serious- because Ken never gets to play on this cello)

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Newburyport Arts Journal: Review

By JC Lockwood (Original Here)It may not have been exactly what organizers had envisioned. Okay, it definitely wasn’t: A fundraiser that doesn’t rake in the dough wasn’t what all the meetings and all the strategy sessions were about. But it’s hard to believe anyone felt less than sigh-and-snuggle-before-rolling-over-and-lighting-up-a-smoke satisfied after the Trio Epomeo’s June 6 performance for the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. Except, perhaps, for the Schnittke fans, who, once they got a taste of the Moderato section of the Russian composer’s String started growling for the Adagio — a kind of musical blood lust. But it was not to be. A last-minute adjustment of the program had the trio — violinist Byron Wallis, cellist Kenneth Woods and violist David Yang, who is also NCMF artistic director— jettisoned the Adagio to make room for Beethoven’s Trio in C minor, Opus 9, in its entirety. The program had originally called for closing with just a taste of the Maestro, playing the Rondo and calling it a night.Was it a good trade-off? Opinions vary, even among Schnittke fans. The Newburyport performance, the penultimate stop of Trio Epomeo’s three-country, two-continent tour, had been conceived as musical tapas, of sorts, giving the audience a taster’s menu, a variety of works to sample, a selection of moods and colors, rather than complete works. But, even within this context, the emphasis was on the modern, and the mood tilted toward darker hues: Hans Krasa’s chilling “Tanz,” which opens with a waltz and ends with oblivion; Alan Hovhaness’ ethereal, otherworldly Trio, the musical manifestation of a deep, mournful sadness that seems to exist on a cellular level; Gideon Klein’s “Based on a Moravian Theme,” a concise and unforgettable emotional musical rollercoaster; and, finally, closing the first half of the performance with Schnittke’s alternately lulling and jolting crash-bang String Trio.Within this context, the Beethoven seems a little out of place historically, musically and even geographically, given that the work presented had an eastern Europe perspective — even the encore, a Kodaly Intermezzo. At the same time, it was comforting, steadying, closing with Beethoven, a lovely piece — lyrical, expressive, an incredible vehicle for exploring possibilities of the instruments. And, again, when you encounter such inspired playing —wonderfully executed and, at times, absolutely breathtaking performances by players at the top of their game, up close and personal— all this talk about the what’s what of the program becomes mere sport. So, again, within this context, the decision to go Ludwig becomes a fielder’s choice.It was a magical evening — seriously under attended, but magical. The trio, which came together last year at the Festivale d’alla Musica da Camera d’Ischia in Italy to explore the possibilities of just one piece (the Schnittke Trio, natch) and discovered that they clicked musically, sounded like they had been playing together forever. The performance space (the Carriage House, a marvelous listening room fashioned out of an 19th-century out-building on the Lord Timothy Dexter Estate by NCMF patrons Julia Farwell Clay and Walter Clay) is a delight, as was the after-party — the social aspect, the schmooze, has been an important part of festival since its inception. There was plenty of food and wine and a chance to chat up musicians. We heard stories about Wallis’ recent tour of North Korea, of all places. Or the time when he and Wood, who worked together during a musical interlude in Arkansas, wandered into a rock and roll club. Wallis kind of hung back, but Woods, who performed in a rock band back in his Indiana University days, jammed with the band, playing guitar behind his head, a la Jimi Hendrix. But the best news we got, before the last of the wine had been poured, was that trio plans to record the Schnitkke. Stay tuned!