High Level Trio, a string ensemble that is both old and new, headlines St. Albert Chamber Music Society’s concert on Sunday, March 26.
Originally created as Polyphonie String Quartet in 2018, the ensemble rebranded itself as High Level Trio after founder and ESO violinist Virginie Gagné moved out of province during COVID.
“We’ve removed one voice, but the conversation is still there. It’s a challenge, but we explore different avenues of our playing. Because a string trio is so intimate, it allows us to be creative in different ways in switching roles. Because there’s so few instruments, we get to explore quite a deep level,” said violinist Ewald Cheung. Violist Ethan Filner and cellist Julie Hereish’s cello round out the trio.
Despite any previous pandemic challenges, the seasoned musicians display resilience by playing three longer compositions from diverse eras. They are Ludwig van Beethoven’s Serenade in D major for String Trio, op. 8, John Estacio’s contemporary Navigations and Ernst von Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major, op. 10.
Beethoven’s seven-movement Serenade gives listeners a tour of numerous emotions, moods and musical colours. While it starts with a proud march, it drifts into a beautiful slow movement and a minuet before dropping into a melancholy theme full of satirical surprises and closes as a rustic Polonaise.
“Interestingly, he didn’t like the Serenade. He wasn’t a fan of light pieces of fluff. He’s kind of poking fun at the whole form. It’s full of different characters like caricatures people would expect from a serenade of that day,” Filner said.
Estacio’s contemporary Navigations, a commission from High Level Trio, is instead a homage to Canada.
“We commissioned a contemporary serenade following in the footsteps of Beethoven and Dohnányi to see what a living musical genius of today’s world could do,” said Cheung.
Filner added, “It’s an ode to nature in Canada, the wide-open landscape contrasting between the beautiful prairies, mountains and East Coast full of colours in the fall. It’s a little bit nostalgic. There’s a deep breathtaking pulse and the harmonies are devastatingly beautiful.”
Estacio will attend the concert and there will be an opportunity for questions.
The closing composition is the first piece the musicians played as a trio — Dohnányi’s early 20th century composition, Serenade in C major, op. 10. The four-movement Hungarian composition begins with a fun march, moves to a slow romance and slides into a scherzo before ending on Russian-Siberian variations.
“It’s one of those pieces that is so readable and vivacious. There’s this energy that makes you smile. It feels like everyone knows the first movement,” Filner explained.
Opening the concert is violinist Anika Valentine, a member of Edmonton Youth Orchestra. Both Cheung and Filner coached the emerging artist on viola at the one-week Windsor Park Chamber Music Workshop last summer.
Cheung describes Valentine as very enthusiastic and a quick study.
“Her chamber music skills really grew over the week, and she was a joy to work with.”
Filner added, “She has a wonderful sound. I remember her being quick witted and maintaining her poise. She was a rock in the group and I’m looking forward to hearing her play.”
High Level Trio performs Sunday, March 26 at 3 p.m. at St. Albert United Church, 20 Green Grove Drive. Tickets range from $15 to $35 and are at Musée Heritage Museum or online at eventbrite.ca.