Jack Quinn

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The Fire Pink Trio: Poetry in Motion
By: Jean Ballard Terepka
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The New York Viola Society presents The Fire Pink Trio, Poetry in Motion. A generously gifted viola-flute-harp trio presents music of grace, strength, affirmation and beauty.

In an early evening concert on Saturday, January 18, 2014, the viola-flute-harp Fire Pink Trio presented works by contemporary composers Adrienne Albert and Dan Locklair together with Claude Debussy's 1915 Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. The lovely and spacious, recently restored sacred space of Christ and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was filled with musical beauty.

The two contemporary works, played first, represented a seamless continuation of Debussy's early twentieth century insights into the remarkable ways in which these three instruments compliment and complement each other. These contemporary pieces also embodied their individual makers' distinct American voices.

Debra Reuter-Pivetta, flutist, Sheila Browne, violist, and Jacquelyn Bartlett, harpist opened the concert with Adrienne Albert's Doppler Effect. This lovely work, containing both dialogues of instruments undergirded by the continuo of the third instrument and genuine conversations of three, is alternately meditative and urgent, pastoral and urban. As Browne and the composer herself, present for the performance, explained, Doppler Effect was inspired by the experience of sitting in cafes in Rome, watching and hearing the pace, melody and cacophony of Roman traffic. The piece did indeed reflect the humor, sensuality and wisdom of the Eternal City.

The second piece of the evening was Dan Locklair's Dream Steps (A Dance Suite for Flute, Viola and Harp). Conceived for either chamber performance alone or for performance with dancers, Dream Steps was composed with inspiration from Langston Hughes, whose five part poem Lenox Avenue Mural, or Harlem (Dream Deferred), at once very spare and very rich, is a tightly structured piece. As Locklair explained in conversation after the concert, each of the five movements of Dream Steps is very formal, written in the same three-part AAB bar or ballade form; within each uniformly structured movement, different sensibilities and stories are explored.

Infused with references and allusions to German Reformation chorales on the one hand and African American spirituals such as There is a Balm in Gilead and Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen on the other, Dream Steps explores divergent musical ideas and examines a wide range of human experiences from yearning to regret, from hope at its fullest to a dark and tough unwillingness to admit that hope has been misplaced.

The concert closed with Debussy's trio. This work, one of the first composed for this particular constellation of instruments, epitomizes Debussy's stunning capacity to evoke mental sights of nature in this case, the seaside by means of musical sound. As Bartlett noted in brief, informal comments, the sonata, written as Debussy experienced crippling physical pain and as Europe struggled with the terrors of World War I, is entirely exquisite and the Fire Pink Trio did the work full justice.

As a particular kind of chamber group, the combination of viola, flute and harp highlights the instruments' unique characteristics in a way that some more traditional chamber groups of homogenous instrument 'families' don't. Hearing a flute and a viola play in unison or in harmony reveals both instruments' unique richness in ways that two flutes or two violas playing together doesn't; the same is true of the simultaneous plucking of viola and harp strings. In addition, the three instruments together can evoke the largest and most diverse sounds of an entire orchestra, upending and expanding traditional notions of chambers' appropriate scale and size for chamber music.

In the Debussy sonata, as in Albert's and Locklair's works, these three instruments, especially in the hands of the Fire Pink Trio, carry music that moves among moods of sensuous lushness and witty syncopation, powerful declaratory urgency and, in the end, optimistic affirmation.

All three pieces had their origins in particular stories and contexts Albert's modern Rome, Locklair's dream-filled Lenox Avenue, Debussy's war-torn France and end-of-life cancer pain yet all successfully conveyed meaning that exists independent of narrative: the intimate and accessible music of all three composers enabled listeners to recognize themselves in others' art, in both musical composition and musical performance.

The Fire Pink Trio's three musicians played beautifully; each was in grand command of all of her instrument's possibilities and able to make technical control seem alternately elegant and effortless. Together, these artists conveyed a sense of assured and generous collaboration: they offered welcome and gracious engagement with each other and with the audience.

Aesthetically and intellectually rich, this was a wonderful evening.

Fire Pink Trio, presented by The New York Viola Society: Poetry in Motion
Christ and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
122 West 69th Street
New York, NY 10023

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