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Canada’s leading piano trio, the Gryphon, returns to San Miguel

By Fredric Dannen

Gryphon trio

In Greek mythology, the griffin (or gryphon) was a majestic animal with a lion’s trunk, tail and hind legs, and an eagle’s head, wings and talons. Roman Borys, the cellist of the Toronto-based Gryphon Trio – ranked as the best piano trio ensemble in all of Canada – says his group named itself after the mythological creature for two reasons. First, Borys says, the griffin was purported to be the guardian of treasures, and the great piano trios of Haydn, Beethoven and other masters of the form are among the gemstones of classical music. The Gryphon has performed and recorded virtually all the standard works of the trio repertory. “We like to think of ourselves as guardians of the tradition,” Borys says. The other reason for the ensemble’s name is that it denotes no specific genre or period of music, and the group has also promoted the non-traditional, having commissioned and premiered no fewer than 75 new works.

Gryphon Trio
Sat, Aug 9, 7pm
Sun, Aug 10, 5pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
450/350/150 pesos

The Gryphon (consisting of cellist Borys, his wife, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, and pianist Jamie Parker) will get to prove itself champions of the old and new at two concerts at the Teatro Angela Peralta, on Saturday, August 9, at 7pm, and Sunday, August 10, at 5pm, as part of the 36th edition of the San Miguel International Music Festival. Demand for tickets is expected to be high for both events; the Gryphon gave two concerts at the festival last year, and though it is unusual for an ensemble to appear two seasons in a row, audience reaction all but mandated a return engagement.

Each concert will include two old masterworks of the piano trio form, and one new work by a living composer, composed specifically for the Gryphon. The two traditional trios at the August 9 concert, Haydn’s Piano Trio in C major, Hob. HV:27, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50, will both allow pianist Jamie Parker to display his virtuosity. Charles Rosen, in his celebrated book The Classical Style, singled out the Haydn trio for its “wrist-breaking octave passages.” The Tchaikovsky trio is an epic work, with a piano part so fiendishly difficult that it is virtually a chamber concerto.

The August 9 concert will also feature Old Photographs, a work for piano trio written by Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, at the behest of Roman Borys. The cellist first approached Hatzis in 1998 for a piano trio, but the composer had grander ambitions. The result, two years later, was Constantinople, a 75- minute theater piece, for two singers, the Gryphon Trio, and multisensory electronic media. Old Photographs, one of the eight movements of Constantinople, was scored for the Gryphon alone – a tonal, tuneful work that sounds like Robert Schumann crossed with Astor Piazzolla – and it has taken on a separate life as a concert piece. Hatzis won a Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy) for Constantinople.

The two masterworks to be performed at the August 10 concert are both known by their nicknames: Dvořák’s Piano Trio in E minor, called the Dumky, and Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, dubbed the Archduke. The Dvořák trio is a musical chiaroscuro of Slavic folk tunes, and the Beethoven is a grand-scale work that is virtually a symphony for three musicians.

Last year marked two milestones in Canadian music: the 20th anniversary of the Gryphon Trio, and the 80th birthday of the country’s leading composer, R. Murray Schafer. To commemorate the occasion, Schafer, who had composed more than a dozen string quartets but no piano trios, wrote the prosaically named Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano for the Gryphon. Schafer is famous as both a composer and environmentalist. In 1977, he wrote The Tuning of the World, the seminal book on acoustic ecology, the study of the balance between humans and their sonic environment, and coined the term “soundscape.” The Schafer trio will round out the August 10 concert. Borys says he loves everything about the Schafer work, except the title. “I think it should be called The Gathering,” Borys says. “The piece unfolds like a gathering of people, a series of conversations happening all over the room.”


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