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The Claremont Trio makes its San Miguel debut

By Fredric Dannen

The music critic for Audiophile Audition was annoyed. He had been asked to review a new CD by the Claremont Trio, a young, all-female violin/cello/piano ensemble from New York City, and the too-alluring cover photograph made him instantly suspicious. The violinist and cellist, twin sisters Emily and Julia Bruskin, posed coquettishly, the former in a diaphanous purple gown, the latter in a strapless white chiffon dress. “Eye candy,” sniffed the reviewer, expecting the worst. Then he “dutifully” listened to the CD, a pairing of trios by Beethoven and Ravel—and immediately changed his tune. “These are some of the most impassioned, moving, and notable readings of these favorites that I have ever heard, bar none,” he wrote, adding that the Beethoven performance by the Claremont was fully up to the measure of what had previously been his favorite recording of the piece, “and this is something I thought I would never say.”

The Claremont Trio makes its San Miguel debut this month at the Teatro Angela Peralta at the two concluding concerts of the 36th season of the San Miguel International Music Festival on Friday, August 22, and Saturday, August 23. The Claremont will play works by Beethoven, Brahms, Shostakovich, and Schubert, along with two pieces written specifically for the trio within the past two years—Judd Greenstein’s A Serious Man and Gabriela Lena Frank’s Folk Songs.

The Bruskin twins were virtually recruited from childhood to learn their instruments. “We grew up in a very musical family,” Julia says. “Our parents played the violin and viola, and they wanted a cellist and another violinist to play string quartets. As soon as they could plausibly drag us through a Mozart quartet,” at roughly eight years old, “we were playing chamber music.” The sisters created the Claremont Trio, named for Claremont Avenue where the Bruskins once lived in 1999, at the Juilliard School of Music; the trio’s original pianist, Donna Kwong, was a fellow student. In 2001, the Claremont became the first, and so far only, piano trio to win the prestigious Young Concert Artists competition. Touring engagements and recording contracts soon followed.

After more than 11 years with the Claremont, Kwong left the ensemble in 2012 to spend more time with her infant daughter. Andrea Lam, a native of Australia who had made the semifinal rounds of the Van Cliburn competition, was Kwong’s replacement. “Andrea came at a good time,” Emily says. “Donna is a wonderful pianist, but we had been playing a lot of the same repertoire with her for more than a decade, and Andrea got us to rethink a lot of things and take a fresh new approach.”

It was Lam who introduced the Bruskins to a young composer named Judd Greenstein, a member of what has been dubbed the “new New York School.” Greenstein was asked to compose a piece for the Claremont to play at the 2013 Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in suburban Detroit. Shortly after he accepted the commission, his uncle, who happened to live in suburban Detroit, suddenly died, and Greenstein’s trio became a musical portrait of a man the composer recalled “as a warm, generous, funny person,” but with a “deep, serious side.” A Serious Man will receive its San Miguel premiere at the August 22 concert, flanked by Beethoven’s first published work, his Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 1, No. 1, and Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, an early work that the composer thoroughly revised some 35 years later.

Another San Miguel premiere, Gabriela Lena Frank’s Folk Songs, also commissioned by the Claremont, will lead off the August 23 concert, to be followed by Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor and Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major. The Frank composition draws on the melodic motifs of her mother’s homeland, Peru; one movement, Serenata, inspired by the guitar and charango music played in Peruvian pubs, is strummed rather than bowed. “We did the first read-through of Folk Songs in our living room with the composer present,” Julia says. “Gabi ignored the couch and sat on the floor in front of us, directing traffic. It felt like we were friends right away.”

Don’t miss the Claremont Trio, Friday and Saturday, August 22 and 23, at 7pm at Teatro Ángela Peralta, 450/350/150 pesos.

Claremont Trio
Fri, Aug 22, 7pm
Sat, Aug 23, 7pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
450/350/150 pesos

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