From Russia, With Luster: The Hermitage Piano Makes its San Miguel Debut
By Fredric Dannen
Something unexpected happened when the Hermitage Piano Trio agreed to play two concerts at this year’s San Miguel International Music Festival and went out looking for a new repertoire. The Hermitage is made up of three young Russian-born soloists, and the trio has won plaudits that press agents would kill for (e.g., “such power and sweeping passion that it left you nearly out of breath” – Washington Post). To round out one of its concerts, the Hermitage selected the Piano Trio in A minor (Hafträsk), JS 207, by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and Hermitage violinist Misha Keylin set out to find an authoritative score. It turned out that none existed. The first movement traditionally played in concerts had been reassembled by a Finnish pianist from several different sources. Then a librarian at the Sibelius Institute in Helsinki discovered an intact first movement, different from the reconstructed score, and gave it to Keylin. That version will be performed at the Ángela Peralta, Saturday, August 22, for the first time.
Hermitage Piano Trio
Fri, Aug 21, 7pm
Sat, Aug 22, 7pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
All of the above can be summed up as follows: The festival, now in its 37th season, can boast of the San Miguel debut of the Hermitage Piano Trio, and a world premiere of a piece by Jean Sibelius. Frankly, just having two concerts by the Hermitage would earn the festival sufficient bragging rights for a season. If this sounds like hyperbole, log into Google, type “get to know the Hermitage Piano Trio,” and watch the 10-minute YouTube video with that title.
The Hermitage is not your typical chamber ensemble. All three members have had successful international careers as soloists. And while there are plenty of recordings of three outstanding soloists playing as a trio, it’s typically a now-and-then sort of thing, like the Three Tenors. The Hermitage members have all settled in the New York area, and practice together throughout the year. They form a true ensemble, not a pickup group.
“We want to bring the piano trio to the highest level it can be,” Keylin says. “There are many wonderful string quartets out there, but we want to show audiences that the piano trio is not, shall we say, second fiddle to quartets.”
The individual achievements of the three performers account for the ensemble’s level of musicianship. Keylin made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 11, and has had a career spanning 45 countries on five continents. He is known throughout the concert world for the sheer tonal beauty of his sound. His recordings for Naxos of the seven Henry Vieuxtemps violin concertos made the critics choice lists of Gramophone, The Strad, and the New York Times, and were classical best sellers. Cellist Sergey Antonov not only won the gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, but also received the highest compliment a performer of his instrument can hope for: Mstislav Rostropovich pronounced him “brilliant.” Pianist Ilya Kazantsev has been called “virtually flawless” by the Washington Post. He won the Nikolai Rubinstein International Competition in Paris, and has performed as a soloist with orchestras in Russia and the United States.
The trio takes its name from the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. “We are all former Russians who live in the US, and we wanted to honor our past,” Keylin says. The first concert, on Friday, August 21, will consist entirely of Russian repertoire: trios by Dmitri Shostakovich, Anton Arensky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The second concert, on Saturday, August 22, will be equally romantic, with works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, and, of course, Jean Sibelius.
The Hermitage is a relatively new ensemble—its debut concert was in Washington, D.C., in 2012—and it has not yet begun recording as a group. The first CDs should be coming soon, and the threesome expects to be performing together for years to come. “This project of playing trios is making all of us better musicians,” Keylin says.