Ehnes and Tchaikovsky

Tuesday, May 4, was scheduled to wrap up the 2020-21 season of The Valley Concert
Society. And what a finale it would have been! James Ehnes, Canada’s premiere violinist,
was set to headline the evening along with two outstanding colleagues in a performance
that was to feature Tchaikovsky’s marvelous piano trio.

Ehnes is one of the most sought-after violinists on the international stage. He has won
numerous awards including a Gramophone Award, two Grammies, and 11 Juno Awards.
One of those Junos came on the very evening that he was performing for The Valley
Concert Society in 2009.

Joining Ehnes for this program would have been cellist Bion Tsang and pianist Adam
Neiman. Tsang is in very esteemed company as a winner of an Avery Fisher Career
Grant, and he won a Bronze Medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

Neiman has a celebrated career as a piano soloist, collaborator and chamber musician. He
won a rarely-bestowed Arthur Rubinstein Award at Juilliard School.

This ensemble of distinguished musicians had planned a program with Tchaikovsky’s
Trio in A minor, Op. 50, as its centerpiece. One of Tchaikovsky’s wealthy patrons asked
him to compose a piano trio. The composer refused saying that the piano could not
possibly blend with the other instruments.

Nevertheless, mere months later, when Nicolai Rubinstein died, Tchaikovsky decided to
honor this teacher, pianist, conductor, and conservatory administrator for his monumental
contribution to Russian music by composing a piano trio in his honor. This set a
precedent of sorts in that several other Russian composers have since written piano trios
to honor deceased colleagues.

The trio has an unusual structure. It is written in only two movements, but still takes over
forty minutes to perform. The emotional first theme of the opening movement returns at
the end of the second movement to conclude the work. The second movement is a classic
theme-and-variations movement until the final variation. It is preceded by a brief pause
and then is developed in such extensive detail that some would call it a third movement.

However, Tchaikovsky insisted on regarding this work as being in only two movements.
There are numerous wonderful performances of this masterpiece on YouTube by some of
the greatest names in classical music. However, I have chosen an incredible performance
by three rising stars to share with you. The French pianist Lucas Debargue, whose every
emotion is on full display, is joined by the brilliant German-born violinist of South
Korean descent Clara-Jumi Kang and Andrei Ionita, the marvelous Romanian cellist.
This performance took place in South Korea.

Enjoy this profoundly moving music as you reflect on what would surely have been one
of the most memorable closing evenings in the history of The Valley Concert Society.

John Wiebe
The Valley Concert Society