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Zwilich “Pas de trois” Celebrates Trio’s 40th Anniversary

Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio; photo by

Photo by Christian Steiner

Evoking immediate and visceral listener response comes naturally to composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Although the great majority of her output has been instrumental in nature, she has at times chosen to set particularly evocative texts such as the poetry of A. R. Ammons ("Passages") or music for an actual ballet ("Tanzspiel" Ballet in four scenes, written for the New York City Ballet's American Music Festival). Zwilich's music invariably provides bodily as well as spiritual stimulus to the hearer.

In her most recent work, Pas de trois, dance proved to be the inspiration for a piece written for the ensemble that has been a true champion of her music for decades, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, now celebrating their 40th anniversary of concertizing together. "A jazzy, joyful premiere" read the headline to Janelle Gelfand's appraisal of the eight-minute opener she called 'delightful."

"I decided to model this shorter work on the ballet tradition of Pas de trois," the composer writes. "In the first movement ('Entrée'), the trio bounds onto the stage and engages in various interactions. The second movement ('Variata e Coda') gives each of the three a solo turn, followed by an ensemble conclusion."

Following its world premiere, critic Rex Hearn (Palm Beach ArtsPaper) thought that "Zwilich's charming morsel is a happy combination of purely technical excellence with the distinct power of immediate communication" while Michael O’Connor (Palm Beach Daily News) wrote, "The new work was a charming, jazzy take on the standard ballet trio in two parts. The opening section portrays the dancers' entrée with lightning fast, bluesy passages passed between the members as the imaginary dancers interact with each other in leaps and bounds. The challenge for the trio is to alternate these rapid-fire passages with more placid moments as those dancers catch their breaths. The second movement features a more languorous mood, punctuated by references to the riffs of the first movement. This highly accessible new music was very well received by Kravis audience."

The new work is already in the Trio's standing repertoire and has been included in their numerous tour stops. In Miami, the South Florida Classical Review’s Lawrence Budman thought it "an exhilarating opener...an energetic display piece, seasoned with a touch of the blues." His description concludes: "At less than 15 minutes, the compact score is first-rate Zwilich, replete with inspired themes and crisp rhythmic figures. Few composers pull off this type of populist fusion so superbly and the trio gave a tight, crisp performance that matched the score’s brilliance."

Pas de trois is the sixth Zwilich work expressly written for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. It is published by Merion (Theodore Presser Company).

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