Trio Zimbalist-photo-by-Viktor-Jelinek-691px

5 Questions to Trio Zimbalist (piano trio)

This sponsored article is part of a paid partnership with the Curtis Institute of Music.

Formed in 2021, Trio Zimbalist is a vibrant new piano trio comprised of Curtis alumni Josef Špaček (violin ’09), Timotheos Gavriilidis-Petrin (cello ’17), and George Xiaoyuan Fu (piano ’16). The trio adopted their name from virtuoso violinist Efrem Zimbalist, who served on faculty and as director of the Curtis Institute over 40 years. Much of the trio’s formative time together took place in the room named for Mr. Zimbalist at Curtis, and their connection to the institution remains even after their time there.

Their debut album, titled Piano Trios of Weinberg, Auerbach, & Dvořák, was released Jan. 12 by Curtis Studio and is now available on all major streaming platforms. The album features music from their sold-out concert at Curtis this past fall and was conceived around the spirit of the Dumka (“thought” in Ukrainian), a subgenre of Slavic ballad. Dvořák’s “Dumky” Trio is the cornerstone of the album and holds a special place in Trio Zimbalist’s repertoire since they performed it on their first concert together. Gavriilidis-Petrin captures its soulful lament in the opening cello line, while Špaček shines through with adroit hope as the first movement unfolds. Fu adds stunning clarity to the many pianistic textures and melodic lines that weave through the work. Each of the players brings their individuality, yet they work seamlessly together in their interpretation and passion.

Also on the album is Lera Auerbach’s Piano Trio No. 1, written immediately after she defected from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Mieczysław Weinberg’s Piano Trio in A Minor, which imbues the composer’s pain at losing his entire family in the Holocaust, and his own trauma of persecution in the Soviet Union.

First of all, congratulations on your wonderful debut album! What was the inspiration for basing the project on the “Dumka?”

George Xiaoyuan Fu: “Dumka” is a Ukrainian term meaning “thought,” and in classical music, it is a type of epic Slavic ballad. Dumky were sung by traveling minstrels, usually Ukrainian, who played some kind of strummed instrument (e.g. the bandura, kobza, or lira). Often their songs would contain a thoughtful or melancholic lament of oppressed peoples. Dvořák uses this form in the piano trio, which elevates the folk song onto the concert stage. We loved how Dvořák embraced this folkiness in writing this work. Folk music is an artform of the people and the earth, and one which celebrates the individual’s own thoughts and feelings.

This was the work that we played together on our first tour, and we first played it in Prague! So including it on our debut album felt right, especially as we have such an affinity for Czech music. But when we first chose the program, an unprecedented war was also breaking out within a day’s drive from Prague. In this context, the Dumky began to take on new meaning for us, especially in combination with the works by Auerbach and Weinberg. These composers are all from the same Central/Eastern European region, which shares such an interesting and complicated history.

What initially drew you to Dvořák’s “Dumky” Trio, and has the piece grown and changed in its meaning to you over time?

Josef Špaček: It was one of the first chamber music pieces I played — but actually, my dad was the cellist in the group! For this reason, “Dumky” has been dear to me since I was a kid. It’s truly a piece that is timeless — it can be played for any occasion, at any time, and it’s a proper fit for any program.

Trio Zimbalist -- Photo by Viktor Jelinek

Trio Zimbalist — Photo by Viktor Jelinek

From a programming standpoint, how did you choose to put these three pieces together?

Timotheos Gavriilidis-Petrin: They are contrasting in how they direct their energy — Dvořák is more romantic and expressive, whereas Weinberg is always pushing the barriers, challenging us in ways which constantly pose questions; in some ways, his music raises questions that no other music dares. Auerbach is a great opener that incorporates both worlds from Dvořák and Weinberg. She has written a piece with both introverted and extroverted sides that are apparent in all of the pieces of the program.

Which piece do each of you most connect with on the album, and why?

George Xiaoyuan Fu: It’s very hard to choose — I probably connect most with Weinberg and Auerbach. Both are daring, incisive, and imaginative.

Josef Špaček: For me, it’s obvious — the Dvořák! It is part of my identity as a Czech who’s grown up with the piece.

Timotheos Gavriilidis-Petrin: Weinberg, as his music has many layers to its meaning. It’s the kind of music that gives you the freedom to put your own meaning into it from your thoughts and existence. It raises questions; each time I play it, I feel I reach a deeper understanding of his world.

Trio Zimbalist -- Photo by Viktor Jelinek

Trio Zimbalist — Photo by Viktor Jelinek

What is next for Trio Zimbalist? What new programs can we get excited about?

George Xiaoyuan Fu: We are about to head to the Hague, and at the end of February we are doing another tour of the United States, including a stop at the 92nd Street Y with Roberto Díaz. We’re also in-residence this summer at the Toronto Summer Music Festival, performing concerts and teaching young musicians. We’ll be playing everything you’ve heard from this album, and we’ll also be playing Ravel’s monumental piano trio and Fauré’s first piano quartet. In the coming season, we’ll continue a focus on trios by Czech composers (Bohuslav Martinu, Bedrich Smetana, and more Dvořák), as well as less often heard trios by Rebecca Clarke, Gabriel Fauré, and Dmitri Shostakovich.


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