Ensemble Trivium highlights 3 very different works by major female American composers
It was heartening to see that Rising, Ensemble Trivium’s last concert for 2021, was sold out. It’s hard enough to find audiences for chamber music in Brisbane, let alone during a pandemic. It’s encouraging to know that audiences are ready to come back and support a collective presenting some of the most eclectic and diverse programming around. Ensemble Trivium has become synonymous with unearthing gems from forgotten composers and commissioning bold new works by major local talents.
Rising showcased the works of three major female composers (Amy Beach, Caroline Shaw and JoanTower) and featured an all-female line up of Monika Koerner (flute), Natsuko Yashimoto (violin), Anne Horton (violin), Yoko Okayasu (viola) and Katherine Philip (cello). The concert presented 3 pieces from the 20th century featuring a fascinating mix of styles and ideas.
Amy Beach was one of the greatest composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. A prodigy, Beach was performing Beethoven by the time she was seven. At sixteen she made her concert debut in Boston’s Music Hall. In 1896 she became the first American female composer to publish a symphony (Gaelic Symphony). While her career was put on hold by marriage the expectations of the times, following her husband’s death she dedicated her life to encouraging other female musicians and composers.
Beach’s Theme and Variations op 80 (1916) is a grand, sweeping piece, rich and gorgeous without ever being saccharine.
It highlighted both Beach’s genius with counterpoint and the seamless integrity of the ensemble. I’ve been going to Ensemble Trivium concerts for years now and I’m always impressed by their craftsmanship, but they’ve never sounded better. I had serious goosebumps – the delicately expressive cello, the lively interplay between string and flute, the perfect flow and unity. It was superb.
Theme and Variations was followed by Caroline Shaw’s 2011 string quartet, Entr’acte
Caroline Shaw is an American composer, violinist and singer. At 30, Shaw became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition, Partita for 8 Voices. Shaw’s compositions are often described as “weird and lovely” or “strange and beautiful”. Her music feels like what it is – music composed by a millennial for a new generation.
Entr’acte, meaning the music or dance performed during an interval or the interval between two acts of the play, sits in a liminal space. It felt temporary, something created as reflection, not of a destination but the spaces between one destination and the next. The musicians navigated the complex piece, which veered between sections that sounded like riffs from pop music (Shaw has worked with the likes of Kanye West) and more experimental string effects, with effortless grace.
The concert closed with Joan Tower’s flute and string quartet, Rising (1938)
Born in 1938, Joan Tower is regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. Tower’s work, which is often described as impressionistic, spans ballet, orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo. Rising explores, in Tower’s own words, the way music can “go up”. Rising surfaces tension using different kinds of scales – octatonic and chromatic. It’s a tense, cinematic piece that showcases the versatility and virtuosity of the ensemble.
Congratulations should go to Ensemble Trivium for a thrilling 2021 programme that delivered both superb artistry and thrilling musical partnerships. Rising was the perfect way to close out their concert season and highlight the achievements of major female composers.
Reviewer: Amy Hyslop
Amy has worked in arts management for the past ten years with organisations such as Musica Viva, Australasian Dance Collective, DeClassified Music and Brisbane Writers Festival. She’s s published playwright and reviewed theatre for Australian Stage and Aussie Theatre for seven years. She currently leads Supercell’s fundraising subcommittee. She loves discovering new composers and is a total Max Richter tragic.