Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 4 pm
Download a copy of the program here.
Gwendolyn Mok, piano
Susan Freier, violin
Stephen Harrison, cello
Bohuslav Martinů (1890—1959)
Duo No. 2 for violin and cello, H. 371 (1958)
Antonín Dvořák (1841—1904)
Piano Trio in F minor, Op. 65 (1883)
Allegro, ma non troppo
Finale. Allegro con brio
About the program
Antonín Dvořák’s F minor Piano Trio, the third of his four works for that instrumental combination, was composed in 1883, a critical year both for the composer and for the Czech lands. The Prague National Theater reopened in 1883 (after burning down shortly after its initial unveiling in 1881), occasioning a number of celebrations of national and pan-Slavic feeling. Dvořák’s contributed his “Hussite” overture, which was premiered during the opening festivities for the National Theater. Two days later, his 1882 opera Dimitrij, written specifically for the National Theater, was finally staged there. For all of the composer’s involvement in national culture, though, the early 1880s also found Dvořák begin pulled away from Prague. His orchestral works were being performed with increasing frequency throughout Central Europe and as far away as London, his operas were staged in Hamburg and Dresden, and he was invited to conduct the Philharmonic Society of London in 1884. Eduard Hanslick counseled Dvořák to adopt a more cosmopolitan style, suggesting that a turn away from Slavonic subjects and the adoption of German libretti would lead to success as an opera composer in Vienna. Even Brahms probably advised Dvořák to move to Vienna to advance his career. Most Dvořák biographies describe this period as a time of crisis, with the composer torn between his native Bohemia and the lure of international fame. The fact that two of his most serious and substantial works, the F minor Piano Trio and the Seventh Symphony were written at this time is that adduced as evidence of this personal crisis, which was resolved, of course, with Prague winning out over Vienna.
The F minor trio is perhaps the work in which Dvořák most closely approaches the styles and aesthetic goals of Brahms. Like the Seventh Symphony, it was a work with which Dvořák took extraordinary care, and one that he revised extensively. Although it is certainly not lacking in attractive musical material, the trio, much in the manner of Brahms, is more concerned with the development of motivic figures than with the exposition of self-contained melodies. The trio opens with the violin and cello in octaves (the same texture that begins Brahms’ C major Piano Trio, completed the year before), playing a theme that explores a dotted rhythm, which is then taken over by the piano and used as the basis for an accompaniment figure. Dvořák’s other preoccupation in the piece is the linking of apparently remote pitches and key areas. The second theme of the opening movement, for instance, an expansive melody first given to the cello, is in D-flat major, rather than the expected A-flat. Once having introduced D-flat, Dvořák uses it again as the tonic of the second movement, enharmonically respelled as C-sharp minor. There are many similar examples. The slow movement, in A-flat major, keeps slipping towards the minor mode. The altered pitch that allows it to do so is C-flat, which, respelled as B, is the tonic of a soaring violin melody in the middle of the movement.
Whatever Dvořák’s personal struggles may have been at this time, the trio is one of his greatest works, whether despite or because of his concentration on musical structure at the expense of national color. Ultimately, though, Dvořák’s identity as a specifically Czech composer would be a double-edged sword. The perception of his style as distinctively national was both his ticket to fame at home and his strongest selling point abroad. Listeners have been determined to hear folk tunes in his work, even where none exist. When the trio was performed in Vienna, Hugo Wolf, who, as an antagonist of Brahms was predisposed to dismiss Dvořák, wrote that the second movement “given a Bohemian physiognomy by a folk tune, stands above the others.” (note by Dr. Derek Katz)
About the artists
Born in New York City, Gwendolyn Mok has appeared in many of the world’s leading concert halls, including the Barbican, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, and the Hong Kong Performing Arts Center. She is frequently invited to play and record with major international orchestras, such as the London Symphony, the Philharmonia, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra and the Residency Orchestra of the Hague.
Ms. Mok is a recording artist for Nonesuch/Elektra, Musical Heritage Society, Musician Showcase Recordings, Cala Records, and EMI. Her highly acclaimed debut CD with the Philharmonia of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major on the Cala label was nominated for an Alternative Edison award. A second Cala recording of Saint-Saëns’s Africa—Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra with the London Philharmonic has been equally applauded. Three solo CDs, Ravel Revealed (Ravel’s piano works), Brahms: Late Piano Works, and Legacy, The Spirit of Beethoven were recorded on historic pianos for the Musicians Showcase Recording label. All of these recordings have received outstanding reviews and are broadcast frequently around the world. Recently two new CDs have been released: Poldowski Art Songs with soprano Angelique Zuluaga on the Delos label and EKTA Trilogy, featuring Mok as soloist on EKTA II, a concerto written for her by composer Brent Heisinger.
As a chamber musician, Ms. Mok appears regularly in the San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music Series, as well as in the San Jose Chamber Society and the Sacramento Chamber Society series. A popular soloist with the Symphony Silicon Valley, Ms. Mok co-produced and appeared in four sold-out performances of The Gershwin Radio Hour. In 2016 Ms. Mok was named President’s Scholar by San Jose State University, the highest honor given to an outstanding faculty member for their scholarship and research. She was also presented a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 by the California Association of Professional Music Teachers Association.
Ms. Mok began her studies at the Juilliard School of Music, completed her undergraduate work at Yale University, and earned her Masters and Doctorate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is currently Coordinator of Keyboard Studies at San Jose State University and maintains a busy performing and recording schedule.
Susan Freier, violin/viola, and co-Artistic Director of the Ives Collective, earned degrees in music and biology from Stanford University as a Ford Scholar and continued her studies at the Eastman School of Music where she co-founded the award-winning Chester String Quartet. The Chester went on to win the Munich, Portsmouth (UK) and Discovery Competitions and were the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University, South Bend.
In 1989 Susan returned to her native Bay Area and joined the Stanford faculty and the Stanford String Quartet. She performs with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and has been an artist/faculty member at the Newport Music Festival, Garth Newell, Music in the Mountains, Rocky Ridge Music Center, and the Schlern and Orfeo Music Festivals (Italy). Susan teaches and performs at the Mendocino Music Festival, the SoCal Music Workshop and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival.
Stephen Harrison, cellist, has been on the Stanford University faculty since 1983. A graduate of Oberlin College and Boston University, he has been solo cellist of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players since 1985.
Stephen has been on the faculty of the Pacific Music Festival, the Orfeo and Schlern International Music Festivals (Italy) and the Rocky Ridge Music Center. He is currently principal cellist at the Mendocino Music Festival, and performs and teaches at the SoCal Chamber Music Workshop and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival.
For more information about the Ives Collective please visit www.ivescollective.org