The Most Robust Piano Trio of All Time
"During the past half century, one ensemble has been preeminent–the Beaux Art Trio, which, by any reckoning, has to be the most robust piano trio of all time"
– The New York Observer
by Charles Michener, New York Observer
During the past half century, one ensemble has been preeminent-the Beaux Arts Trio, which, by any reckoning, has to be the most robust piano trio of all time, having chalked up at least 6,000 performances in its 49 years of existence and having recorded some 60 discs (mostly for the Phillips label), dozens of which remain in the catalog.
"The whole thing began wonderfully by chance," he said. "We never expected to become a trio." The year was 1955 and, at the age of 32, Mr. Pressler was embarked on an important solo career, having won first prize in the Debussy International Piano Competition, in San Francisco in 1946, as a 23-year-old from Israel. (He and his family had fled Germany in 1939.) "I was making records for MGM and, when I suggested recording some piano trios by Mozart, my producer said O.K.-but I didn't have a trio. My wife and I were living in the Peter Stuyvesant Hotel, where a lot of musicians lived because of the thick walls. A neighbor suggested that I call Daniel Guilet, who was Toscanini's concertmaster in the NBC Symphony. Daniel then asked Bernard Greenhouse, who was a cellist with the Bach Aria Group, to join us. We began rehearsing, but then I decided to go back to Israel for a teaching position that would support my concert career. Two months later, Daniel called and said that we'd been asked to fill in for another trio, the Albaneri, at the Berkshire Music Center, which is now Tanglewood.
"We gave our first concert on July 13. Afterward, Charles Munch [the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra] said, 'I haven't heard such playing since Cortot, Thibaud and Casals.' Pretty soon we had 70 more concerts, mostly in small towns. We got paid $300 a night-that's for the whole trio-and our rehearsals were bloody because Daniel was the only one who had any experience playing with a world-class chamber group [the Calvet Quartet]. We traveled in one car and played six nights a week. Bernie said, 'It's like a marriage, but with all the disadvantages and none of the advantages.' But in the end, it was worth it. You learn to live together, you learn to play together."
In 1969, Daniel Guilet retired and was replaced by Isidore Cohen. The trio's makeup remained intact until 1987, when Mr. Greenhouse retired; Mr. Cohen left in 1992. Their places were taken by the cellist Peter Wiley and the violinist Ida Kavafian. A few years ago, they were replaced by Young Uck Kim and Antonio Meneses, a Brazilian cellist who had won the gold medal in the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Two years ago, Mr. Kim was forced to give up playing for medical reasons, and Mr. Pressler, on the advice of the group's manager, brought in Daniel Hope, a young British violinist and a former protégé of Yehudi Menuhin. At 30, Mr. Hope became the youngest player in the trio's history. Speaking of his current colleagues, whose combined ages do not add up to his own, Mr. Pressler said, "I could be the father of one and the grandfather of the other."
Originally published in the New York Observer. Photo Courtesy of Eugena Ames. Used with Permission.