Monday, March 12, 2018

The Debut of Trio Foss

Matthew Wolka, the new Director of Old First Concerts, greeted a very small crowd on Sunday afternoon, March 4th with the observation that a recent concert during the Super Bowl attracted about 300 people, "but the Academy Awards seem to be a bigger draw for our demographic than football." Of course, the same old man accompanied by his service dog with a noisemaking collar, who attended the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 performance earlier in the weekend, was again seated in the front row. It seems the new normal for chamber music concerts in San Francisco is quiet music intermingled with occasional tinkling bells.

The concert featured the debut of a new group, the Trio Foss, with Icelandic violinist Hrabba Atladottir, cellist Nina Flyer, and pianist Joseph Irrera who were excitingly good playing together. Although they began with Beethoven's early Piano Trio in B-flat major, we were attending for the 1939 Bergerettes by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů and Dmitri Shostakovich's 1944 Piano Trio No. 2. Every piece I have ever heard by Martinů over the years has been extraordinary, simultaneously accessible, complex and tuneful, and these five dance movements were a good example. Why his music is so rarely heard is a mystery. Shostakovich's World War II piano trio was a great discovery, an astonishing work of genius which I had never heard before last week.

The core of the newly formed Foss Trio seemed to be cellist Nina Flyer who has had a wide-ranging global career, as principal cellist of the Jerusalem Symphony, the Iceland Symphony, the Bergen (Norway) Symphony, acting principal in the San Diego Symphony, and principal of the Women's Philharmonic. While teaching at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, she formed the New Pacific Trio which morphed into Trio 180, a group I heard perform a couple of times.

Her current trio (Hrabba Altadottir, Joseph Irrera, and Nina Flyer above) is an extraordinary musical combo, and it's difficult to imagine hearing a better live performance of the Martinů and Shostakovich works, even accompanied by the occasional tinkling from a damned dog collar.

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