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Claremont Trio Interview

Posted on 01 December 2008. © Copyright 2004-2020 Composition:Today

C:T talks to Emily Bruskin of the Claremont Trio

Claremont Trio
Tell us something about your background.

My twin sister Julie and I grew up in a very musical family where we played chamber music with my parents as soon as they could plausibly drag us through a Mozart Quartet (about age eight). When Donna was extremely young she spent five years in Hong Kong. Upon moving to Vancouver, her parents were shocked how much less homework Canadian 7-year-olds were assigned than those in Hong Kong. Not wanting her to watch too much tv, they started her on piano lessons right away.

Tell us about the group, how it was formed, it's raison d'etre.

Julie and Donna first met at the Taos School of Music, a wonderful summer festival in New Mexico. All three of us were students at Juilliard at the time, and we started playing together as a trio the following fall. We all adore chamber music and particularly piano trios with their unique balance between unified ensemble playing and soloistic moments. I love sharing the beauty, the excitement, the inspiration I find in the music we play with audiences. I think it’s amazing to communicate very powerfully with people, even those I don’t know.

Tell us about your forthcoming CD release

Our upcoming disc is all new American music, but besides that the pieces are actually quite varied. Leon Kirchner’s Trios are pillars of the 20th century piano trio repertoire that had never before been recorded together on the same disc. I think it’s fascinating to see the contrast between the concise, almost jagged construction of the first trio and the fanciful, at times wistful unfolding of the second, which was written almost 40 years later. Ellen Zwilich’s Trio is fiery with bravura flourishes in the outer movements and a deeply felt slow movement. Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music is a brilliant mix of all sorts of American styles: jazz, ragtime, Broadway, blues. Mason Bates’ String Band is a piece he wrote for our group in 2003, so it’s a special pleasure for us to get to bring it to a wider audience. Mason is a master of getting music into a groove, and he uses a piano prepared with rubber washers, pencil erasers, and a few screws to capture the twang of old time string band music.

Tell us more about your relationship with composer Leon Kirchner

Well it starts way back… Leon was one of my father’s professors when he was a graduate student at Harvard! When I was a student myself, many of my mentors were great advocates of Leon’s music. James Buswell assigned me his violin sonata when I was only 16, and Joseph Kalichstein recommended the first trio to us when we had just formed our trio. Over the years we have worked in depth with Leon on both of his trios, and he has become a great friend. He conceives of and hears his music very vividly; every note has meaning and it’s own particular sort of expression.

Do you focus on playing specific types of music?

No, we are actually always seeking to broaden our musical horizons. We find it more interesting that way – for us and for our audiences. We love the standards and play them often, but I believe it is a truly great gift to introduce someone to a new favorite (be it a brand new piece or a neglected older work). We try for that as well.

How do you go about programming your concerts?

Again, we look for contrast – in mood, style, accessibility, depth. We play music that we’re excited about and enjoy because that excitement and joy are crucial to a great performances and real communication with audiences.

Do you commission new work yourself?

Yes! It’s so exciting to have a brand new piece that nobody’s ever heard before. And I believe it’s crucial for the future of music to have great new pieces being written all the time. We perform trios written for us by Mason Bates, Hillary Zipper, Daniel Kellogg, and Nico Muhly. Daniel Bernard Roumain and Howard Frazin are both currently working on new commissions for us.

What are your plans for the future?

We have a cd release concert coming up at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan, which is a different sort of venue from our normal concerts. I’d love to keep pushing the boundaries of what people think of a classical concert space and to bring the music that we love to an even broader group of people. Right now, we play mostly in the United States; we’d love to tour more internationally. For now we’re too busy touring to have regular students, but we all want to teach more in the future.

How can people find out more about you?

Check out our website: On our site we have a schedule, bios, recordings, etc. and also a link to our tour blog where we tell stories about life on the road.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2020

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