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Jessica Duchen Talks to Trio Dali Ahead of Their Nationwide Tour

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There’s a distinct sense of entente cordiale about the Trio Dali. The British violinist Jack Liebeck joined the French cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca and pianist Amandine Savary as the group’s new violinist in 2013, and plenty of good-natured jibing goes on while the players consider their meeting of minds. “We’re still a French group, in a way,” La Marca insists, prompting a mock-outraged “What?” from Liebeck.

Something much more important is behind this, though. “I’ve always found that cultural differences disappear when you play music,” says Liebeck. “When I’ve played with other people and there has been a language barrier, the amazing thing is that music bridges those gaps.

“Meeting ‘Crispy’ and Amandine has brought new things to my playing life, and I think my joining the trio has brought new things to them,” he adds. “It’s different voices, different ideas and ways of working. We’re all pedantic about different things. But I don’t think there is a cultural difference in terms of music.”

The original Trio Dali formed in 2006 and rapidly gained a string of prestigious prizes across three continents. Their teachers read like a Who’s Who of chamber music – Augustin Dumay, Maria João Pires, Gabor Takács-Nagy, to name but a few – and their first two recordings were showered with accolades.

Their name is only partially a reference to the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. “We met in Spain; we were looking for a name and we of course thought about the painter,” says La Marca, “but at the same we won the Osaka Competition in Japan and we wanted to relate the painter’s name to something Asian.

“Finally we found a symbolic possibility. There are some amazing marbles in the city of Dali in China – three pagodas in this city are very famous. So it’s symbolic of taking the music from the notes and creating art.” Liebeck adds: “You take the marble, you polish it and you make something beautiful.”

Trio Dali

The trio is bringing two programmes to Musica Viva; both include the 1991 Piano Trio by the Australian composer Roger Smalley, a piece that Liebeck says he especially advocated. “I pushed for it because when I played another piece of his recently I thought it was incredibly effective and very well written for the instruments.”

“If you speak with composers, they all tell you that to write a piano trio is one of the most difficult exercises there is,” says La Marca. “It’s much more difficult than writing a symphony or a string quartet, because there is always a balance to find. And that’s a real challenge for composers. It seems that Smalley combines all the right qualities in his piece.”

Each concert is topped and tailed with masterpieces of the trio repertoire: one programme opens with Beethoven’s first published work, the E flat major Trio Op.1 No.1, and ends with the substantial Trio by Ernest Chausson; the other starts with Mendelssohn’s Trio No.2 in C minor and concludes with Schubert’s B flat major Trio No.1.

“It’s an incredible work,” says Liebeck of the Mendelssohn. “Dramatic and troubled and dark, but at the same time very romantic. The perfect piano trio, really!” Not that the Schubert is less perfect: “I always feel that Mozart and Beethoven are the greatest composers, but they’re earthy – whereas with Schubert, it’s as if he’s from space. The colours he creates are not earthbound for me; they’re up in the sky.”

“I think the Chausson is a masterpiece of the French repertoire,” says La Marca. “We are playing it for the first time this season and it’s a real challenge. We want to continue our tradition of playing French repertoire; one of the first pieces we worked on was the Fauré Trio and our first recording was an all-Ravel disc. I feel we started something very special with the sound. Amandine is absolutely extraordinary in this repertoire. So we already did the Debussy, Ravel and Fauré, but we’ve never actually played the Chausson.”

“It’s really nice for me to be able to play a piece with them that’s wonderful and French and that they love, but that they haven’t done before,” says Liebeck. “Here we can start from the beginning.” La Marca agrees: “Everyone is at the same level. And we try to shape the music together.”

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Trio Dali reviewed in the West Australian

Trio’s recital comes close to perfection
Neville Cohn, The West Australian
1 June 2012

All too rarely, one encounters a performance of a work which is a near-perfect assessment of the music. That was the case in Trio Dali‘s account of Schubert’s Piano Trio No 2. By even the most severe of criteria, the Dali musicians’ reading of this much-loved work came as close to perfection as one could ever hope. Each of the three young musicians is a master and, as an ensemble, they have an extraordinary ability to abandon their individuality in favour of a corporate music persona that makes magic of whatever it touches.

Certainly, the Dali musicians’ mastery of their instruments frees them to focus on interpretative aspects. Thus, the poignancy that is central to the second movement, the blithe geniality of the scherzo and the insouciance that is the essence of the finale were revealed with faultless artistry.

I wished the performance would go on forever. I shall not easily forget this insightful account of a glorious chamber work. But this was only one of a cornucopia of musical treasures on offer. Gordon Kerry’s Piano Trio No 2 is fascinating fare written with profound understanding of the medium. On first encounter, it comes across as exquisitely wrought music redolent of anguish, anxiety and melancholyy, I’d very much like to listen to it again.

Ravel’s Piano Trio, too, was given the sort of insightful reading that critics dream about but only very rarely encounter. This is pitilessly demanding music requiring Olympian qualities of mind and muscle to bring it across to listeners in a meaningful sense and Trio Dali was just the ensemble to achieve this. It was a glorious offering not least for quality and range of tone. The Concert Hall piano sounded magnificent in the hands of Amandine Savary and the cello theme played by Christian-Pierre La Marca early in the second movement was achingly beautiful, as was every contribution by violinist Vineta Sareika.

Trio Dali’s Australian tour nears its end

Trio Dali returns to Sydney today, where they will perform the final concert of their Australian tour tomorrow. It’s been an eventful tour for the young trio – as well as performances and masterclasses they’ve witnessed a Rugby League match, been to a wildlife park, experienced Melbourne’s nightlife, watched a concert at the Sydney Opera House, and more! To top it all off, Christian-Pierre celebrated his birthday in Adelaide. The local committee took the Trio out for dinner after their concert and even surprised ‘Crispy’, as Christian-Pierre is known to his friends, with a birthday cake.

If all this sounds like they’re having too much fun, audience and critical responses have been positive throughout the tour. We wish the Trio safe travels home and every success for the future.

Trio Dali reviewed in ArtsHub

Tomas Boot, artsHub
Friday, May 25, 2012

This critic often tries to find some sort of angle to explore when talking about the various concerts he submits to his review. Often he’ll comment on an eccentricity of a musician, or a quirk of a fellow audience member, or an entertaining piece of trivia where the music is concerned. But there was none of that at Musica Viva’s latest concert, featuring the French group Trio Dali, consisting of violinst Vineta Sareika, cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca, and pianist Amandine Savary. There were, however, flowers on stage – which there hadn’t been when Andreas Haefliger gave his recital under the aegis of the Sydney Symphony, but not being a botanist, or even botanically inclined, apart from buying the pretty things for the various people in one’s life, I have little to say about them. Not that one needed to look at the flowers at all during the evening, as listening to the beautiful music on offer got rid of any need for the other senses.

We began with Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde (Piano Trio no 2) from 2000. For those of you who don’t understand German, you may be inclined to think that the piece is a poorly punctuated statement of the relative flatulence of the composer compared to others, but, most unfortunately, this isn’t the case; rather the title translates to ‘In the Wind’, taken from a poem by the great German Romantic (according to Kerry in his program notes) Friedrich Holderlin. He quotes a section of the poem too: “Die Mauern stehn/Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde/Klirren die Fahnen,” (‘The walls stand/speechless and cold, and in the wind/the weathervanes clatter’) which Kerry takes to mean that the poet is describing a “sense of tears in all things”. And that is certainly what he has achieved in his work. The piece begins its life as something very brittle, and only later does it begin to warm up, though it never quite gets there, like trying to heat your hands by a fire while standing in a gale. Trio Dali were most successful when playing the quieter, more delicate moments, after a particularly warm section – the happy tension of all good quiet music was present, and was most welcome to this critic’s ears.

Next came Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor, which was played with pure mastery by the Trio. The Ravel felt similar to the Kerry piece beforehand, if only because it seemed like what Im Winde would have been like if someone hadn’t thrown acid on the score – where Im Winde was concentrated bursts, the Ravel was much more lush. Again the players managed the quieter moments with great aplomb – the slowest movement (Passacaille (Tres large)) of the four in the trio being one of the highlights, which is always a good sign. Like all good pieces of this nature, one didn’t want any of the movements to end, and when it did, one was quite satisfied with life, humanity, and eternity. Dali’s ability to maintain the clarity of phrasing over extended periods was on show especially in this piece.

And yet, there was an interval, and Schubert’s Piano Trio no 2 in E flat major, op 100 was to come, and come it did, with all the advantages displayed by Trio Dali in the previous two pieces. While this critic preferred the Ravel, and indeed, would have been completely satisfied to leave the concert after it had finished, he was nonetheless struck by not only the immensity of the 45 minute work, but the coherence that the three musicians were able to give the piece as a whole, their rendition momentously sublime. The audience, wildly appreciative, demanded an encore, and the slow movement of Dvorak’s Dumky trio was played, again to much applause. Astounding.

Trio Dali reviewed in The Age

Clive O’Connell, The Age
May 24, 2012

Making every post a winner, the Trio Dali is touring Australia with one program only but playing it with such mastery that even this hoary chamber music veteran is tempted to go back on Saturday to hear the recital again.

Newcomers to the Musica Viva stable, the ensemble is one of the best finds in this field for 2012.

The full impact of their character builds slowly. These young players avoid the flashy by starting with Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde of 2000, a 10-minute span of colours applied with subtle pointillism, as well as daubed on with momentary vehemence. The reading showed a keen appreciation of the composer’s language: wiry athleticism allied to emotional control in a short work well worth re-examining.

Having her piano open on the short stick meant that Amandine Savary brought an unexpected alteration in balance to the Ravel Piano Trio, in which the keyboard often washes out its string colleagues, particularly in the massive chord washes of the finale. Across these familiar pages, the Dali musicians exercised an unwavering control without over-egging the spikiness of the second movement’s interplay or the dour brooding in the central Passacaille.

But the trio moved onto an even higher plane in the Schubert E flat Trio, here outlined at reasonable length although, in readings with this level of insight, repeats would have been welcome. Pliability of rhythm, near-faultless interweaving of lines from Vineta Sareika’s violin and cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca, and an unabashed volubility made this a valuable experience.

Trio Dali – broadcasts & masterclasses

Trio Dali travels to Perth today following concerts in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in the week just gone. Their program of Ravel, Kerry and Schubert has been enchanting audiences around Australia so far.

Gordon Kerry has been attracting particular attention lately, not only as Musica Viva’s Featured Composer for 2012, but with the recent premiere of his opera Midnight Son for Victorian Opera. Gordon spoke to Andrew Ford on the Music Show recently and you can replay the interview here.

The Trio has also given masterclasses in Sydney and Melbourne, at the Theme and Variations Piano Showroom, Sydney Conservatorium and ANAM.

If you haven’t made it to one of the Trio’s concerts you can listen online at ABC Classic FM.

Trio Dali’s Christian-Pierre La Marca & Vineta Sareika give a masterclass at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Trio Dali – Forging a name at home and abroad

Forging a name at home and abroad
Philip O’Brien, Canberra Times
23 May 2012

Amandine Savary

There’s an old French saying, “Nul n’est prophete en son pays”. It’s the same as in English – “no one is a prophet in their own country”. In fact, it’s a universal phenomenon, but it still makes young French pianist Amandine Savary, a member of the exciting Paris-based ensemble Trio Dali, smile wryly.

“It wasn’t until we went abroad that we were finally recognised in France,” she says. A much-travelled ensemble, Trio Dali will extend their international experience when they tour Australia this month for Musica Viva, with a program of works by Ravel, Schubert and Australian Gordon Kerry.

Trio Dali will perform in the Llewellyn Hall of the ANU School of Music on Thursday at 7pm. The group comprises Savary, violinist Vineta Sareika and cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca. They take their name not from the surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, but from Dali city, in China’s Yunnan province, famous for its exquisite marble. It was the idea of sculpting a piece of marble to create Forging a name at home and abroad something fresh and new that reminded them of their common approach to music.

They discovered they shared a similar vision when they met as soloists at a festival in Santander, Spain, five years ago. “We didn’t even play together that time but became friends very quickly,” Savary recalls. “A year later, we were invited to the same festival. We were living in three different countries and just wanted to see each other again and share music.” The ensemble evolved from there.

In those five years, they have performed across Europe, the Middle East, the US and Asia. Trio Dali has also won major prizes in international chamber music competitions in Osaka, Frankfurt, New York, Vienna and London. Savary says she and the other group members were not daunted by the European tradition of the piano trio. “We don’t want to repeat what has gone before. We’re certainly aware of other interpretations but we try not to be influenced by them. We want to approach each piece of music with fresh eves and create our own vision of it.”

Two of the compositions they will be performing in Australia – Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor and Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major – are works they’ve performed many times and with which they’ve come to be identified. “Very early on, we agreed that the Schubert Piano Trio shows the two sides to his music and his personality,” Savary says. “There’s the serious Schubert, suffering a serious illness, who is deep and full of drama. And there’s the lighter Schubert, going to cafes in Vienna and enjoying life.”

The challenge of playing this piece and the Ravel so often is in keeping the performances fresh, she says. Each time we play the Ravel, we try to start again and approach it in a different way. We always like to reconsider our interpretation; every time we play it, we find new ideas.”

The third work in their program – Gordon Kerry’s Piano Trio No. 2 (Im Winde) – has been a revelation for them. “We weren’t familiar with his work at all. This piece is very beautiful; it’s so full of colours,” Savary says. “There is something in it that seems inspired by French music.” As such, she was not surprised to learn that Gordon Kerry is a Francophile. “You can feel it. It is so full of air and transparency; the colours are very well defined.”

Savary has been quoted as saying her role as pianist in the trio is one of “making the balance”, providing a unity of sound. But she is quick to point out, “There is no leader in our group. “We are three musicians with one common purpose.”

In preparing works for performance, the members of Trio Dali study the historical and musical background to each piece, but prefer to play on modern rather than period instruments. For Savary, for example in the Schubert Piano Trio, that means playing on a concert Steinway grand piano rather than a smaller
fortepiano. “You have to live within your time,” she says. “Music evolves and modern instruments offer a
range of possibilities that enable us to continue that evolution. But, in the end, whatever the period, music always speaks to the heart.”

Europe’s financial crisis has had a noticeable effect on performance there, she says. Many festivals have died and for others that have survived, audiences have dwindled. What’s more, festival and concert producers are anxious to retain the audiences they have so they’re favouring better-known artists and more popular repertoires. Not that the members of Trio Dali have to worry: in addition to their many performances as an ensemble, they maintain parallel careers as solo artists. “It provides us with a nice
balance,” Savary says. We have the opportunity to learn from other people and experiences and
bring these back to the group.”

She and La Marca now live in Paris, while Sareika divides her time between the French capital and the Belgian city of Antwerp. And even after all their touring, they’re still good friends, she says. “We’re usually together for short, intensive periods. Australia, being so far away from Europe, is not somewhere we would normally visit. But touring there for a month will be a rare experience for us.” And for audiences, too.