Due to the strike by CSO musicians, this program has been canceled. Patrons may exchange their tickets for another upcoming Symphony Center performance, donate their tickets to the CSO or receive a refund. Please contact Patron Services by phone at (312) 294-3000 or by email.
Sebastian Currier is enjoying a big career moment. This season, three works by the New York-based composer will have their premieres across the United States — a phenomenon that he calls both scary and exciting. A stellar threesome composed of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist Lambert Orkis and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott will present the second performance of his Ghost Trio on March 17 in Chicago, five days after the three perform the work’s world premiere in Carnegie Hall.
Mutter, one of the world’s most celebrated violinists and a regular at Symphony Center, has long championed Currier. “It’s one of those things that happened sort of by chance,” he said. Orkis, the violinist’s longtime recital partner, heard one of Currier’s pieces when the pianist was serving as a judge for the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award in 1993 and sent it to Mutter. She liked what she heard and commissioned Aftersong, premiering it the following year. That work will open the March 17 concert, an SCP Chamber Music series event. Also on the program are works by Francis Poulenc and Maurice Ravel.
The German violinist, who in 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of her solo debut at age 13, has premiered two other works by Currier. “It’s been really great,” he said of her support. “She’s just an amazing, fantastic performer. It’s been very important to me, obviously.”
Probably the best known of their collaborations is Time Machines, which she debuted with conductor Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic in 2011 and recorded. “Mr. Currier’s musical language, which draws from tonal and atonal sources, if not pathbreaking, is very personal,” wrote music critic Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times. “With his acute ear and sensitivity to color, whole passages of the piece were rapturously beautiful, especially the mystical final movement, ‘Harmonic Time.’ ”
Ghost Trio is Currier’s first piano trio. The form was largely developed in the 18th century by Franz Josef Haydn, who wrote 45 works for the combination, and it really came into its own in the 19th century. Showcasing the distinctive sonic qualities of the piano, violin and cello, he said, it offers a more “separate, contrapuntal sound” than the string quartet, which is centered on a cohesive blend among the four instruments.
While ensembles such as the JACK Quartet and Kronos Quartet, which focus on contemporary music, have kept the string quartet alive and relevant, composers lost interest in piano trio in the 20th century. Currier can think of only a handful of notable works for the combination during that era. “That led me to the idea of the ghost trio, that it’s this form that is more over than not, basically,” he said.
The trio’s title also derives from Currier’s use of musical apparitions or ghosts: short quotes from esteemed piano trios, including Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, Schubert’s Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major and Brahms’ Trio No. 1 in B Major. Playing a slightly larger role than the rest — not surprising, given the title — is Beethoven’s Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 (Ghost), which Mutter and her collaborators will perform right after Currier’s work. “They’re very short quotes, and sometimes they are disguised and sometimes they are quite overt,” he said. “But they are sort of like seeing something in your peripheral vision where they go by so quickly that you think you are seeing them but you are not even sure.”
Rather than the more conventional four movements found in works like Brahms’ Trio No. 1, Ghost Trio consists of nine short movements. Currier thinks each kind of structure has its advantages and disadvantages. The more concise sections in his work meant that he couldn’t develop musical ideas as fully as more extended movements would allow, but it gave him the opportunity for “more sharp delineations of character” within the piece.
Although Currier knew the performance styles of the three musicians who are debuting Ghost Trio, he tried to make the work more universal. “On the other hand,” he said, “I have to say, for me, whenever I write for violin, I’m thinking of Anne-Sophie because she plays so incredibly well, and it’s playing I’ve known very well for many years. I feel very sympathetic to everything she does musically.”
Rounding out this latest high point in Currier’s career, the contemporary music ensemble Boston Musica Viva marked its 50th anniversary with the debut of Eleven Moons on Feb. 2. And on May 2-4, soloist Baiba Skride, conductor Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra will give the first performances of his violin concerto, Aether. Skride and Nelsons will then travel to Germany to perform it again on May 16-17 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Might the composer consider writing another piano trio down the line? “I haven’t thought that far, but, sure, that would be fun,” he said. “It’s always fun to write multiple times for a set instrumentation, because you learn from doing it the first time. To get to do it a second time would be great.”