Three young talents to come together at Union College

Three young talents to come together at Union College

 When the Junction Trio performs at Union College on Sunday afternoon, December 5, there will be a familiar presence on the stage.  The violinist Stefan Jackiw has previously performed for Capital Region Classical twice and he was also soloist in the Brahms Concerto with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 2018.  This time he’s part of a team with pianist Conrad Tao and cellist Jay Campbell.  Their program features trios by Zorn, Ives and Ravel.

Jackiw, 37, says he doesn’t mind sharing the bill.  “It’s a pleasure to play with two people who have made me grow so much as a musician, expanding my taste and also my thinking about rehearsing and interpreting great music. Being in a trio has been a dream of mine since my 20s.”

         Born and raised in Boston, Jackiw made his debut at age 12 with the Boston Pops and since then the list of major orchestras where he has performed just keeps growing.  Last week, he was with the Cleveland Orchestra performing Britten and during the summer he was featured with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall. So it appears that his career is moving ahead quite well. But he was still looking for something more.

“In summer 2015, I was paired with Jay the cellist in a chamber music tour of South Korea.  I clicked with him as a person and loved his playing.  Later back in New York we said let’s find a pianist and see how it goes,” Jackiw said. 

Junction Trio

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5

Where: at Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady

Admission: $35

Information: 518-941-4331  or

They reached out to Tao via Facebook.  Soon after, the nascent trio gathered to read some Mendelssohn and Mozart and things continued from there.  Jackiw says the name “Junction” was chosen because it represents roads coming together and parting and that speaks to how each member continues on his own career path. 

Jackiw finds membership in a trio a more comfortable fit than taking a permanent seat in a string quartet.  In a trio the distinct character of each instrument is an inherent asset while members of a quartet strive for a sound that is cohesive, as if one voice.  “More strings means the work is more delicate, more finicky.  It’s difficult for a quartet to sound good and still be part time,” he says.

The violinist makes a point that part-time chamber groups aren’t the same as what might be called drive-by super groups.  When big stars come together for some kind of gala event and play with little rehearsal, the result can be flashy but also shallow or “half baked” as Jackiw puts it.  In contrast, Junction has had 15 bookings during 2022, mostly focusing on the same repertoire, thus assuring that they’re offering well considered and honed performances. After the recital in Schenectady they’ll finish up the year with a sold-out concert in Washington at the Phillips Collection. 

“We have different aesthetics and ideas, but our priorities are aligned,” Jackiw said.  “We all want the same thing — to present these pieces in as convincing way as possible.”  

When the Junction members return to their independent paths, they do diverge.  Tao has a solid track record as a pianist, including opening the 2017 SPAC season of the Philadelphia Orchestra as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  But he’s equally known as a composer. Among other projects, he’s written a concerto for Jackiw and a trio for Junction plus works that he plays in solo recitals.  Campbell, the cellist, is even more immersed in new music as a member of the Jack Quartet, which since its founding in 2005 has earned wide acclaim for its exclusive focus on new work.  Among Campbell’s solo projects are two discs of music by John Zorn.

Speaking of John Zorn, contemporary music has had an increasing presence in the annual seasons of Capital Region Classical, but spotting the name Zorn on this year’s calendar was still a surprise.  Though he’s 69 years old, Zorn can still be considered a renegade.  He rose to prominence in the late 1980s from the downtown scene of Manhattan where he played clarinet with cats from the jazz world and wrote strident pieces for more conventional forces like the Kronos Quartet. A rare solo recital by Zorn in 2013 at EMPAC was a blistering tour de force that the composer later released on disc (“The Classic Guide To Strategy, Vol. 4”).

“Ghosts” is the six-minute Zorn work that Junction will perform. According to Jackiw, it’s based on the first four bars of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D major, Op.70 No.1 “Ghost.”  He describes it as “highly kinetic and agitated, with lots of play with texture that creates an ethereal spectral sound world.”

The real surprise comes when Jackiw explains that venues around the country have been far more resistant about music of Charles Ives rather than something by Zorn.  Both composers wrote music with a stiff spine and a certain attitude.  For Ives it might be called “cantankerous,” where with Zorn it’s “in your face.”  As to the appeal of one but not the other, Jackiw said, “the Zorn is short and has an evocative title that seems innocent.  Ives is 30-minutes long, not programmatic, with no catchy title.”

Capital Region audiences have already been well indoctrinated in Ivesian by pianist Jeremy Denk, who’s performed each of Ives’ two piano sonatas on different programs at Union over the last decade or so.  Also, Jackiw joined Denk in March 2019 for a program dedicated entirely to Ives’ four sonatas for violin and piano.  For fans of American music, all of these were special occasions and the Trio should also prove memorable. 

“The scherzo’s title is ‘TSIJ’ for ‘This scherzo is a joke’ and it’s extremely rowdy with all kinds of music influences—marching bands, honkytonk, and church hymns.  The final movement is this nostalgic reverie.  He was a thorny modernist but also deeply romantic like Brahms,” Jackiw said.

Rounding out the program is the beloved Ravel Trio which was completed in 1915, almost the exact time frame as the Ives. “There’s this kinship with the slow movement of the Ives,” the violinist said. “Ravel is speaking of memory and nostalgia and looking backward.  The piece may be the most opulent in creative writing for the trio.”

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.



Source link