Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 16, 2010
This group is a true family affair: the pianist is the sister of the violinist and the wife of the cellist. No wonder they have achieved such a high level of unanimity and rapport. But of course, though personal kinship can help, it also requires hard work and dedication to forge a fine ensemble and make it sound totally natural.
The Gemini Trio is on the faculty of Maryland’s Goucher College in Baltimore and Howard Community College in Columbia. The members are all active, successful soloists; individually, they hold degrees from the Hartt School of Music, the University of Maryland, Peabody Conservatory, and the New England Conservatory. As a group, they have taken top prizes in many prestigious competitions, performed on several continents, and released two CDs of trios by Brahms, Ravel, Ives, and Shostakovich. This concert marked the Trio’s New York debut.
The program demonstrated the players’ stylistic versatility, featuring masterpieces from three periods: Beethoven’s Trio Op.1 No.1, Shostakovich’s Trio No.2 and Mendelssohn’s Trio No.2. The Beethoven was a model of classical elegance and restraint; phrasing, articulation and dynamics were carefully observed, balance and interplay between the instruments were exemplary. In the Shostakovich, the players allowed themselves more dynamic and emotional abandon without lapsing into excess; the Scherzo was very fast and impetuous but always controlled; the slow movement was heart-breaking. The Mendelssohn was unabashedly romantic: quite free, intense, and ardent. The corner movements were stormy and passionate, the Scherzo was spooky but almost too fast and whispery for human ears to follow, the slow movement was serene and poetic. The phrasing sometimes seemed a bit overdone and lopsided, and there was perhaps an over-abundance of slides. But the playing was always honestly felt and very expressive.
Best of all, the players were concerned only with the music, and used their technical command and tonal variety entirely in its service. They did nothing for effect, never exaggerated, never called attention to themselves, never showed off. The pianist’s pedal technique was remarkable: she seemed to change pedal with every note even in the fastest passages. Moreover, except for the most massive chords, she kept her left foot on the soft pedal, even in her solo passages, so there was no break in the sound quality. As a result, the piano, though wide open, never covered the strings; indeed, it was often too subdued. Altogether, this was a most enjoyable evening of true, unaffected music-making.
Though the printed program requested that the applause be held until after the final movement of each work, the sell-out audience could not restrain itself and showed its enthusiasm after every movement, causing the players to look startled at first, then to smile with amused resignation. To remove the temptation for an outburst after the ghostly Mendelssohn Scherzo, they plunged right into the last movement. After the final ovation, they responded with an encore: a trio arrangement of Elgar’s “Chant d’amour.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune:
“In Beethoven’s Trio in E-Flat Major, Opus 1, No. 1, the [Gemini Piano Trio] displayed an almost uncanny musical closeness, perhaps because the violinist and pianist are brother and sister, and the pianist and cellist are husband and wife. “Ensemble attacks were precisely coordinated, as in the briskly paced finale. . . . the tightly cohesive treatment made the musicians seem like mind readers, anticipating each other’s every move.”
American Record Guide:
“To say that their performance of the Brahms could have been given by any one of several dozen well-trained, prize-winning, enthusiastic chamber groups of young virtuosos (we seem to have an embarrassing abundance of them these days) is not to denigrate it one bit. They turn in a crisp, fresh, vigorous, moving rendering of the Op. 8 Trio. The players tackle the first two movements with great intensity and concentration. The third, slow movement is firm and eloquent, without a touch of hurry or carelessness in phrasing – and yet it does not sound studied or over-rehearsed. There is an admirable balance between confidence, polished technique, and impulsive, romantic ardor in this performance. I’d prefer a committed, fresh performance by a young group like this any day over a tired, routine run-through by the most famous established musicians. Even so, the Gemini interpretation is not going to unseat the catalog’s “standard” recordings of this work – Beaux Arts (Philips), Stern-Istomin-Rose (Sony) – or the ripe, mature, moody Borodin Trio (Chandos), but I don’t see it as inferior in any way to the vigorous, exuberant, rather shallow Fontenay Trio (Teldec) or the perfectly mainstream traversal by the K-L-R Trio (Vox). These players (Hsiu-Hui Wang, piano; Sheng-Tsung Wang, violin; Benjamin Myers, cello) bring a verve and commitment to the Ives that makes the piece almost tolerable – enough to listen to more than once. Recorded sound is excellent: clear, firm, rich, and vibrant. If the Gemini Trio passes through your locale, take them in by all means. And buy one of their discs. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”
“The trio performs very well as a unit. They take any spare moments in a particular piece to make eye contact with one another while keeping the music flowing as a collective work, rather than a dispersed combination of severe talents. Frequently the performers would smile at one another in a jubilating gesture that seemed to indicate a love for the music as well as the performance. . . .”
World Journal (Chinese Edition):
“. . . they played with an excellent sense of implicit accord.”
Washington Chinese News:
“. . . a truly moving performance.”
Gemini Trio: Music from a Functional Family
by Joe & Elizabeth Kahn
Friday, October 10, UNC-CH:
The Gemini Piano Trio from Baltimore is a true family affair. Pianist Hsiu-Hui Wang, her brother, violinist Sheng-Tsung Wang, and her husband, cellist Benjamin C. Meyers have been performing together for nine years – and it shows. They play with the zest and elan of youth, but with the outstanding balance of long-time experience. In a concert in Hill Hall under the auspices of UNC’s William S. Newman Artists Series and the ArtsCenter of Carrboro, they presented a program that sampled the Classical, the Romantic and late-20th century music. The performance was enhanced by UNC’s new Steinway, a great improvement.
It is easy to forget how revolutionary Beethoven’s three Piano Trios Op. 1 sounded at their premiere in 1794. The strong dynamic contrasts, the expanded harmonic language, the use of the cello as an equal partner, the substitution of the standard minuet and trio with the scherzo, as well as the fact that it was the first chamber work with piano to have a fourth movement – these were totally new to audiences and critics alike.
With impeccable balance, the Gemini Trio brought out the assertiveness of the young composer in the Trio in E-flat, Op. 1, No. 1. Sheng-Tsung’s playing in general is clean and decidedly unschmalzy, without the ruffles and flourishes of many first violinists as they ramp up into the stratosphere of their range. Nevertheless, he can be appropriately romantic in places, especially in the slow movement, adagio cantabile, but he could fiddle away with zest in the peasant stomp of the scherzo. Hsiu-Hui kept her piano dynamics under control and never drowned out the melody-carrying instrument – a major accomplishment in Hill Hall. Meyers’ cello has a beautiful singing sound throughout its entire range, to which he added body language, especially facial expression, that enhanced the performance.
Beethoven was followed by a piece of French fluff in the form of the Piano Trio by Jean Francaix, a work that sounds like Poulenc and water. It is a charming and humorous work, especially the first movement, labeled “dotted quarter = 52″ just so everyone will “get it” that it’s in 5/4 time. The witty movement brings to mind three men arguing around a bottle of wine; the rest of the work brings little to mind. After the performance, one of us commented that it was a shame to spend so much performing talent on so many empty calories.
For the last work on the program, Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in c, Op. 66, the ensemble members became Romantics. Again, the balance among the instruments was exemplary, with the melodic line always in the fore. Like most of Mendelssohn’s compositions, this one contains one of his signature jittery scherzi, a style he first used at 17 in his Octet and frequently warmed over during his short lifetime. These are a challenge to the performer to make them sound fresh and precise, a challenge which the Gemini met.
This has been one of the most satisfying trio performances we have heard in a long time; so many fine ensembles come up wanting when it comes to balancing dynamics between the piano and the other two instruments. For whatever reason, the audience was smaller than we have come to expect for the Newman Series concerts – although, gratefully, made up of many young faces. We hope one of the other chamber music organizations in the area will bring the Gemini Trio back; young as they are, they definitely belong in the mainstream. The Gemini has two CDs out. Find out more about them at http://www.geminipianotrio.com.
Yellow Springs News, OH:
“The Gemini showcased beautiful ensemble work as melodies were tossed from instrument to instrument, and the sound was often richer and fuller than what seemed possible from only three instruments. The Gemini completed its program with three movements form the familiar Brahms Trio in B Major, Op. 8, quite a contrast to the distinctly modern Ives. Movement I was rich and sonorous with “con moto” a plenty, while III, the Adagio, was delivered with elegance and serenity. The ensemble playing–togetherness–was commendable in this slow third section. . . .The Gemini was indeed together for this performance, with a beautiful blend of sound and shading of dynamics. The echo effects achieved by the cellist were wonderful. Movement IV, the Allegro, was also delivered with wonderful balance and ensemble, and the audience rewarded the Gemini with prolonged and warm applause for its efforts.”
The Deerfield Valley News, VT:
“The high point of the evening was an electrifying performance by the Gemini Piano Trio. . . . Their reading of the Shostakovich Piano trio in E minor showed maturity and command beyond their years. From the riveting opening harmonics played by cellist Benjamin Myers to the dramatic and intense climaxes within the second and fourth movements, The Gemini Piano trio displayed virtuosity, control, careful attention to phrasing, bowing, intonation, and dynamics that one hears at the highest level of artistic performance.”
The Carmel Pine Cone, CA:
“. . . vivid and colorful performance of a trio by Charles Ives amply demonstrated their excellent technical acumen and lively appreciation of Ives’ stylistic quirks. Their songful, sensitive presentation of two movements of the Brahms Piano Trio, Op. 8 had a compelling romantic aura and in the Scherzo, a lightness of spirit put forth with sparkling clarity and accurate intonation and phrasing.”
The Quindecim Online, Goucher College, MD:
Goucher Faculty Record Ravel and Shostakovich
By Eliot Grasso
The Gemini Piano Trio is comprised of violinist Sheng-Tsung Wang, pianist Hsiu-Hui Wang, and cellist Benjamin Myers; the latter two are among Goucher’s music department faculty. Fortunately for the Goucher community, this Trio is celebrating their newest recording: a disc featuring Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor and Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor.
The Gemini Trio functions comparably to a living cell, and the individual instruments its organelles. For a cell to sustain and thrive, its constituent parts must work cooperatively, make compromises and be totally aware of what is transpiring around it. Pianist, cellist, and violinist play together in such a finely tuned balance that each minute sonic alteration made by one is immediately detected by the others.
On the cover is a tastefully manipulated, purple-tinted leaf covered with dew. This attractive photograph is complemented by a large, white, intellectual typeface. The liner notes by Benjamin Myers and Hsiu-Hui Wang provide some fascinatingly original insights into the Ravel and Shostakovich trios. The Gemini Trio turns each opus into a story and realizes a latent program derived from overall structure, melodic turns, and subtle variations in mood and harmony.
This recording epitomizes the idiom of chamber music. Each note and phrase of every movement is treated with utmost care, and great attention is given to the details and nuances presented by each piece. These pieces are played with such seamless continuity that the barlines dissolve before the listener’s very ears. All musicality aside, each member of the Gemini Piano Trio is a virtuoso in his or her own right. As Dr. Wang and Dr. Myers eloquently discuss in the liner notes, “…it [the second movement of the Ravel Trio] is one of the few virtuoso movements in the piano trio repertoire. Each instrument is stretched to the limits of its technique…the violinist must alternate left hand pizzicato with bowing in a rapid syncopated rhythm…the piano is constantly required to make enormous jumps across the keyboard, accurately grabbing fistfuls of thick chords on the way.” There are fragments of both these piano trios that are so difficult that they are easily concerto-worthy, but the Gemini Trio makes every passage sound effortless from start to finish.
Music department chair Dr. Lisa Weiss has heard the Gemini Trio play live on several occasions. When interviewed about her thoughts on the piano trio and their standing in the department, Dr. Weiss remarked: “I am so delighted to have both Hsiu-Hui and Ben on our faculty. They are both musicians of the highest caliber and are also excellent teachers.
“The Gemini Trio plays as one without sacrificing each player’s individuality, and they have an appealing, outgoing personality as a group; their playing is polished, expansive, and always tasteful. They are obviously a very serious ensemble and their continued exploration of diverse repertoire is admirable.
“As Goucher faculty, Hsiu-Hui and Ben have definitely made their mark and are upholding the Goucher teaching ideal, which is to say: they are nurturing, compassionate individuals who care deeply about their students’ individual personalities and situations. At the same time, they expect hard work and disciplined practicing from all of their students and hold each student to the highest musical standards. We are fortunate to have them at Goucher.”