Mojave Trio Performs Classical Set for the Ages

At a concert held Sept. 27 at Pomona College, the renowned Mojave Trio played through two centuries of music in two and a half hours.

The Trio performed in a free concert at the college’s Bridges Hall of Music, part of the Department of Music’s Faculty and Guest Artist Recital. The set included an evocative piece by 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Turina, a romantic Brahms trio and an electronic piece by Tom Flaherty, a Pomona faculty member and internationally renowned composer.

Comprising Sara Parkins on violin, Maggie Parkins on cello and Genevieve Feiwen Lee on piano, the group is dedicated to exposing audiences to a wide variety of classical music, from the 18th century to modern times. A professional performer since age 12, Lee has been a Pomona faculty member since 1994 and is the first recipient of the Everett S. Olive Professorship. Sarah Parkins has won a Grammy for her complete recordings of the Haydn String Quartets with the Los Angeles Quartet, and Maggie Parkins has taken her versatile musicianship to venues across the globe. The Trio performs regularly on the “Sundays Live” radio broadcast at the Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and has played at many other venues.

Saturday night’s program began with what Lee called “dessert before dinner:” Turina’s melodic “Círculo, Op. 91″ for piano trio. The piece is divided into three movements: a slow-rising “Amanecer” (Dawn), a busy “Mediodía” (Noon) and a mysterious “Crepúscolo” (Twilight). Each section evoked vivid images of Spain, from fiery Madrid bullfights to romantic Catalonian sunsets. It effortlessly blended both classical and impressionist styles, with moody undertones complementing harmonious melodies reminiscent of Spain’s cultural and musical history.

In the next piece, the group jumped forward several decades to play Flaherty’s intriguing work, “Looking for Answers,” which he composed for the trio in 2011. Featuring pre-recording instruments and electronic sounds, the piece differed greatly in style from the Turina but was also divided into three sections: “Frozen Questions,” “Contemplation” and “Dance.”

“The piece is reliant on half-steps and dissonances,” said Flaherty, a cellist, in a speech before the performance. “The whole thing has a ‘yearning sound.’ Over the course of the piece it yearns until it’s screaming in unfulfilled agony.”

All three movements captured this sound, beginning with single notes or plucks of an instrument before culminating in a highly dissonant and elaborate finish.

Flaherty’s purpose in composing “Looking for Answers” was to derive different answers from established musical sounds, which he accomplished through the use of electronic instruments. “Contemplation” toyed with the clarity of certain sounds and the confusion of modified sounds. “Dance” disregarded the other movements’ determination and combined various international rhythms, showing that some questions have simple answers (in this case, a dance).

Given the rarity for a musician to play alongside a piece’s composer, the trio was grateful to have Flaherty present during the rehearsal process.

“Having the composer there was nerve-wracking, but he’s a really nice person, and it’s nice to be able to ask questions like, ‘is this what you mean?’” Lee said.

While the group couldn’t ask the final piece’s composer—19th-century composer Johannes Brahms—any questions about their interpretation, they performed the piece just as fluidly.

“I like this program because it contained very contrasting pieces,” Sarah Parkins said. “It starts with the sensuous, evocative Turina and then goes to Tom’s piece, which is rhythmic and electronic. Then it takes it all home to the traditional Brahms.”

The Brahms Trio in C Major, Op. 87 contained four movements: “Allegro,” “Andante con moto,” “Scherzo: Presto” and “Finale: Allegro Giocoso.” It is regarded as one of Brahms’ ‘peak’ pieces for trios. Though starkly different in many ways from the Flaherty piece, it captured the same amount of emotional depth. Compiling a program of such variation takes dedication and work, and Lee said that the process was very specific.

“We definitely wanted to play Mr. Flaherty’s piece because his CD just came out,” she said. The CD, entitled “Looking for Answers,” came out in June 2014. “We also wanted a big romantic piece, which the Brahms fulfilled nicely.”

They faced a tough decision when selecting an opening piece. After debating many titles, including an early Beethoven trio, Lee finally discovered the Turina.

“I saw it and said to them, ‘why don’t we read through this together?’” she said. “It’s romantic, so it balances it all out.”

Despite their thematic and tonal differences, the pieces complemented each other well, and the group received thunderous applause following the performance. Even Flaherty saw that, while his music is far from traditional, “it’s still old-fashioned. It’s still about pitches and rhythms.”

Music has the power to create a commonality between differing elements, but it takes a dedicated group of musicians to elevate that and create something truly transcendent.

“I’m really interested in composition, so I liked hearing Flaherty speak about the story behind his music,” Noah Keshner PO ’18 said. “It’s not often that you get to hear it directly from the composer!”

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