Innovation in music is usually associated with creativity in composing or performing. But the Verdehr Trio has applied the concept by creating a whole new genre of chamber music combining the violin, clarinet and piano.
It all began with the marriage of violinist Walter Verdehr to clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr. Both were professors at Michigan State University, and Elsa suggested that it might be nice to travel and perform together. "At that point," said Walter Verdehr, "there were about five or six pieces that were known to exist for this particular combination of instruments by famous composers."
Altogether, he said, the entire literature only provided for one concert program. After touring and performing for a couple of years, they quickly found that it simply wasn't enough music. So necessity became the mother of invention.
"My wife had the idea of asking some of our colleagues to write pieces for us," said Verdehr. "So at Michigan State, they wrote some pieces for us, and we thought that was great. We enjoyed playing them, and it added to the literature that we needed."
From there, he said, they expanded to composers outside of the university. Encouraged by Michigan State University, outside grants and composers who simply wished to write for them, they found the literature growing with works by Leslie Bassett, Alan Hovhaness, Thea Musgrave, Gunther Schuller and Joan Tower, among many others.
Now, said Verdehr, the literature has topped 200. "We've been very fortunate. We've gotten some of the great names of 20th-century music. We tried to get a great variety of styles into this literature. Some people are very avant-garde, some people who are the other direction retrospective, romantic and many other styles; ethnic composers from Armenia, Australia, Europe; women composers, etc." They have also transcribed classical and romantic works to bring balance to the repertoire.
Aware of the significance of all this, the Verdehr Trio, which includes pianist Silvia Roederer, has begun a series of CDs, videos and printed music, titled "The Making of a Medium." "We felt that it was important, given the fact that people were unaware of this new literature, to get it out to other musicians and the public."
The CDs feature music commissioned for and performed by the Verdehr Trio, and the videos include interviews with the composers whose works are performed. The printed music makes some of it available for other groups.
And the interest, said Verdehr, is also growing. Groups all over the world are sprouting up, playing the literature that has come forth as a result of the commissions.
So it's only fitting that when the Verdehr Trio comes to Salt Lake City, it will perform the world premiere of a work written for them William Wallace's "Sonata a Tre," commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City. (The program will be rounded out with transcriptions/compositions of works by Greig, Bruch, Higdon, Gershwin and Arutiunian.)
Wallace has written for the Verdehr Trio before. "This is the second trio I've written for them," said Wallace, adding that he has also written two concertos, which have been recorded and released on the Albany label.
The premiere work, he said, is in three movements that share the same thematic material. "The first movement is kind of a more aggressive, faster movement. The middle movement is very slow and languid, and the last movement is presto, which is ultra-fast, and very rapid and very expanding." Additionally, he said that the last movement has an arrhythmical trick which keeps the melody kind changing around all the time, but it's actually the same succession of notes.
Verdehr said that he and his wife have been working on the piece, and that Wallace writes "very challenging music," with many changing meters that can get quite tricky at a fast tempo. But, he said, it's "very exciting and creates a musical intensity that's very appealing."
Wallace said he's on the board of the Salt Lake Chamber Music Society, but he was unaware until asked that the other members of the board had gotten together and decided to commission a piece by him. "They asked me who I would like to write for, and I said, the Verdehr Trio. I'd like to write for the Verdehr." He added that the Verdehrs "had been asking me for a new piece for a long time."
What: Verdehr Trio
Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $20
E-mail: [email protected]