Individually, they've performed in the White House, won Grammy Awards, and won an assistant conductor job with the New York Philharmonic. Together, they're mom, dad, and the kids. The entire Weilerstein Family—violinists Donald and Joshua, cellist Alisa, and pianist Vivian—get together for an evening of music making, aided by violist and NEC chamber music chair Roger Tapping. The program will include Bartok Duos with Joshua and Donald, the Stephen Coxe's reconstruction of Janacek Kreutzer Sonata Trio with the Weilerstein Trio (NEC's Trio-in-residence in photo right), and the Elgar Piano Quintet with Tapping.
About the Janacek Kreutzer Sonata Trio:
NEC pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein’s favorite composer is Leos Janácek. She and husband Donald Weilerstein, who holds the Dorothy Richard Starling Violin Chair at NEC, have often played the Janácek Sonatas for Violin and Piano and have recorded them for Arabesque. But Vivian, who heads the Conservatory’s Piano Trio Training Program, has long wished there were a Janácek piano trio that the Weilerstein Trio—composed of Don, Vivian and cellist daughter Alisa, an Avery Fisher Career Grant winner—could play.
To compound her frustration, there once was a Janácek Piano Trio. The Czech composer wrote it in 1908 and it was premiered in 1909, although never published. The manuscript disappeared shortly after the premiere—perhaps destroyed by the composer himself. All that remains is a single manuscript page, contemporary references to the work by composer and critics, and the mystery of its fate. That, plus, the tantalizing theory that the work—or parts of it—was resurrected in 1923 when Janácek was commissioned to write a string quartet by the Bohemian Quartet.
In an astonishingly quick week, Janácek finished his First String Quartet, and, like the Piano Trio from 15 years before, subtitled it The Kreutzer Sonata, after the Tolstoy novella. Given the quartet’s incredibly short gestation and some other hints, musicologists have often wondered just how much of the earlier trio Janácek channeled into the quartet. Performers have been curious about the feasibility of transcribing the quartet back to its “original” incarnation. One German ensemble, the Abegg Trio, actually did commission a transcription from Jarmil Burghauser (a Czech composer, scholar and editor for both Dvorak and Janácek critical editions) and recorded it on the Tacet label.
Learning of this version, Vivian Weilerstein asked permission for the Weilerstein Trio to play the Abegg’s reconstruction. When the German trio declined, the Weilerstein Trio, the Peabody Trio (with NEC cellist Natasha Brofsky), and New Orleans Friends of Music jointly commissioned composer Stephen Coxe to create their own version. It is this reconstruction that the trio will play on Nov. 20. The Weilersteins have recorded it on the Koch label.
Coxe, who studied at Yale University with Martin Bresnick, Jacob Druckman, and Ezra Laderman, has received numerous awards, including an Aaron Copland Award, ASCAP Award, Belgian-American Educational Foundation Fellowship, Composers Guild Award, Friends and Enemies of New Music Prize, and Meet the Composer grants. Currently he is a resident composer and faculty at the Yellow Barn Music School and Festival, and is co-director of the Jubilus Festival in Florida, currently in its fourth year.
In commenting on the theory that Janácek’s four-movement Quartet is an elaborated and more mature version of the three-movement Trio, Coxe takes a cautious stance. The extant “sketch page for the Trio looks like the sketch of the third movement of the Quartet,” he said. What’s more, “much of the quartet is easily transcribed for trio. There is some overt pianism—like an extended Alberti figure—that makes one raise an eyebrow.” And, then, of course, there is the shared inspiration of the Tolstoy story—a powerful and disturbing tale of a failed marriage and a jealous husband who kills his pianist wife after she and a violinist friend (probably platonic) play an impassioned performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata.
Although he sees the couple’s repeated quarrels and reconciliations reflected in the second movement, Coxe asserts that the music is “not programmatic in a narrative sense but in a psychological way.” Donald Weilerstein concurs, referring to the Trio’s often “very depressing and disturbing” atmosphere. Vivian Weilerstein points to the third movement--“a twisted version of the second theme from the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata with an insane interruption by the pianist who may be supposed to be the jealous husband.” But she, like daughter Alisa, feels “it’s dangerous to become overly programmatic.” It’s enough to say that the “music matches the intensity of the Tolstoy,” and, she says, “builds to an “unbelievably ecstatic, passionate climax” in the last movement.