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Fifty and still fresh

Beaux Arts Trio plays on as a hallmark of chamber music mastery and innovation

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It was supposed to last nine days and one recording for MGM.

Just a musical mixing experiment featuring three instruments -- the cello, piano and violin -- that many musicians thought were largely incompatible. Bring them together and the balance would be all wrong, they argued. A trio with those instruments couldn't possibly be a viable chamber music ensemble, some scoffed.

Beaux Arts Trio 1
The Beaux Arts Trio was founded in 1955. Pictured here is its current edition, which features (from L-R) Antonio Meneses, Menahem Pressler and Daniel Hope.
Print-Quality Photo

Fifty years later, the legendary Beaux Arts Trio continues to set the standard for chamber music performance, maintaining its freshness and creativity, and inspiring musicians and audiences worldwide. As part of its 50th anniversary celebration being held this year, the trio, which is led by Indiana University Distinguished Professor of Music Menahem Pressler, will perform three concerts during the IU School of Music's annual Summer Music Festival in Bloomington. The performances will be on June 30, July 2 and July 11.

"To be alive and be performing with two other magnificent musicians 50 years later is very special," said Pressler, a founding member of the trio and its one constant for half a century.

Pressler, who has established a reputation as one of the world's most revered chamber musicians, believes the Beaux Arts Trio has succeeded against heavy odds because its members have always found a way to blend their artistry, maintain a performance balance, leave their egos backstage and join together for a common cause -- music that is meaningful and inspirational.

"The beautiful part of this trio is that the ego of the single one is sublimated into the achievement of the group," said the renowned pianist, who co-founded the trio in 1955, the same year he began his association with the IU School of Music. "To find very good people who are capable, willing and wanting to be part of a group, to make that group into a unit that expresses one conception, and to create something bigger than the original idea, well, even Einstein would have a difficult time explaining that.

"It's like having one plus one plus one equal four."

Later this month, Bloomington audiences will have the opportunity to experience what the New York Observer has called "the most robust piano trio of all time." Pressler calls the current edition of the trio one of its finest. The lineup for the 50th anniversary season includes internationally renowned Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses and British violinist Daniel Hope, the newest member of the group. Hope, who was featured on the cover of last month's BBC Music Magazine, joined the trio in 2002.

Those who attend the July 2 performance at the School of Music's Auer Hall will get to hear how the legendary ensemble began. The trio will replicate its first-ever public performance, which took place on July 13, 1955, at the Berkshire Music Festival, known today as Tanglewood. The trio will deliver the same performance during a much-anticipated return visit to Tanglewood on July 14.

Additionally, in a display of its versatility, the trio will perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the Summer Music Festival Orchestra under the direction of renowned violinist and conductor Jaime Laredo. The concert, scheduled for June 30 at the Musical Arts Center, will mark Laredo's first major appearance in Bloomington since he was appointed to the IU School of Music faculty in April.

Pressler said the Beaux Arts Trio's greatest legacy is the establishment of the piano trio as a viable chamber music organization. "In the beginning, it was thought to be impossible, that there was this problem of balance, that piano, violin and cello aren't compatible. But we've proven that they are and that a balance in this form is very possible."

In many ways, balance has always been an issue for the trio, which juggles a performance slate of more than 100 concerts and master classes each year at the world's major music centers. The trio also has made more than 60 recordings, and all of its members enjoy active careers as solo performers.

At age 81, Pressler feels just as hungry to make music as he was when he performed at Berkshire 50 years ago with original trio members Daniel Guilet and Bernard Greenhouse. He is still the driving force behind the trio, pushing it to new limits, all while keeping up a career as a solo performer and teacher. Performing is in his blood, he said, and he is overwhelmed that the trio has never been more in demand than it is today.

"Who would have expected that (audiences) would want us back every single year of our existence," Pressler said. "Even from the beginning, once we played somewhere, they always wanted us back. We've always given listeners what they want out of a concert -- inspiration."

To learn more about the Beaux Arts Trio, go to http://www.beauxartstrio.org/.

For more about the 2005 Summer Music Festival, including ticket information and details about other events, go to http://www.music.indiana.edu/summer.

Media interested in speaking to Menahem Pressler should contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or rpiurek [at] indiana [dot] edu (rpiurek@indiana.edu) or Linda Cajigas, IU School of Music, at 812-855-9846 or musicpub [at] indiana [dot] edu (musicpub@indiana.edu) .