The Vienna Piano Trio

Vienna Piano Trio
March 10 at 7:30
Stude Concert Hall
Rice University
6100 Main St.

Except for the neurons in the cerebral cortex, each of the 50 to 75 trillion cells in the human body periodically dies and is replaced: red blood cells last for about four months, skin cells for two or three weeks, and colon cells die about every three days. This leads to a familiar philosophical riddle—if all the cells in our body have been replaced, are we still the same person we were 10 years ago? Are our neurons the only things that make us us—would we still be the same person if we existed only as a brain in a vat?

The same question might be asked of the renowned Vienna Piano Trio, which performs Tuesday night at Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall as part of the Chamber Music Houston series. The ensemble was founded in 1988 by pianist Stefan Mendl, cellist Marcus Trefny, and violinist Wolfgang Redik. In 2001 Trefny was replaced by Matthias Gredler, and a few years ago Redik stepped aside to make way for Bogdan Bozovic, which means that Mendl is the last remaining link to the original group. 

When asked about the challenge of maintaining a group identify through such significant changes of cast, Mendl said the ensemble had little choice. “Our first cellist had to stop after 12 years because of trouble with his fingers,” Mendl told us by phone from his home in Vienna. “The original violinist couldn’t continue either, because he was too busy with teaching and traveling and family obligations. It’s very challenging, but also very pleasing, because you’re always getting new influence. That keeps us happy and fresh.”

The situation is hardly unprecedented in music, classical or popular. The Temptations continue to perform despite the fact that Otis Williams is the last remaining member of the original band. The Beach Boys soldiered on without Brian Wilson, The Rolling Stones without Brian Jones, and Pink Floyd without Syd Barrett. In 1996, the lead singer of the English heavy metal band Judas Priest left the group, only to be replaced by another singer the band recruited from a Judas Priest cover band. (The story inspired the 2001 Mark Wahlburg film Rock Star.) 

So what makes The Vienna Piano Trio of 2015 the Vienna Piano Trio of 1988? Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’ve always been known for their interpretations of composers who were born or lived in Austria—Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart. For their Houston concert, they’ll perform Mozart’s Piano Trio in G Major. “It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous work,” Mendl said. “We’ve played it many times, and I love it each time more than the time before. We’re very lucky to have the manuscript of the work survive, and you can see that Mozart worked very hard on the piece. He used several colors of ink, and made a lot of corrections in his own handwriting, which is very unusual for him.”

Also on the program are two piano trios in D minor, by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. The latter was partly inspired by the former, and is one of the most famous piano trios in the repertoire. “[Schumann] was really raving about [Mendelssohn’s] trio, and then later he was writing his own D Minor Trio. Although it’s very different from Mendelssohn’s—it couldn’t be more different. The whole thing that makes the Schumann D Minor so special is that you have this feeling that you’re emerging from darkness and melancholy and despair to triumph. It ends in a fantastic and exuberant and almost euphoric mood. Mendelssohn was very pleased with his trio, and he said, ‘This will give joy to generations to come.’ And he was right.”

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