The Gryphon Trio: Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin),
Roman Borys (cello),and Jamie Parker (piano);
Photo credit: John Beebe

The GRYPHON TRIO sends a holiday message of love, hope and renewal!

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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON December 16th 2016

I am the first one to feel all the joy of children’s choirs, brass bands and a cappella singing at this time of year. Last night however, I decided to change it up a bit and find a different kind of musical feast - one I could sink my teeth into. Music Toronto’s concert series entitled Chamber Music Downtown provided the perfect recipe. The Gryphon Trio, Canada’s gift to the world of chamber music, presented a programme of Schoenberg, Brahms and contemporary Canadian music. 

Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op. 4 opened the program. This was early Schoenberg at his best. ‘The Gryphons’ performed it with a profound depth of musical and emotional understanding. The music told a story of how bravery, honesty, forgiveness and the joy of a new life can bring two people into a deeper love. The poetry of Richard Dehmel provides the context, but the genius of the work is in the musical language that brings out the drama. The opening repeated octaves by the piano followed by the cello and violin’s descending scales set the sombre tone. The Wagnerian chromatic harmonies that followed gave gripping tension to the storyline. I was emotionally drained by the end. In the musical resolution of the work was some of the sweetest music I have heard in a long time. The balance in the group and the sensitive playing by each member of the ensemble was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

 Completing the first half of the programme was Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Give Me Phoenix Wings to Fly. Commissioned by the Gryphon Trio in 1997, it has been performed widely over the years and for good reason. The myth of the Phoenix rising from the ashes following its immolation in a devastating fire is especially relevant in today’s world of tragic events. Between the staccato chords and the fury of sixteenth notes in the opening section, one could feel the fire grow. The driving rhythm and the dissonances added to the visceral feeling of panic that fire inevitably brings. The trio once again was at its best as it took the audience through the horror of destruction only to find resilience, hope and strength in the aftermath.

Following intermission, the Gryphon Trio demonstrated its commitment to giving back to the community through education. For nineteen years it has worked with Grade 11 music students from the Claude Watson Arts Program at Earl Haig Secondary School. For a few months each spring, the trio assists teacher Alan Torok in a composition project. Last night, two student compositions were included in the concert.

David Kim’sTrio No. 1 and Lydia Frank’sChicken Talk each provided ample evidence of special talent. Using an octatonic scale as the basis for both of the compositions, each contained sparkling wit and a discernible structure. Although these were the first trios written by these students, both have been immersed in music for a long time. David Kim has been playing violin since he was six and has been a member of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra for several years. Lydia Frank has been singing her whole life, has been in the Toronto Children’s Choir since 2007, and last year was promoted to head chorister.

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio in B, Op. 8 concluded the program with some of the most romantic music imaginable. There was a youthfulness in the music and in the performing, yet tempered by the wisdom of Brahms’ late in life revisions and the trio’s many years of living with the work. It was as splendid as one could imagine. Clearly, each member of the Gryphon Trio subjugated his/her own individualism into the needs of the ensemble and the music itself.

I decided to attend this concert as an alternative to the many holiday presentations available and it was a wise choice as the performance turned out to be a holiday gift of the highest offering. Each of the pieces seemed to evoke a small part of the Christmas message: the birth of a child bringing love in the first work, the renewal of life and hope in the second, and the gifts to and from the young composers included in the performance. The Brahms conveyed the lesson that we can each continue to renew ourselves at any age. The biggest gift of the evening was the Gryphon Trio itself which kept on giving with an encore: Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga. The concert was a magical holiday event that I will long remember.

Music Toronto’s next concert will be a solo piano performance by Sean Chen at 8pm on Tuesday, January 7th, 2017at the St. Lawrence Centre.