New Arts Trio celebrates 33 years at Chautauqua


The New Arts Trio

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

“It’s just like getting together with old friends and having a musical glass of champagne,” said cellist Arie Lipsky about the New Arts Trio, which performs at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall as part of the Logan Chamber Music Series.

The New Arts Trio has been in residence at Chautauqua for 33 years and was founded by pianist Rebecca Penneys. Lipsky joined the trio in 1996 and violinist Jacques Israelievitch joined in 1999. Each member of the New Arts Trio is deeply involved with the Chautauqua School of Music: Penneys is Piano Chair, Lipsky is Chamber Music Chair and Israelievitch is Strings Chair.

Penneys said because the members of the trio all have similar backgrounds, they’re a good fit. As experienced performers, they work together with minimal rehearsal time but are still relaxed and easygoing.

“It evolves in a much more mature and seasoned way, like a bottle of wine,” she said.

Though they work together smoothly, Israelievitch said the three-program season requires intense preparation.

“We hit the ground running,” he said. “The first concert is in Week Two, so there’s no time to be wasted.”

Today’s program will open with French composer Jean Françaix’s Piano Trio, written in 1986. Israelievitch spent years studying music in Françaix’s hometown, Le Mans, home of the 24-hour auto race by the same name. Israelievitch said that though some music critics call Françaix’s neo-classical compositions “musique facile,” or easy music, the Piano Trio is virtuosic and quite difficult to play.

“It’s music that appeals to the public because it’s easy to understand, which doesn’t mean that it’s not sophisticated; it’s just a language that is easily accessible,” he said.

Penneys said the piece is very bubbly, wistful and tongue-in-cheek, with a feeling of unsteadiness because of its first movement, which is in 5/8 meter.

The Françaix Piano Trio is contrasted and complemented by the program’s next piece, Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 7, known as the “Archduke” trio, which Lipsky characterized as a cornerstone of piano trio music.

“It was Beethoven who put the piano trio, as we know it, on the map,” he said. “Beethoven was the first composer to have three individual voices completely independent.”

Penneys characterized the “Archduke” as transcendent and spiritual.

“It’s got an enormous consciousness. It’s bigger than life in a way, like the Symphony No. 9,” she said. The piece is unusual because of its high cello and low violin parts.

“Sometimes, if you’re not looking and you’re just listening, you can’t tell which instrument is playing,” Israelievitch said.

The New Arts Trio is performing the “Archduke” in celebration of the 200th anniversary of its completion. Beethoven wrote the piece and a passionate, anonymous letter around the same time, sparking debate that the slow second movement might be dedicated to his “immortal beloved.”

“It’s full of love and passion, and I can grant you that we’ll play it with that spirit,” Lipsky said. He characterized the New Arts Trio as “organized gypsies.”

“We are all free spirits in essence, but since we are dealing with an art which has to be organized, it’s a combination of the free spirit, structured by the notes we have,” he said.

Penneys said that chamber music relates directly to the Chautauqua experience, where people of many opposing views come together in peaceful exchange.

“There’s many, many ways to slice an apple,” she said. “It’s not for any of us to say which way is the right way. It is our responsibility to have a civilized dialogue. In a way, that’s the essence of what chamber music is. Even though I know Jacques and Arie very well, we don’t have identical ideas. Chamber music is about exchanging and making a compromise. The sum is greater than its parts.”

The New Arts Trio performs outside of Chautauqua a few times a year. In the off-season, Penneys is an artist-in-residence at St. Petersburg College in Florida and a professor of piano at the Eastman School of Music, a position she’s held for more than 30 years.

Israelievitch recently retired from his concertmaster position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to focus on teaching at York University in Toronto. Lispky is the music director of the Ann Arbor Symphony in Mich. and the Ashland Symphony in Ohio.

In addition to today’s program, the New Arts Trio will perform other programs, sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club, at 4 p.m. July 26 and at 4 p.m. Aug. 11. Both performances will be held in Lenna Hall.

Further reading:

  1. New Arts Trio bio