Guardians of Musical Treasure: Gryphon Trio At Leelanau Summer Music Fest 2017

The Leelanau Summer Music Festival kicks off its concert schedule on Tuesday, July 11 at the Concert Hall of the former Holy Rosary School/Sala Koncertowa, with a chamber music group, Gryphon Trio. The group is made up of Canadians: violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Jamie Parker.

I’m expecting great things from this concert. The program is being finalized. Possible pieces include the Beethoven Piano Trio in E-flat major, Opus 70 No.2, a Hayden piece, and perhaps Rebecca Clarke’s Piano Trio. Another, very different piece might make it into the evening, “Love Triangle” by Dinuk Wijeratne, a newly composed Canadian piece commissioned by the Gryphon Trio.

UPDATE: MyNorth.com has received the confirmed program: “Love Triangle” by Dinuk Wijeratne, Rebecca Clarke’s Piano Trio and Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 70 No. 2.

And while enticing, that’s not the source of my enthusiasm. Rather, I’m intrigued by the nature of their playing and the passion of the group. On their videos you see them stealing glances at each other, the visual cues for timing, sparking with electricity. And when interviewed, they exude as much passion talking about music and their desire to engage on several levels as they do playing in the concert halls. The settings didn’t matter. They were as vibrant in the spotlights of a formal stage or the soft paneling of a well-worn recording studio.

The Gryphon Trio are self-proclaimed guardians of musical treasures, the same way the Greek mythical creatures, half lion and half eagle, were known for protecting gold and monetary treasures. They’ve been playing together since college in Alberta, Canada, when life, music and proper partying techniques were de rigueur. I suspect this foundation of inspiration and fun is one of the reasons why they’ve lasted 23 years together.

As guardians of the music, they feel a responsibility to its creation, possibly another secret to their longevity. They fuel the breadth of their experiences in music by getting off the stage and into the classroom, the recording studio, outreach programs and the instruction of young people. The variety and newness of these expressions is what engages them.

I grew up surrounded by classical music. There were red velvet chairs at Powell Hall at Christmas, spring pops concerts at Queeny Park Sports Center with tablecloth-covered 10-tops and folding chairs on the cement floor where the ice rink was in winter, and summer picnics on the lawn at Laumeir Sculpture Park, where the orchestra would fire a real cannon for the 1812 Overture.

In college, I listened to Tchiakovsky when I studied for finals. At Ford Motor Co. marketing conferences, the facilitators employed the “Mozart Effect” to help us learn. At work now, I’m as likely to hear Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, as I am U2, from the ear buds that help me tune into my work.

Over the last week, I’ve been listening to the Gryphon Trio’s YouTube videos. In particular, I’ve played a recording of Beethoven Trios Op. 70 No. 2, 1st Movement. And I really liked the Mendelsohnn. And who doesn’t like a Hayden C Major, Hob.XV:27 with its upbeat lively trills. These pieces were in line with my previous classical music experiences.

Letting the Youtube music play underneath several open computer tabs, I was pulled away from my work when “Riverman” by Nick Drake started playing. Was I still listening to Gryphon Trio? Then Patricia O’Callighan’s voice. Unexpected. But there was the Trio, a perfect foil to her alluring, haunting voice, complemented, not at all overshadowed, a balanced duet of voice and instrument. The piano, cello, violin and voice having its turn.

Having grown up listening to concerts by St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Leonard Slatkin, I’m used to a surprise piece in a concert. He used to put a favorite, popular piece after intermission to keep people there, and have something new, or different just before intermission. My father thought it was a strategy to expose the audience to something they should listen to, with something they wanted to listen to as the reward.

The announcer introduced the Gryphon Trio’s Juno awards performance saying that they were known for pushing the boundaries of classical music. They played “Otoño Porteño” by Astor Piazzolla, a piece that Slatkin could have put on the program just before intermission. Good. Different. And unexpected.

“Love Triangle”, if there’s time for it in the program would also qualify as a boundary-pushing piece. The composer, Wijeratne, talks about combining North Indian and Arabic musical inspiration with traditional chamber music. Only three years old, it includes places in the piece for improvisation. He composed the piece at the request of Gryphon Trio. Watching them play the piece on the video of its Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance, there’s a point where Borys slides his fingers down the cello strings. And on the violin, Patipatanakoon’s bow can be seen hopping from one staccato string over one string to another in quick precision. Toward the end, the piano’s part requires Parker’s whole body to keep up, and looks like it might have been designed by an aerobics instructor. Wijeratne must have known the capabilities of the Trio when he wrote the piece, because “Love Triangle” is clearly not for beginners.

Borys says that Gryphon is an unusual name for a chamber music group, which suits the unusual breadth of their work. Unusual indeed. And that is why I’m looking forward to experiencing the magical arts of this Gryphon.


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