My trio has just spent two days giving masterclasses to three excellent postgraduate piano trios: the Trio Duecento Corde from Hungary, the Pescatori Trio from Germany, and the Van Halsema Trio who are currently based in London. Each year, the standard of playing seems to get higher, to the point when we’ve jokingly told some of our ‘students’ they’re so good that we might have to kill them at the end of the weekend.
Each trio typically contains players from several countries – this year, for example, one of ours had members from South Africa, Holland and Germany. And each year I sit there worrying about whether such diversity will tear them apart in the long run. When they are all studying in the same place, it’s easy for them to work together regularly, but when their courses end, the challenges of keeping in touch become enormous. It’s hard enough to stay together when you’re all from the same country. I hate the thought that all their shared knowledge and expertise may melt away.
What I like best about our masterclasses is that we can talk deeply about rather specialist matters we rarely discuss outside our own group. When we meet up with other trios, it turns out that they are preoccupied with the same questions. How to match instrumental tone to musical content. How to make the structure clear in a long movement by Schubert. Whether to help Schumann seem as sane as possible, and how. Whether it’s important to feel the emotions in a piece of music, or to remain slightly detached. How to know who is important at any given moment. Whether to allow variations of tempo within a movement, and why. How to give one another the freedom to play. Sharing these questions with other musicians is stimulating. Sometimes, when we’re all pondering the same thing, it feels as if we’re being gently heated inside a kind of benign pressure cooker.