Artist Interview: Horszowski Trio

By Erik Petersons on October 19, 2018

Jesse Mills, Raman Ramakrishnan, and Rieko Aizawa have played together for many years as a trio, taking their name from the legendary pianist, Mieczyslaw Horszowski. The deep trust built between the players over time has given them an exhilarating expressive freedom which was heard on their debut performance with PCMS in 2016. We sat down with Raman Ramakrishnan, the cellist in the trio, to discuss the world premiere on their program, their collaboration with Roberto Díaz, and his reflection on the art of teaching.

Erik Petersons: Between the Schumann and Fauré on your program on November 28th, you will be giving the world premiere of Daron Hagen’s Piano Trio No. 6. Tell us about the work and what it has been like to work with the composer. What is it like to introduce a new piece like this to an audience?

Raman Ramakrishnan: In the summer of 2017, the trio performed a program at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, NY, which included an early trio by Daron Hagen. The trio is athletic, demanding, exciting, and passionate, and it was our first time playing it. Since he lives close to Woodstock, Daron was able to attend. It is always exciting (and a little nerve-wracking) to play a piece for its composer; this experience was even more nerve-wracking because Daron hadn't heard us play a note of the piece before the actual concert, and we weren't sure we were playing everything in this difficult, compelling work as he would have liked it played. Fortunately, Daron was forgiving of our sins, and offered on the spot to write his next trio for us. The result is his Trio No. 6, an engaging, poetic, and powerful journey through a series of vignettes. Playing a new piece for an audience for the first time is a little bit like giving birth to a creature that has never existed before. There is an extra excitement in the air. We have heard the notes played in our practice rooms many times, of course, but the entire experience changes when hundreds of people are listening.

EP: Where did you meet and what catalyzed the formation of the trio in 2011?

RR: Jesse and I met in the summer of 1991 when we were summer campers at the Kinhaven Music School in Vermont. A VHS recording of our Dvorak "American" quartet still lurks damningly somewhere in his parents' house. We were fast friends and really enjoyed playing with each other. Over the years, we have always looked for projects to do together. Rieko and Jesse met while playing chamber music together in New York. They also hit it off musically...and otherwise—they have been married for over ten years now. In 2010, when a concert presenter approached me about performing with "your trio" (which I didn't have at the time), I immediately called Jesse and Rieko and we put together a demo CD and resume that was cobbled together from our individual accomplishments. We didn't get the gig. But we enjoyed playing together so much that we decided to become a trio the next year.

EP: You have known Jesse Mills for nearly thirty years and he is married to Rieko, the pianist in the trio. What artistic advantages have these longstanding relationships afforded for the ensemble?

RR: The advantage of longstanding relationships is that they can create a sense of security and, therefore, freedom. In rehearsals, we can be very frank with each other, knowing that we all want what is best for the music. And in performances, we can let our creativity soar, knowing that we are all connected and that we are all listening, reacting, and breathing together.

EP: What is your collaboration with Roberto Díaz like? How does adding another musician affect the dynamic of the group?

RR: Adding another musician completely changes the dynamic of the group, and it's always fun. Suddenly, everyone's relationship to everyone else takes on a new energy. The sound world changes, the musical aesthetic shifts. It can be very exciting. This will be our first time working with Roberto, and we couldn't be more thrilled that he is joining us. Needless to say, he is one of the preeminent violists of our time. I spent my undergraduate studies working with his brother, Andres Díaz, so I am particularly happy about making this connection.

EP: As the ensemble-in-residence at the Longy School of Music (Bard College), has teaching changed the way you think about music?

RR: Teaching definitely has a way of keeping the music fresh and alive for us. We are often inspired by our students, who constantly bring new interpretations to old standards. Teaching also forces us, to a certain degree, to codify our own approaches to the instrument and to music in general, in order to pass information on in a clear way. But we always have to allow for flexibility; each student requires different things from us. Our residency at Longy has also enabled us to bite off large-scale projects—one year focused on the complete trios of Beethoven, set against complementary and contrasting works, and culminating in a performance of the Triple Concerto with the school orchestra. And last year, similarly, focused on the complete trios and piano quartets of Brahms.

The Horszowski Trio will perform with violist Roberto Díaz on Wednesday, November 28, at 7:30 pm at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. For tickets and information, visit the concert page. For more information about the Horszowski Trio, visit their website.