Trio to perform Schubert at Spivey Hall

By Joel Hall


Franz Schubert's piano trios in B-flat major and E-flat major are considered, by many musicians, to be among the most technically challenging pieces in all of piano-trio literature. On March 20, concert pianist, Wu Han, and one half of the Grammy-award winning Emerson String Quartet -- cellist, David Finckel, and violinist, Philip Setzer -- will perform them at Spivey Hall.

The concert will begin at 8:15 p.m.

Wu and Finckel, wife and husband and co-artistic directors of New York's Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, along with fellow performer and long-time friend Setzer, will perform two of Schubert's most famous works, written only a year before his death at the age of 31.

"These two trios are really his [Schubert's] master work," said Wu, speaking on behalf of the trio on Friday. "He wrote it the year before he died ... there was just a burst of creativity from that year. He always believed that he was sent to this world to write music. It's kind of a statement of somebody's life.

"Any musician will tell you that this is the most challenging and difficult music," she continued. "It's difficult for all the instruments involved. The number of notes are difficult, especially [in] the B-flat [piano trio] for the string players. It takes an incredible amount of concentration. If any one of us make a tiny mistake, the audience will know it. It's a huge commitment of time and energy, so it is special."

Wu said that while this is the third year that she, Finckel, and Setzer have performed as a trio, the relationship between the artists spans decades. Wu said she and Finckel have been married 25 years and that Finckel and Setzer have performed together for more than 30 years, prior to the formation of the Emerson String Quartet.

Playing both Schubert piano trios in one concert has been a dream of the three performers for 20 years, according Wu. Two years ago, however, the three recorded the two piano trios, and have added performances of them to their already-grueling concert schedules for the past year and a half, she said.

"I could trace this back 20 years ago, hearing us say, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could do the Schubert trios?,'" Wu said. "You reach a certain time in your musical development where you say, 'I am ready for that.' It is a very big musical statement. It's like climbing a mountain. I really want to do this before I die, and we are doing it."

Spivey Hall Executive and Artistic Director Sam Dixon said he was excited to book the trio of Wu, Finckel, and Setzer, not only for the "superstar" status of the Emerson String Quartet, but for the trio's ability to play as a unit.

"Chamber music is about that friendship and intimacy," Dixon said. "Of all composers, Schubert wrote for a circle of friends. He was poor his entire life. He was supported by a small circle of friends. Without his friends, most of the works we love of Schubert wouldn't exist. To have such a friendly group of people to play music that was written for a friendly group of people ... it's exactly what I would like listeners at Spivey Hall to experience. They are going to hear a greatly refined performance with a great amount of subtlety."

Wu said due to the lyrical quality of all of Schubert's work, musicians, as well those unfamiliar with piano trio literature, will be able to find meaning in the Schubert piano trios.

"[In] the E-flat, there are parts that are like a funeral march," she said. "The end of it is like a huge triumph. It has such different layers of emotion. The B-flat is no slouch either. If you analyze the structure, it's ingeniously written. It's magnificent to watch. It's so simple on the surface. Only musicians know that those melodies are hard. You don't need to know a lot about music to enjoy it."

Tickets for the March 20 performance are on sale at the Spivey Hall box office for $40 general admission and $20 for students. A pre-concert talk will take place on stage at 7:15 p.m.

Spivey Hall is located on the campus of Clayton State University in Morrow. For ticket information, call (678) 466-4200.