Three years ago, the Mendelssohn Piano Trio opened the season for Columbia's Sundays at Three chamber music series. The group's performance went over so well that the series decided to have them back again to open this year's season opener on Oct. 2.
It's easy to see why. The group, which boasts members from both Montgomery and Baltimore counties, has proven popular since its inception in 1997. It holds residencies at two institutions, including Washington, D.C.'s Embassy Series and Pennsylvania's Messiah College, and features three of the region's top musicians.
Violinist Peter Sirotin was a child prodigy who made his professional debut at age 14 with the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra. Pianist Ya-Ting Chang, who is also Sirotin's wife, was also a professional child performer. In her native Taiwan, she won first prize in the 1987 Taiwan National Piano Competition.
Then there's cellist Fiona Thompson, a native of England who studied at the Royal Northern College of Music. The Baltimore County resident has serves as the principal cellist of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra since 1998 and has also performed with theBaltimore Symphony Orchestra.
The magic combination of these three top-tier musicians is what makes them immediately likable on stage, according to Sundays at Three's artistic director, Ronald Mutchnik.
"They have a very natural rapport between themselves and with the audience. Everybody goes away from their concerts feeling that they've experienced something special. There is a cleanness in their sound, an honesty in the way they interpret the music."
Mutchnik says the main reason the trio is able to put across the music of big-deal composers is that they make it a point not to appear as such a big deal themselves.
"They don't put on histrionics, they're not showy and they don't try to exaggerate things on stage. I think that's refreshing in this day and age, with all the hype you see.
"It's nice to see a group of people and simply see that they play music well, they like each other and the audience gets it. So that's why we love having them."
The trio's violinist, Sirotin, for his part, has sung the praises of the series. "This particular series is very good about wanting variety for the audience. They have a lot of loyal audience members who come back all the time."
When the trio appeared for the series in 2008, it presented works by Haydn and Schubert with a dash of its namesake, Mendelssohn, thrown in for good measure.
This time around, the group will revisit the first two composers and play Haydn's Trio in E-flat Major, Hob. XV: 10 and Schubert's Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major. Their third offering will be a work by Brahms, the Trio No. 3 in C Minor.
The idea to have the group play compositions by well known composers was deliberate, Mutchnik adds.
"We like to start off our first concert with big name composers, composers that everybody knows and loves: Haydn, Brahms and Schubert are pretty much about as famous as it gets. And these are all excellent pieces of music — any one of them is a gem of the repertoire and we felt that that combination was the right thing to start off our season."
The Mendelssohn Piano Trio will open the Sundays at Three concert season Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. in Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia (Oakland Mills Road, opposite Dobbin Road). Admission is $15. Anyone age 17 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. For more information, go to http://www.SundaysAtThree.org, or call 410-992-0145.
Ying Quartet rekindles Candlelight season
The Ying Quartet's newest CD, "Dim Sum," shows the Grammy Award-nominated string quartet mining new territory with works by Chinese-American composers. It has also changed a bit itself recently, which local audiences will see when the Ying Quartet stops in Columbia this Saturday, Oct. 1, to open the Candlelight Concert Society's 2011-12 season.
When the group formed in 1988, it was fairly unique in that it was composed entirely of siblings. All four Yings were college students who went on to become the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and to achieve international success with several CDs released on the Telarc label.
These days, it's no longer strictly a family enterprise. First violinist Timothy Ying stepped down from his musical position, telling the Rochester Arts blog that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Taking his place in the ensemble was Ayano Ninomiya, considered a rising star in the classical music world, having been the second-prize winner of the 2003 Walter W. Naumburg International Violin Competition. She has also performed with orchestras in Europe and the United States and holds a magna cum laude degree from Harvard University, where she majored in both music and French.
The rest of the quartet is made up of Janet Ying on violin, Phillip Ying on viola and David Ying on cello.
Having performed as a unit for decades, the group now commands immense respect in the classical music scene, and has played venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House.
As for the ensemble's Grammy nomination, it came with the 2007 Telarc release of its CD featuring a trio of Tchaikovsky quartets and a performance of his "Souvenir de Florence," a sextet piece which saw the group collaborate with violist James Dunham and cellist Paul Katz. It was nominated for in the Best Chamber Music Performance category.
For its Candlelight appearance, the group will again explore some new territory by playing two modern works along with two classical pieces. The newer compositions include Paul Moravec's "Anniversary Dances" and John Novacek's "Three Rags for String Quartet." The classical pieces include Mozart's Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428 and Bedrich Smetana's Quartet No. 1 in E Minor ("From My Life").
The Ying Quartet will perform for Candlelight Concerts this Saturday, Oct. 1, 8 p.m., in the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. Admission is $30 general, $28 for those 60 and older and $12 for students. Children and teens ages 9-17 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Call 410-997-2324 or go to http://www.candlelightconcerts.org.