Chamber group offers three good reasons to go to church

The Mendelssohn Trio's members are, from left, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, violinist Peter Sirotin and cellist Fiona Thompson.
The Mendelssohn Trio's members are, from left, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, violinist Peter Sirotin and cellist Fiona Thompson.(Photo courtesy of Sundays at Three)

Chamber music needs the right-sized chamber, which often proves to be a church. For the Sundays at Three series, that sacred space is Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia. That's where the Mendelssohn Piano Trio will perform on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m.

The upcoming program features two very familiar 19th-century German composers, as well as an early-20th-century French composer whose music will not be known to many listeners.


Although Ludwig van Beethoven hardly needs much by way of introduction, the specific piece being performed at the upcoming concert always has held a curious place in this composer's career. Beethoven's Piano Trio, Op. 121a, "Kakadu" Variations was composed in 1803, but it was not published until 1824. Beethoven died in 1827, so the piece would not have been widely known during his lifetime.

Another striking aspect of the piece has to do with the music itself, which offers a pronounced juxtaposition between serious and lighter sections.


A German composer who came on the scene in the mid-19th-century, Robert Schumann is represented by a piece he composed in 1847, his Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63.

Schumann was a versatile composer known for piano music, orchestral compositions and songs. The piano held special meaning for him, because he began studying the piano at age 6. Indeed, Schumann contemplated having a career as a pianist until an injury to one of his fingers in effect pointed the way to his eventual career as a composer.

The third piece on the upcoming program is French composer Philippe Gaubert's "Trois Aquarelles" arranged for piano trio. Gaubert (1879- 1941) was a flute player, conductor and composer. "Trois Aquarelles" was composed for flute, cello and piano in the 1920s. Musically influenced by slightly earlier composers including Ravel and Debussy, Gaubert's impressionistic qualities are reflected in the titles he gave the three sections of this piece: On a Clear Morning, Autumn Evening and Serenade.

Bringing this program to life is the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, who all come from different countries and yet now have various professional and personal connections.

One of the strongest links between them is that they all teach at Messiah College in Granthan, Pa.

Pianist Ya-Ting Chang originally is from Taiwan. After coming to the United States, she studied with Enrique Graf.

Chang is married to violinist Peter Sirotin. They co-founded the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in 1997; and they also both administratively run the Market Square concerts in Harrisburg, Pa.

Sirotin originally is from Ukraine. After studying at the Moscow Conservatory, he came to the United States and received his Graduate Performance Diploma at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. His Peabody teachers included Earl Carlyss, Victor Danchenko and Berl Senofsky. Sirotin presently is concertmaster of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

Cellist Fiona Thompson originally is from England and began her musical studies there before studying at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music. Thompson is principal cellist with the Harrisburg Symphony Ochestra. In our area, she has played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Incidentally, Thompson plays a cello made in 1750, meaning it's even older than most of the classical repertory played by this group.

A case in point is the Mendelssohn Piano Trio's recently concluded five-year project to record all of the late-18th-century composer Franz Joseph Haydn's piano trios for Centaur Records. Thompson's cello already was making music before Haydn made his mark in music.

The Mendelssohn Piano Trio performs Sunday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. Tickets are $15, free for those 17 and under when accompanied by a paying adult. Call 443-288-3179 or go to sundaysatthree.org.

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