The Young Concert Artists Series- Anthony Trionfo, Albert Cano Smit, and Katherine Balch
On March 18th, 2018, I was given the incredible opportunity to attend the 39th Young Concert Artists Series, located at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Young Concert Artists is a group formed in 1961 that has showcased the potential of many talented artists, including flutist Paula Robinson, pianist Emanuel Ax, and composer Kevin Puts. This particular performance was the recital debut of Anthony Trionfo (22), an accomplished flutist who has played at multiple schools and who has performed with the Interlochen Symphony Orchestra, the Colburn Symphony Orchestra, and the “President’s Own” Marine Band. He was joined for this recital by Albert Cano Smit, a Dutch-Spanish pianist who has performed worldwide in cities including Brussels, Montreal, Barcelona, and Los Angeles. The concert consisted of seven pieces, including an arrangement of “Carnival of Venice” by Trionfo himself, and the premiere of “drip/spin”, a composition written by Young Concert Artist Katherine Balch (26). Balch is the 2017-2019 Young Concert Artists Composer in Residence, and her music has been performed worldwide by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony, and at the MANCA festival in Nice, France. The performance was held in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater for an audience that was excited to see these young artists.
The first piece in the program was a classic piece of repertoire for flute- “Fantasy in E Minor” by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). From the first delicate note of the flute in the Andantino movement, I could tell that I was in for a treat. As a flute player, I’ve heard recordings and live performances of this piece dozens of times, and I can honestly say that this one was my favorite. Trionfo’s performance, although delicate, was brimming with energy matched by Cano Smit. I should also note that I was immediately struck by how Trionfo moved as he was performing. His movements perfectly reflected the music (more relaxed in the quieter sections, more attentive in the louder sections, and moving about the stage during the more mobile passages). I felt as if I was watching an actor bring the music to life and amazingly, this movement only seemed to increase the incredible beauty of his sound. The second movement was just as amazing. The incredible dynamic range of both Trionfo and Cano Smit and balance between the two captured by attention and made me wish that I could hear the entire piece again.
The second piece Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) “Partita in A Minor”. The first movement (“Allemande”) was performed in an wonderfully passionate way. From Trinofo’s incredibly in-depth notes, to his body movements, I was drawn in to a world of passionate music. The second movement was incredible, with a clear and beautiful sound across the entire range of the flute. One particular high yet delicate note drew some gasps from the audience. The third movement was a sharp contrast from the second, with a playful tone that was able to pull the audience in in an almost hypnotic way. The final movement was also performed in a playful way, but with a lot more movement. It was performed at an incredibley brisk speed and it felt as if the performance was generating its own energy.
The next piece was the premiere of Balch’s “drip/spin.” Before the performance, Trifono explained that this piece was inspired by glow worms. These animals create a luminous string (similar to a glowing spider web) and use it to attract prey. In the case of this piece, the piano acted as the glow worm and the flute was the prey. Before the piece, the piano was prepared by adding a strip of poster tack (the sticker material that allows you to hang posters directly onto a wall) over an octave of the piano strings. When these particular strings were hit, they created a tuned yet slightly dissonant sound that was barely recognizable as a piano. The music for the piano could be described as almost hypnotic- a line that was repeated multiple times, with slight changes every time. It was barely noticeable until the original theme returned at the end. It seemed to reflect the way a glow worm slowly draws in its prey. While the piano was playing this line, the flute’s part was much more erratic. It was full of pitch bends and other contemporary sounds, including one section where the flute sounded exactly like the buzzing of an insect. The music of the flute sounded like a mix between “Flight of the Bumblebee” and the contemporary works of Salvatore Sciarrino, an Italian composer born in 1947. The piece seemed relatively balanced between the flute and piano for most of the piece, until the piano overtook the flute closer to the end. This symbolized the prey’s failed escape from the glow worm. This piece was absolutely incredible, but don’t fret if you missed it- it will be performed again later this month as part of the Young Concert Artists Series in New York at the Merkin Concert Hall.
The fourth piece was André Jolivet’s Chant de Linos. One of the most notable parts of this piece was the contrasting styles, from quiet and delicate to loud and stately. The transitions between these sections are rather abrupt, and Trionfo and Cano Smit delivered in emphasizing this contrast. They were able to draw the audience into a false sense of security, and suddenly enter the stately sections with energy and power that seemingly came out of nowhere.
After a brief intermission, Lieberman’s Sonata for Flute and Piano was played. The first movement (Lento con rubato) was extremely playful and coy, with trills and high notes that drew in the listener’s attention. The second movement (Presto energico) was in sharp contrast to the previous movement. While the flute was still fairly lyrical, the piano was playing a much more agitated line underneath, which created more and more energy as the piece went on, eventually building to a strong finish with both players and enthusiastic applause from the audience.
The next piece was Ian Clarke’s (b. 1964) “Zoom Tube”. This was a much more contemporary piece designed around all the sounds a flute can make, from simply blowing air through the instrument (not making notes) to a sound that I can only describe as beatboxing through the instrument. This piece is extremely fun and energetic, with a lot of room for the player to play as they pleased. Trionfo took a very dramatic approach, taking many long pauses and teasing the audience who was eagerly waiting for the next sound. There were multiple gasps and murmurs from the audience throughout the piece, and received thunderous applause and cheers as it was finished.
The final selection was Trionfo’s own arrangement of “Carnival of Venice.” Trionfo explained that he created this arrangement as an exercise for exploring different styles while performing on flute. It started with the original theme, and then began a musical evolution though multiple styles. It started in a very stately fashion, then moved into a more lyrical section. Parts of it even moved into a jazz like style and a section that sounded somewhat like a salsa. Although these styles were contrasting, there were never any transitions that felt jarring or out of place. It was a beautiful arrangement, and concluded with a strong and exciting finish.
Fortunately for the audience, Trionfo returned to the stage to play Debussey’s Syrinx. It was a beautiful and haunting melody, and it was incredibly hypnotic. The entire piece was entirely stunning. It helped to dispel the energy of the previous piece, but still allowed the concert to end on a strong note.
All in all, this was an absolutely incredible concert. Trionfo and Cano Smit were two amazing players, and their playing styles blended together perfectly. Balch’s composition was amazing as well, and it was a beautiful blend both contemporary and more traditional styles. I was very happy to attend the concert, and I wish all three artists the best of luck in their next endeavors.