Joseph Haydn in the 21st Century

The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt will premiere a work by South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen for a free SU concert.

The Austrian composer Joseph Haydn once said that his musical language could be understood anywhere in the world. 

The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt is celebrating this sentiment for the bicentennial of Haydn's death this year. In a project entitled “D2H” (dedicated to Haydn), the group commissioned six Austrian composers, six composers from other European countries and six composers from outside the continent to write a piano trio in his honor.

An extensive world tour to premiere these newly-commissioned works will soon be in our vicinity. After performing in Montreal, Ottawa, and Almonte, Canada, the ensemble arrives at SU next week. The concert features two Haydn piano trios in C and E-flat major, Franz Schubert's Piano Trio in E-flat major and the American premiere of South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen’s "Two Nguni Dances," a lively folkloristic piece with repeated, dance-like patterns.

Haydn Trio Eisenstadt

The new piece was a challenge for the group, which is not accustomed to non-western musical forms. “Ndodana-Breen told us during rehearsal that we were playing it too straight, too European,” said pianist Harald Kosik in a telephone interview. The composer helped the musicians to bring more authenticity to the rhythms.

Following the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt’s appearance in Syracuse, it will make stops at the Library of Congress to perform Argentinian composer Lalo Schifrin’s trio and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the premiere of American composer William Bolcom’s “Haydn Go Seek.”

Kosik founded the group in 1992 with violinist Verena Stourzh and cellist Hannes Gradwohl to champion modern, fresh, and living interpretations of 18th-century music. The ensemble believes that “Papa Haydn,” known to some as the father of the Classical era for passing on his knowledge of composition to Mozart and Beethoven, does not have to be reduced to the cliché of “a guy in a wig.”

Haydn made many innovative contributions to Classical music, including the genre of the piano trio. “He invented the form and brought it very far—writing 39 pieces of its kind and influencing all of Europe,” Kosik explained. “You can see that the compositional style of Beethoven’s first piano trio picks up exactly where Haydn left off.” 

The ensemble’s CD of complete piano trios by Beethoven, recorded in the historic Eszterhazy Castle in Eisenstadt, Haydn’s home city, recently won praise in the Classical Music Centennial for "mature, tight, deeply expressive playing that brings out all the qualities within this music." 

BBC Music Magazine called their arrangements of Haydn’s folksong arrangements with singers Lorna Anderson and Jamie MacDougall a "feat of stamina," and the Los Angeles Times considers the ensemble one of Austria’s leading chamber music groups.

The trio upholds the Classical tradition with a rare dedication to one composer’s legacy. “Without Haydn, the line from the Baroque to the early Romantic would not exist,” Kosik said.

D2H ensures that the canon will continue to thrive well into the 21st century.

Interview was conducted in German and translated by the author.

Go see the concert

Haydn Trio Eisenstadt will perform Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. in Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3. Admission is free and open to the SU and surrounding community.

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