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The piano trio Bearthoven, based in New York and its vibrant contemporary music scene, has sought to revivify the piano trio medium through commissioning new works. The trio has played new music in a wide variety of styles, from the jazz-inspired pieces of 2017's Trios to the post-minimalism of their 2020 recording of Sarah Hennies' work Spectral Malsconcities. Bearthoven is one of a few dozen ensembles supported by the New Music Impact USA Fund. Formed in 2013, Bearthoven is not a typical piano trio: it consists of pianist Karl Larson, bassist Pat Swoboda (Contemporaneous, Gutbucket), and percussionist Matt Evans (Contemporaneous, Tigue). They have diverse backgrounds involving various types of music. Although the composition of the trio is typical of jazz and is used in some pop idioms, it is unusual in contemporary classical music, or was unusual until Bearthoven came along: in their first seven seasons of performances, the group commissioned more than 30 new works. They make a virtue of the newness of the instrumentation, which provides both familiarity and difficulty for an audience: the group's mission statement asserts that it "invites composers to explore their cultural relationship with the instrumentation, creating a dialogue between their compositional voice and their own associations with the piano, bass, and percussion sound palette. This approach is a provocative prompt for composers and provides the audience with a secure sonic foothold, even in the most abstract compositions." Among the composers commissioned and performed by Bearthoven are post-minimalists Shelley Washington, Brooks Frederickson, and Ken Thomson as well as the more abstract Anthony Vine, Scott Wollschleger, and Sarah Hennies. Bearthoven has performed at the Bang on a Can Marathon, the MATA Festival, the Music/Sound Series at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York, the Princeton Sound Kitchen, and the Ciclo de Conciertos de Música Contemporanéa in Buenos Aires. They released the album Trios on the Cantaloupe Music label in 2017, following it up with American Dream, featuring the music of Wollschleger, two years later. In 2020, Bearthoven's recording of Hennies' Spectral Malsconcities was released by New World Records, sharing an album with another Hennies piece, Unsettle, performed by Bent Duo.
© James Manheim & Paul Simpson /TiVo
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