Verdehr Trio's commissions and James Niblock's works for the violin, clarinet, and piano trio focusing on Terzina (1995)
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The Verdehr Trio has been one of the leading chamber ensemble groups in the world over the past half century, featuring clarinetist Elsa Ludwig-Verdehr, violinist Walter Verdehr, and pianist Silvia Roederer. Founded in 1972, the trio worked to broaden the violin, clarinet, and piano trio’s repertoire. Since 1976, through Making of a Medium project, the ensemble has commissioned over 210 pieces from more than 150 contemporary composers all over the world. Although there were already a handful of prominent works for this configuration by Bartók, Milhaud, Khachaturian, and a few others, this genre of musical composition was established and popularized by the Verdehr trio’s efforts and their commissioned works. Indeed, other ensemble groups are actively continuing the Verdehr Trio’s legacy through performing the Verdehr’s repertoire on stage and by adding new repertoire to their programs by commissioning and arranging pieces. The concept of developing a whole new repertoire for a certain group of instruments shows great promise for the possibility of new music for contemporary musicians. From the beginning of the Verdehr Trio’s existence, James Niblock has been one of the primary supporters for the ensemble, not only as a colleague at Michigan State University, but also as a composer who has provided more than 13 pieces ranging from arrangements of pre-existing works to double concertos, including trio-specific chamber compositions. Niblock’s trio compositions make a solid contribution to the violin, clarinet, and piano trio literature as valuable exemplars of American Neoclassical music, with many similarities with Roy Harris and Hindemith. Niblock maintains a classical aesthetic in his chamber music, pursuing pure sounds, refraining from emotional or scenic expressions, and employing the use of simple instrumental techniques, few dynamics, a narrow range in the piano, thin polyphonic textures, rhythmic clarity, and small motives. On the basis of traditional idioms, he added 20th century techniques and personal preferences for shifted rhythm, perfect 4th/5th intervals, use of pitch centers rather than traditionally defined key areas, repetition of small motives, and more.
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