Interview: Vancouver Sun, Trio Canadian debut

Nicola Benedetti, one of Vancouver’s favourite violinists, returns Sunday to play for the Vancouver Recital Society with two musical friends in tow: cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk. The Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio offers an extraordinarily rich program at the Vancouver Playhouse on the afternoon of April 8, its Canadian debut.

Benedetti was born in Scotland in 1987, educated at the fabled Yehudi Menuhin School for Young Musicians, and well and truly launched on her career when at 16 in 2004 she was named BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Benedetti played with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 2010, and returned in 2013. But her last VSO gig in 2016 included unexpected drama: she had to cancel one of her performances when she fell ill. “It was certainly a memorable experience getting pneumonia so suddenly and so severely,” she told me in a phone conversation last week. “It brought me a closer connection with people, because in such desperate circumstances you reach out, and I treasure the memory of all those who helped me.” Good, I suppose, to know that Vancouver isn’t a bad reminder of the perils of a touring virtuoso’s stressful life!

Her fans will be delighted to hear from her in the new-to-Vancouver context of chamber musician. Benedetti’s trio made its debut in the 2009-10 season, but the players — all international soloists in their own right — have known each other since student days in London. “This is a musical partnership of friendship and respect, with synergy on many, many levels among the three of us,” Benedetti explained. “We’re all a little bit unusual, so the fact that we found each other gives us a real connection in chamber music.”

Chamber playing is time-intensive and requires real commitment. Benedetti notes, “There aren’t many people who can make the time to do this, but when you’ve worked together as intensively as we have, you can reach new depths of interpretation.”

A highlight of the trio’s program is a set of duos for violin and cello by Mark-Anthony Turnage. Born in 1960, Turnage is in the news at the moment for his opera Coraline, premiered a few days ago in London by the Royal Opera, based on an unusual children’s book by cult author Neil Gaiman (which earlier became a successful 3-D animated movie). The Vancouver audience may remember Turnage’s Three Screaming Popes (after the paintings by Francis Bacon), a hit in the 2016 VSO New Music Festival.

“We commissioned Turnage’s Duetti d’Amore,” Benedetti explains, “and Leonard and I have played it a lot in many different circumstances and contexts. We came at the work from very different perspectives and met in the middle. It explores the relationship between the two instruments, which are treated at moments as inextricable, while other moments highlight and exaggerate the differences between them.”

Did working directly with the composer bring any elements of surprise or disagreement?

“There weren’t all that many surprises with Mark, because he is so reasonable. He put forward a few suggestions that made 100-per-cent sense to us, and on which we worked very diligently. Normally you have to choose your words carefully with composers, because they have put all this time and effort into their work, but Mark was equally receptive of everything that we suggested.”

XBeyond the duos and a trio movement by Schubert, the program has a heavy weight pair of major works, trios by Brahms and Ravel. In an ordinary concert either would be a striking highlight. Hearing both on the same program is almost an embarrassment of riches. Not, it would seem, for Benedetti Elschenbroich and Grynyuk. “If you look at our touring programs, you’ll see there’s always a bit of overkill,” Benedetti admits. “We just can’t seem to help ourselves.”


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