This article by Jeffrey Palmer was published in Australian music magazine CutCommon on 3 October 2019. To see the article in full, click here.
On a deliciously warm, early Autumn evening in New York, I had the pleasure of making my way downtown to the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture for an evening with the Merz Trio. After disembarking the 6 train and walking down tree-lined Bleecker Street, I met my friend Karen at the door and headed inside to the main stage – the Loreto Theatre.
Upon entering the theatre, we were given programs and instructed by the staff to take our seats…onstage.
Throwing off the formality of having the audience in its proper place, with the musicians holding court from above, I was delighted to find that we, the audience, would be seated round the musicians in a salon-like setting, together bathed in the warmth of the stage lights.
I was also delighted to find out that the evening’s performance would have a wine tasting woven throughout, to add to the intimate, friendly atmosphere.
The Merz Trio, formed in 2017, is made up of pianist Lee Dionne, violinist Brigid Coleridge and cellist Julia Yang. Currently the Graduate Trio in Residence at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts, the group took its name from the early 20th-Century Merz style of German visual artist Kurt Schwitters. In a style often referred to as “psychological collage”, Schwitters created his Merz pictures in an attempt to make a coherent aesthetic sense of the world around him, often using fragments of found objects. In a similar vein, the Merz Trio focuses on projects that promote connection between music, texts, and other art forms (in this case, wine) to create a uniquely beautiful experience for their audiences.
After a brief introduction from Sheen Center managing director Andrew Levine, staff came onto the stage with our first tasting, an Anna de Codorniu Cava Brut Rosé from Penedes, Spain. The three members of the Merz Trio quickly followed. As we sipped our sparkling rosé, we were treated to the Allegro moderato and Allegretto from Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 44 in E Major. The first Haydn selection particularly is all celebration, bubbling fountains and floral scents, perfectly matching the light exuberance of the wine. The musicians themselves immediately impressed me with their level of connectivity – breathing, moving, and playing as one. In between the two movements, violinist Brigid Coleridge, a Melbourne native, and almost Victorian vision in coral, treated us to the first of several short literary pieces dotted throughout the program – this one about the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, whose words complemented beautifully the tone of the Haydn and the taste of the wine.
From this bright, sparkling beginning, we moved on to darker themes with an oaky Zolo Malbec and the Traumgekrönt from the Sieben Frühe Lieder by Alban Berg, followed by the Modéré from Maurice Ravel’s Trio in A Minor for piano, violin and cello. Expertly paired and immediately changing the mood, the trio continued to impress us with its virtuosity and sensitivity in choosing repertoire. We were next given a Zolo Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina to match Ravel’s Pantoum: Assez vif, also from the Trio in A Minor. A refreshing palate-cleanser for both tongue and ear.
Ravel’s Trio in A Minor continued to reign as we moved into the following section of the program, featuring the Passacaille: Très large and Final – Animé. Pianist Lee Dionne shared some thoughts on Ravel’s sensitive approach to incorporating “orientalism” into his music, and how the melodies we were about to hear would be complemented by the evening’s next wine offering, an unusual and exotic-tasting Bodegas Vegamar Crianza. Perhaps my favourite part of the concert, all three members of the trio effortlessly surrendered themselves to the beauty of the music – delicately and harmoniously in the first movement, building to a frenzied passion in the second. Despite the slight intoxication I was beginning to feel at this point, due to the generous pour of the rich, dark wine that I had received, my appreciation for the impressive musical skill before me was as sharp and present as ever.
For our sweet send-off, we were given our final tasting, a Zolo Signature White with a slight frizzante, and treated to Franz Schubert’s Notturno. Having sung quite a bit of Schubert myself in Austria this past summer, the sweetness of the wine and the gorgeous passages emanating from piano, violin, and cello transported me right back to that magnificent country. And if that wasn’t enough, we were all invited to a post-concert reception in the Sheen Center’s lovely Gallery, with food prepared by Sous-chef Alberto of the restaurant Halifax in Hoboken, New Jersey. I shall certainly be crossing the Hudson to pay that restaurant a visit soon, as I shall also be attentively following the career of the incredibly gifted, innovative, and charming Merz Trio. Truly, these are artists in the deepest sense of the word.