Trio Swings Tunes from Bach to Lady Gaga

    Not many chamber music concerts can boast a repertoire as varied as the one set for Saturday, when the Indigo Trio will play works from Brahms as well as Lady Gaga and Radiohead.
    The concert is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.
    It’s the second Southeast tour by the Indigo Trio, a group of Yale University students organized by Sitkan Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. This year, the musicians are Kreiss-Tomkins, cello; Richard Kahn, piano; and Matthew Griffith, clarinet.
    “I really wanted to have the clarinet, piano and cello,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “Clarinet and cello go together like apples and cheddar cheese. The tone and timbre really blend together.”
    He said Griffith and Kahn were easy choices for this year’s trio. The three participate in the chamber music program at Yale, and are members of the Yale Symphony Orchestra.
    “Matt is a phenomenal clarinetist,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “His playing is technically immaculate. He ‘s a total wizard at the instrument.”
    Kreiss-Tomkins said Kahn has also been recognized nationally for his talent, and has a broad variety of tastes.
     “Richard is a really terrific pianist,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “He’s great at improvising. He’s a talented multi-genre pianist.”
    The three of them put together the program, which showcases the musicians’ individual talents as well as a classical piece featuring all three of them.
    “The program is great,” Kahn said. “We’ve put toether a vibrant, exciting program.”
    Griffith agreed, “It’s 400 years of musical history.”
    The first half of the concert is a combination of short pieces, opening with the premiere of a Lady Gaga medley for the three instruments, arranged by Andi Zhou.
    Kreiss-Tomkins will play a traditional piece, “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming,” followed by a tango for cello and piano.
    The rest of the first half is Prelude and Fugue No. 24 in B Minor by Bach; “No Surprises,” a piano solo of a Radiohead song, arranged by Christopher O’Riley; Five Bagatelles No. 1 and No. 2 by Gerald Finzi; Artie Shaw’s Concerto for Clarinet; and a Klezmer piece to be announced for all three instruments.
    The second half features two movements from two separate trios, written by Brahms and Carl Fruhling.
    Two of the three musicians have attained national prominence for their skills but have interests outside their music.
    Griffith picked up his clarinet in fifth grade, but enjoyed as a kid tooling around with a recorder, where he found he could pick out tunes from his favorite video games.
    “Clarinet and recorder share a lot in common in terms of fingerings,” he said.
    He played with the school band program, stuck with it through the year and started private lessons the following year.
    Griffith said he didn’t know what a clarinet was at age 10, but knew he wanted to play it when he was introduced to all of the instrument options. “For whatever reason, I was like ‘clarinet.’ There was no question about it.”
    He played in the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Wood Ensemble and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra as a junior and senior in high school, and studied under Todd Levy, principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Griffith said he was encouraged to enter competitions and “sort of won a lot of them,” he said.
    Griffith was a featured soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the United States Army Field Band and the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band. At Yale, he plays principal clarinet in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, and as a freshman was principal clarinetist and concertmaster of the Yale Concert Band.
    Griffith, who is majoring in computer science and music, said he hopes one day to play in a symphony orchestra but noted he is “open to many things.” He has also been teaching himself computer programming for the last 10 years, and enjoys working on video games.
    Kahn grew up in Highland Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and started playing piano at age 4. He studied with the same teacher from age 4 to 10 and was reluctant when he was encouraged to switch instructors to take his playing to another level.
    But he changed his mind after his parents bribed him with a handheld electronic game. The new teacher was the famed piano instructor Emelio del Rosario. Kahn said he was lucky to study under del Rosario, who died recently.
    “People would fly in to take lessons,” Kahn said. “He was amazing.”
    Del Rosario encouraged Kahn to compete, which he did through high school. Kahn also joined a chamber music group featuring flute, piano and cello in high school.
    Their group, the Fast Track Trio, was featured on NPR’s “From the Top,” which featured the best young classical musicians in the country.
    Kahn also counts a master class with Yo-Yo Ma as another career highlight. He said another group had dropped out of the class, and he received a call asking if his trio wanted to join. Kahn didn’t need to be asked twice, and rushed into Chicago to meet and take the class from the world-famous cellist.
    Kahn is a math and philosophy major, and takes music classes at Yale. He is the two-time winner of the Society of American Musicians Competition, and enjoys playing in several styles, including klezmer and jazz. He served as musical director for several musical stage productions.
    In his spare time, Kahn is active in the Jewish community at his college, and is part of a Christian/Jewish Bible study group. Kahn took a gap year to study Jewish text on Mount Gilboa in Israel. He described his year of secluded study as “the best part of academics without the grades and stress.”
    Kreiss-Tomkins, who was born and raised in Sitka, decided to take up the cello after seeing one in action at the Sitka Summer Music Festival. At age 7, he thought it was the “classiest instrument on the stage.” A half-size instrument was found in the Littlefield family’s attic and he learned the ropes from an enthusiastic 14-year-old cello player.
    He took some lessons from Mossy Mead, a cellist who now lives in Gustavus, and studied on his own. In middle school, Roger Schmidt, a trombone performance major from Oberlin Conservatory, became his teacher. Kreiss-Tomkins said he was pleased to find someone who knew music, but still had to figure some things out on his own.
    “My playing improved tremendously with Roger,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
    In high school, he spent summers at festivals in upstate New York and Quebec. “It was my first time around real cellists,” he said. He was selected to the All-Northwest U.S. Honor Orchestra his senior year, and played in the Alaska All-State Honor Orchestra from freshman through senior years. In 2005, he was one of two winners in the Juneau Symphony’s concerto competition and performed as a soloist in the 2005-06 season.
    At Yale, he plays double bass in the orchestra. “They always need double basses and I wanted to do something new,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
    Griffith and Kahn said they’re enjoying their tour of Southeast, which has included Haines, Skagway, Juneau, Petersburg and Kake, where 15 to 20 percent of the population attended the concert. Sitka is their last stop.
    “The response has been positive everywhere,” Kahn said. “The communities really embraced us. People have taken us in, and it’s been really, really nice. We really like the people of Alaska.”
    The tour was made possible by grants from the Rasmuson Foundation and the Harper Arts Touring Fund, in addition to individuals and arts councils across the region.
    Tickets are $10, or $5 for students and seniors, and available at Old Harbor Books.

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