Beaux Arts Trio feature in The Times
(London) 21st January 2005
New string to the Beaux
Violinist Daniel Hope joined the Beaux Arts Trio in crisis, he tells Hilary Finch
THE violinist Daniel Hope is a headline-writer’s dream. And this month he’s about to prove that Hope really does spring eternal. Just as the Beaux Arts Trio was about to embark on a major European and US tour before this, their 50th anniversary season, their violinist, Young Uck Kim, had a neck operation, and failed to recover well enough to play in the trio again. It looked as though the Beaux Arts would never make its 50th year.
To appreciate the full significance of this loss, it should be pointed out that the Beaux Arts were to the string trio what the Amadeus was to the quartet: an ensemble which had pioneered the genre of the string trio as polished, professional ensemble, widening its repertoire, and making definitive recordings.
As the curtain was about to fall, a phone-call was made in Berlin. The agent of the Beaux Arts’ founding member, the pianist Menahem Pressler, happened to be the German representative of the young British violinist Daniel Hope. Give the lad a try, she said. Pressler was pessimistic. Hope already had a sizeable career of his own. Hardly the time, hardly the place. But Pressler, an irrepressible octagenarian, was also pretty desperate.
As fate would have it, young Hope was that day performing in the Brussels Palais des Beaux Arts. His mobile rang. Would he, could he, clear his diary for three weeks and lead the Beaux Arts Trio? Before he had a chance to reply, a mountain of scores had arrived by courier, and he was on his way to Basel to meet the trio’s cellist, Antonio Meneses. Hope says: “We got on like a house on fire. We worked from 9am till 9pm — through the entire programme of the tour, most of which I was sight-reading. Antonio told me what I must do just in order to survive.”
Pressler agreed to meet Hope in Lisbon just three days before the start of the European tour. He still bubbles at the memory of it. “I was just overwhelmed,” he told me, “by Hope’s talent, personality and attitude both to music and to people. I found the strength for five-hour rehearsals! And that was just the beginning.”
As for Hope, he very soon realised that, “even if it didn’t work out, I’d still have had those three extraordinary days, and no one could ever take that away from me.” At 28, he was just about the same age as Pressler had been when he formed the Beaux Arts Trio in 1955. Pressler had also been a fast-rising soloist, playing in the company of Ormandy, Stowkowski, Toscanini, and carving out a career for himself in the States after fleeing there in 1939.
He had expressed the desire to play some Mozart trios and, before he knew it, had been teamed up with the cellist Bernard Greenhouse and the formidable violinist Daniel Guilet.
Two elder statesman and one upstart — then as now. Now, after several reincarnations and changes of personnel, the positions are reversed, and a second Daniel enters the lions’ den.
How did Hope cope with Pressler as taskmaster and eminence grise? “I had so much respect and admiration for him,” Hope replies, “yet I knew that, as the violinist of the trio, I had a certain technical function — to make sure that violin and cello stuck together, and to give a lead. That was incredibly difficult for me at the beginning. It took at least a year to find a way of daring to put a point forward to Menahem.”
Can Pressler be stubborn? “Well, if you criticise a musical point deep into the structure of a work he’s already played 8,000 times he’ll certainly be difficult to win over. He’ll have to be convinced of it. We always have very vigorous discussions!” Hope’s own musical upbringing, close to Yehudi Menuhin, and under the tutelage of David Oistrakh’s pupil Zakhar Bron, equipped him well to connect with Pressler’s musical world. “Menahem understood immediately that I was able to achieve certain sounds. But he also knows that I’m a very different person away from the trio.”
Before Hope officially threw in his lot with the Beaux Arts there was some tough bargaining to be done. He refused to give up his solo career. But the Beaux Arts was in effect a part-time job: just four tours a year, 60 concerts, and 12 weeks of performance.
Then there was repertoire. Hope is omnivorous, hungry for experiment. So, for this 50th anniversary season, besides the Mozart and Dvorák of the Beaux Arts’ earliest years, they now have five new commissions under their belt: from György Kurtág, Mark Anthony Turnage, Alexandra Dubois, Uri Caine and Jan Müller-Wieland, whose Schlaflied
will be given its UK premiere in the Wigmore concert on January 27.
So, as they say, young men see visions and old men dream dreams. Or, as Pressler has it: “Beautiful things can happen when you’re young and excited; and beautiful things can happen at my age, too. I feel this rebirth of the trio is a huge privilege, a present. And I want to continue to deepen our understanding of the great masters who can change you and make you a better and deeper person.
“I’m still hungry for music-making — still searching for the miraculous!”
The Beaux Arts Trio play at the Wigmore Hall (020-7935 2141) on January 27. Their latest disc, recreating the ensemble’s first recording of Dvorák and Mendelssohn, is on Warner Classics.
© The Times