The Kavafian-Schub-Schifrin Trio

On Oct. 7 at 8 p.m., the famous Kavafian-Schub-Schifrin trio performed a full recital program in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Each performer in the ensemble is a world-renowned performer and artist. For Lawrence, they put together a French-themed program featuring trio and duet configurations.

The members of the trio are violinist Ani Kavafian, clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Andre-Michel Schub. Unfortunately, Schub was unable to make the performance due to a medical emergency, so Anna Polonsky played piano in his stead.

The first piece was Milhaud’s “Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano,” a quirky collection of four wildly-varying movements. The piece’s triumphant first movement blended into what sounded like a fiddle tune, in which Kavafian and Shifrin played perfectly in unison on some difficult runs. Then, a somber march blended into a jazzy dance. The way the trio acted out the piece’s rapid changes in tone kept everyone on their toes.

Even playing with a substitute pianist, the group’s preparation and comfort was evident. Polonsky fit right in, leading with grace when her part required it. Kavafian’s bright violin tone lit up the hall. The remaining members of the trio worked hard to learn Polonsky’s style and incorporate her into the ensemble. Schub will rejoin the trio after his recovery.

The second piece was Franck’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano,” much revered by violinists for its idiomatic instrumental writing and slippery romantic harmonies. It lasts almost half an hour and is a challenge for even the most skilled musicians. Kavafian and Polonsky must have gone over it dozens of times together, as their emotive ensemble playing lifted the piece to new heights. During the applause afterward, they gave each other an endearing hug.

After a brief intermission, Shifrin and Polonsky presented Poulenc’s “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.” This piece tested Shifrin’s fingers with its extremely challenging passages and long duration. Kavafian waited backstage while this duo enjoyed a chance to connect one on one and bring the piece to life.

To conclude the show, all three of the performers reunited to play Stravinsky’s trio arrangement of “L’Histoire du soldat,” originally a piece for a mid-sized mixed ensemble. Shifrin announced from the stage that Stravinsky worked on this piece in Paris and premiered it in Switzerland. The work is often performed with a conductor, but the three executed its constant metric shifts and virtuosic solos with grace.

The following morning, Kavafian hosted a master class for interested violin students. She critiqued performances of various pieces and shared secrets and insights related to her performance the night before.

The Kavafian-Schub-Shifrin Trio’s visit will linger for months in our collective memory. Their excellent coordination and visible passion served as strong lessons for the conservatory musicians in attendance. Lawrence is thankful to have given such thoughtful musicians time on the Chapel stage.