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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 1

Gryphon Trio in harmony

by Claire Marie Blaustein / September 5, 2006

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The Gryphon Trio has been playing together for 13 years, and even speaking to them individually by phone, the close connections of this chamber ensemble are evident. Their stories interlace like musical phrases, and they constantly reference one another for elaboration, like passing a motive from part to part. Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin, Roman Borys, cello, and Jamie Parker, piano, all speak of the group and their professional and personal lives in a way that suggests the same musical harmony they project on stage.

The trio began as just two, when Patipatanakoon and Borys met at the Banff Center as teenagers, and both ended up at the world renowned Indiana University School of Music. While there, they joined a pianist and studied with Beaux Arts Trio founder Menahem Pressler. After several years with this developmental ensemble, they called upon pianist Jamie Parker to fill in for several concerts, and according to Patipatanakoon, “everything just went from there.”But with constant stories of chamber groups breaking up and lawsuits over instruments, there is always the question of how well the group gets along. In particularly, this trio has the potential for conflict, as Patipatanakoon and Borys married about a year ago. But as Parker put it, “they deal with things in the way that they deal with things, and it’s fine – nothing gets in the way of us making music together.”

Being in a chamber group is different from playing with a larger ensemble, as the quarters are considerably closer. “In an orchestra, if there’s someone you don’t get along with, that’s bad, but you don’t have to spend a lot of time directly working with that person,” says Parker. “We’re very fortunate that we still enjoy each other’s company.”

Throughout everything, there seems to be a healthy line of communication that can bridge potential disagreements, both personally and musically.

“Communication is key,” says Patipatanakoon. “We try and make sure that if something is a concern to someone, it comes out so that it doesn’t fester or cause bigger problems down the road.”

Not everything has been easy. “Of course there have been lots of hurdles over the years,” Borys said. “It’s just that the passion for the art form always fuels the stamina required to come up with the solutions – with ways to overcome them.”

They all agree that traveling can be the most stressful part of any musician’s career. Occasionally, other aspects of life intrude on an active performing career, as they have for Parker, who has a new baby boy, and certainly doesn’t want to miss him growing up. “Sometimes my wife and boy can travel, and usually they’ll come with us on the summer festival circuit in Ontario. My wife probably won’t come with me to the prairies in February, though [laughs].” It can be a struggle to maintain that lifestyle. “There’s no question that at times it hurts.”

Naturally, there is a silver lining. “It’s great traveling around with people who have witnessed or experienced with you challenges as well as successes, whether they be particularly successful performances, or awkward moments taking your cello through an airport,” Borys laughs.

Through the years, the Gryphon Trio has developed a name synonymous not just with excellent playing, but also experimentation and innovation. Part of that has been a dedication to collaborative projects that take chamber music into new contexts and new spaces.

Both Patipatanakoon and Parker cited Borys as the “career developer” – the one who tended to push the group to some of their larger projects.“I try and keep a bit more of my schedule free in order to dream up and administer and conceive and produce various initiatives, whether they be education things for young composers, or concerts for kids, or new commissions for us, or projects like Constantinople,” explains Borys.

Constantinople has been the largest of the group’s recent efforts – a multimedia presentation written and composed by Christos Hatzis. After rave reviews at its premiere in Banff, the group will be making the European premiere at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in March 2007.

“It’s a big effort to put chamber music in a slightly different context and open it up to a new audience.” Said Borys: “Some might come at the piece with an appreciation for contemporary theatrical events, or perhaps from the side of the vocalists, or perhaps it’s young composers who are interested, or the combination of technology and arts.”

“We’ve also found that contemporary works seem to work very well in education contexts with young people who haven’t had a lot of experience with classical music,” says Borys. “Because to them it’s all foreign – whether it’s Beethoven or a piece that Gary Kalesha wrote for us yesterday. And in some ways they’re more comfortable with contemporary work – maybe because they can relate to the energy it gives off.”

Trying to reach new audiences is the focus of many of the group’s projects – from their Chamber at the Lula series, where they perform alongside Latin artists like Hilario Duran and Roberto Occhipinti, to the many commissioned works the group plays. But Borys emphasized that the realization of their collaborations and desire to play for new groups of people doesn’t end with the artists involved. “We wouldn’t be able to do those programs without support – reaching new audiences, in a sense, is a collective priority developed alongside Music TORONTO.” Besides active performing schedules, all three are also faculty members at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. n

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