by Mary Lathem
To put it plainly, watching Trio Gaia make music together is magic. Beyond their obvious technical skill, all three musicians are brilliantly expressive, and the passion they share for chamber music is palpable (see for yourself). Luckily for us, another chance to see them live is just around the corner: they’re headed back to town for a performance as part of the Davidson College Concert Series Saturday, February 4!
Composed of violinist Grant Houston, cellist Yi-Mei Templeman, and pianist Andrew Barnwell, the award-winning ensemble is currently New England Conservatory’s graduate piano trio in residence. We first met the trio last April when they traveled to Davidson to compete in WDAV’s 2022 Young Chamber Musicians Competition (spoiler: they won!), and we’ve been looking forward to having them back ever since. Get tickets to see Trio Gaia in concert here, then check out the trio’s answers to a few burning questions ahead of their return.
We’re huge fans of Trio Gaia, but for anyone who’s unfamiliar (for now!), give us the elevator pitch version of who you are and what you do.
Andrew Barnwell: We are all about bringing personally relevant performances to audiences inside and outside of the concert hall, varying our programs to include older classics and newer gems, and sharing our love of chamber music with students of all ages!
What brought you together as a trio?
Yi-Mei Templeman: Grant and Andrew knew each other from their first semester of undergrad at NEC (the New England Conservatory). They decided that they wanted to put together a piano trio, but they didn’t have a cellist. The summer before 2018, I was about to start as a freshman at NEC and I met Grant at Yellow Barn’s Young Artist Program. I introduced myself to him and asked him all about NEC, and at the end of the festival, he asked me to be in a trio with him! Once we started rehearsing, we all became best friends super quickly and we had the same goals in chamber music, so the rest is history!
We can’t wait to have you back in Davidson! What can audience members expect from your Davidson College Concert Series performance? Any moments on the program you’re looking forward to in particular?
Grant Houston: Our program is really exciting and covers a really broad range of music, so there will definitely be something for everyone! The composer audiences might be most familiar with is Beethoven, and we’re playing his very first published work: the Piano Trio in E flat Major, Op. 1. No. 1. You’ll never guess Beethoven was only at the beginning of his compositional career, as it’s so full of maturity, but it has an unmistakable youthful spark that makes it a lot of fun to listen to. A relatively new work by Jennifer Higdon (a living, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer) will hopefully introduce anyone unfamiliar with her work to the incredibly beautiful colors in her music – in fact, the piece is named Pale Yellow to give you a mental image while listening! Last on the program is Weinberg’s expansive and dramatic Piano Trio. Op. 24, written during the second World War. This one is a real journey – it has a kind of power you really have to experience in person.
What else will you be up to while you’re in town?
Grant: Before we actually go on stage for our recital on the Davidson College Concert Series, we’ll spend two days in the WDAV John Clark Performance Studio recording the Weinberg and Beethoven trios as part of the [Young Chamber Musicians Competition]’s Connor Recording Prize. We won’t say too much for now, but you can keep your eyes out for our debut release on streaming services sometime soon! We’ll also give a concert at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Charlotte on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 4 p.m. And when we’re not rehearsing or performing, we’re definitely planning to revisit some of the great restaurants and shops in Davidson that we fell in love with during our last visit. I’ve been thinking about some of the food we had for the whole last year!
Last April, you won first prize at WDAV’s 2022 Young Chamber Musicians Competition (and absolutely blew the audience away, might I add). Aside from your win, what are some of your favorite memories from that weekend?
Andrew: I loved hanging out in the hammocks in the campus quad! We also loved listening to and meeting the other performers. I also got a delicious brownie somewhere, but I don’t remember the name of the place, so I’m going to have to search for it when I come back. Also, please [let us know if you have] any great pastry recommendations.
It’s been almost a year since then, and you’ve been busy! What are some standout moments from the past year, and what are you looking forward to in 2023?
Yi-Mei: In the time since we were last at Davidson, we’ve kept very busy, yes! We just returned from the Panama Jazz Festival, where we spent a week teaching and performing. We spent last summer at the Perlman Music Program in Shelter Island, NY, and then at Yale University’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in Connecticut. Both were especially wonderful opportunities to work with many incredible mentors while learning lots of new repertoire for the year ahead. In September, we went to Italy together for a competition in Trieste, where we ate tons of great food. We also recently found out that we were accepted to the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition as well as the Osaka International Chamber Music Competition. Both are in the late spring/early summer, so we’ve been preparing quite a lot for those competitions, and we can’t wait to travel to both places later this year!
One thing that was wonderful to see when we first met you is how much you enjoy each other’s company. Does your camaraderie affect your artistic process? Are there any particular composers or works you enjoy playing together the most?
Yi-Mei: That’s so nice of you to say! We’ve been the closest of friends since the earliest days of playing together. This makes for the absolute best and most vulnerable music-making experience, but also means that we definitely bicker like a three-membered married couple at times too! I’m so grateful that we’re best friends because it means that we can be completely open with one another and very in-tune (pun intended) with one another’s ideas and feelings when we’re rehearsing and performing. Being in a trio means that we essentially spend all of our time together, and these days we also travel together a lot. Although we’re quite a young chamber ensemble, this is already our fifth year together, so it feels like we’re kind of like a little family at this point.
One more question: what does a dream day off look like for Trio Gaia?
Yi-Mei: I think each of ours would be slightly different, so here are all of our answers! Maybe one day we’ll combine them all into one.
Mine would be going on a road trip to go on a hike and swim in any natural body of water. Andrew says his dream day off would be exploring somewhere in nature while also eating good pastries. Grant says his would be going on a picnic with a nice bottle of wine.
Trio Gaia’s Davidson College Concert Series performance will be held at Tyler-Tallman Hall on the Davidson College campus Saturday, February 4 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a post-concert reception generously sponsored by Ruth and Richard Ault. Purchase tickets and learn more here.