It is easy to distinguish the unusually powerful musical and personal bonds that draw the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio together. As they celebrate their 30th anniversary, these three virtuosos have created an ensemble respected throughout the industry and are now more popular than ever.
Violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson (husband and wife) met pianist Joseph Kalichstein in 1976 at the 92nd Street Y, where Laredo has been artistic director of the Chamber Music at the Y series since 1974. The three of them hit it off immediately, and not long after, when Laredo and Robinson decided to form a trio, Kalichstein was the first person they contacted.
Before the ensemble's first scheduled concert, they received a call from Robert Shaw, who was then conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and a close friend of President-elect Jimmy Carter. Shaw was planning the music for the January 1977 inauguration, so, by a fluke of timing, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio made its debut playing for a new president, performing trios by Schubert and Mendelssohn.
"It was amazing," Laredo recalls. "There was a reception for Congress, a reception for the diplomatic corps, and a reception for the armed forces. Strangely enough, we got to play for the armed forces."
"The Carters came up to us at the end to say thank you," says Robinson. "Rosalynn said she never could have gotten through it without us. It was so sweet. As it turns out, President Carter had classical music going on in the Oval Office throughout his administration."
The Trio's thrilling debut set the stage for a remarkable career that has spanned three decades and five continents. On April 15 the group is joined by violist Pinchas Zukerman and double bassist Harold Robinson (Sharon's brother) for a performance in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage of works by Mozart, Schubert, and Leon Kirchner.
"I have a very strong memory that has to do with the power of music," says Kalichstein. "We were scheduled to do the entire Beethoven cycle in Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center in September 2001, on the 10th, 11th, and 12th. Of course, the one on the 11th was cancelled, but people from the 11th were invited to come to the concert on the 12th, and many of them did. There was this feeling of the need for music, and the power of music to heal. It was extraordinary."
The artists are closely in tune with each other, both professionally and personally, and their combination of a pianist with a happily married duo of strings has created a thoroughly balanced partnership.
"The strings are very much a unit," says Kalichstein, "so the pianist's job is to try to sound like them, and their job is to try to sound like the piano. On the other hand, two strings have to be much more of a match, so in many senses it's great that they're married. I've only benefited. And they can't fight with me once rehearsal is over!"
"He makes us laugh," says Robinson of Kalichstein, "and if we're starting to get at each other's throats, he says something funny. Working together in a chamber music group is kind of like being married. Our philosophy from the beginning has been to say whatever it is that's on our minds, try to fix it, and not to take it personally. It's worked well, I think."
The Trio is not only a group of virtuosic music makers, each with a flourishing solo career; these are dedicated educators as well. Kalichstein is on the faculty of The Juilliard School, while Laredo and Robinson teach at Indiana University. They regularly offer master classes, and one of the Trio's fondest memories is of taking part in Isaac Stern's Encounters programs at Carnegie Hall, mentoring young artists together with Stern and other notable musicians.
"All the great people we've played with and all the knowledge that has been passed on to us, we need to pass on to the younger generation now," says Robinson.
Meanwhile, the ensemble shares its work via a vast array of recordings. The Trio purchased its back catalog from Arabesque Records and, through a recent deal with Koch International Classics, has re-released these CDs and continues to issue new ones.
"Just this morning while we were rehearsing, we were talking about new pieces that we want to learn in the next couple of years," Laredo relates. "We were talking about Rachmaninoff and other composers — there are still a lot of works that we haven't played that we want to. And we've had wonderful pieces written for us and hope that's going to continue, too." This season, the trio performed a new piece by Richard Danielpour, and next year it premieres a third work by Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.
"Thirty years seems short," says Kalichstein. "There are still things we want to do. It's amazing — there's always more."
Karissa Krenz writes frequently about the arts.