Live piano trio accompaniment at world premiere Querencia

Pictured L-R: Charae Krueger, Western-Li Summerton and Lisa Morrison

Querencia, a breathtaking portrayal of love and longing, opens Atlanta Ballet’s Kaleidoscope program this weekend. Sergio Masero sets his exquisite yet physically challenging choreography to Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, with live accompaniment by Western-Li Summerton on the piano, Lisa Morrison on the violin, and Charae Krueger on the cello.

The piano trio are no strangers to ballet chamber music nor to each other. Western-Li Summerton is Atlanta Ballet’s company pianist and music administration coordinator and has had the privilege of accompanying Atlanta Ballet dancers on stage as a soloist in Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes, as a chamber musician in Justin Peck’s In Creases and, most recently, with the famous Atlanta Ballet Orchestra in Coco Chanel: The Life of a Fashion Icon. Morrison has been Atlanta Ballet Orchestra’s Concertmaster since 1989, and as principal violinist, has performed live for the ballet in a chamber music setting on many occasions. As principal cellist for the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, Krueger leads the section in performances, coordinates bowings for the cellists along with the other string principal players and plays cello solos in the music score.

All three musicians find the experience of working alongside the dancers incredibly rewarding. “When I am accompanying the dancers, there is something to be said about fully immersing yourself in the character and nature of the piece you are performing,” highlights Summerton. “I appreciate the interdisciplinary expression of this work, and the moments that I create with the dancers as their musical collaborator.” Krueger finds it both inspiring and exciting to work closely with such incredible artistic and athletic performers. “We feed off each other’s creative energy,” she enthuses. “It often involves making musical tempo choices that support the choreography, which is the magic of having live music in this art form. We can really tailor our musical choices to the specific strengths of the dancers and hopefully help to fully realize the choreographer’s intentions.” For Morrison, who has been on stage with the dancers in Atlanta Ballet’s Moulin Rouge and Cacti, this collaboration adds tremendous dimension to the impact of the work. “It was another level of interaction moving while playing amongst the dancers on stage. You are linked directly to each other in this way.”

In terms of favorite movements from Arensky’s piece, the musicians have different perspectives. The second movement, the scherzo, holds a special place in Summerton’s heart. “It has a sprite and lighthearted nature about it that is characterized by rapid runs of scales and bouncy textures.” While many of the other movements have a deep sense of emotion and drama perpetuated by rich lyricism in the string parts, this movement portrays a lighter side of Masero’s Querencia. The Arensky is a big, romantic four movement piano trio which is challenging for the musicians both technically and musically. Krueger’s personal favorite is the slow third movement, which has great expressive appeal. “It is very tender and personal music, which is well suited for string playing. The violin and cello melodies lean into each other in the close intervals, very much like a pas de deux for two string instruments.” Each movement offers a different quality, and Morrison enjoys each for different reasons. “If I had to pick a favorite though it might also be the third movement. It is very slow with sensuous melodies,” she explains. “The range for the violin part is from very low to high which helps the music have many personalities and voices.”

Arensky’s piece is quite technical throughout with each movement presenting different challenges. Some involve very fast repeated tremolo passages, similar to ballet bourree steps. There are also extremes of high and low melodies, and in the second movement, Morrison and Krueger use bow strokes called ricochet. Arensky also poses various technical challenges for the piano part of this work, in particular, his writing of passages that highlight the virtuosic dexterity of a pianist. “In working through these complex passages, I would constantly revise my fingering choices to make sure I was able to express melodicism in the most efficient manner,” enlightens Summerton.

One of the most exciting parts about Masero’s choreography to Arensky’s score is the silent steps of the male dancers at the beginning of the piece’s fourth movement. The male dancers start in silence and then the musicians begin. “The challenge here is to catch the dancers at the right choreographed moment to synchronize with them,” explains Morrison. “Normally, the conductor cues us so this adds a challenge to the performance for the trio.” It will certainly be a demanding yet incredibly exciting part of this world premiere, adding an added layer of complexity to the performance. “We learn to watch for certain dance steps as our cue to begin the movements,” adds Krueger. For Summerton, it is one of the most gorgeous moments of the ballet, displaying the men’s ballet technique, similar to Masero’s Schubertiada. “Watching these male dancers move in silence with a sudden hiatus in the music is a moment in the ballet where time seemingly stops,” he enthuses. The cue with the entrance of the music creates a strikingly dramatic effect that is sure to captivate the audience. “And while this does add a layer of complexity to what we do as musicians, it is the interactive aspect we love as collaborators.”

Morrison performed the Arensky Trio for Atlanta Ballet many years ago and, together with Krueger and Summerton, looks forward to bringing the many dimensions, both passionate and introspective, of this magnificent piece to the Atlanta stage in Querencia.

The trio’s live accompaniment in Querencia was part of the Kaleidoscope program, March 22 to 24 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.