Fuze! The Sixth Floor Trio at Akron Art Museum (March 16)
By Daniel Hathaway
Teddy Abrams, Harrison Hollingsworth and Johnny Teyssier lived on the same floor of an apartment building while they were students at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the inspiration for the name the group took on when they decided to play together seriously. The unusual combination of piano, bassoon and clarinet (Hollingsworth doubles on the fiddle and Abrams on clarinet) goes right along with their unusual and omnivorous approach to concert repertory. “If we like the music and it works for us, we'll play it”, Abrams said in a recent interview with this publication.
At the Akron Art Museum early last Friday evening, the trio made their energetic way through a continuously entertaining playlist that included a bluegrass tune, a movement from a Brahms trio, a Dvořák Slavonic dance, an improvisation by one of their Curtis mentors, the Latin jazz tune “Belize”, Bernstein's Mambo from West Side Story, a Klezmer suite, “Bridalveil Falls”, a Bartók Romanian dance, and an arrangement of “Carry on, my wayward son”, originally by the rock band Kansas. All of that in one hour!
Charming, engaging and funny in their tag-team narrations, the three musicians invested a lot of physical energy in their playing, and their ensemble work was superb. No matter what the music at hand happened to be, everything was rhythmically perfect and intonation was spot on.
When they're not playing as a trio, the gentlemen of Sixth Floor have some serious jobs in the classical world. Teddy Abrams (who seems to have skipped middle school for college and high school for conservatory) is conducting fellow with Michael Tilson Thomas's New World Symphony in Miami and resident conductor with the MAV Symphony in Budapest. Johnny Teyssier was just recently appointed principal clarinet of the Malmö Symphony (he's now principal with the Minnesota Opera Orchestra). And Hollingsworth is principal bassoon of the New York City Ballet and a conductor (when he's not fiddling with and arranging for the Union Street Preservation Society String Band).
Together, these entrepreneurial musicians fit comfortably into the parameters of the Fuze! Series, a partnership between the Tuesday Musical Association and the Akron Art Museum that seeks out performers who cross the increasingly permeable barriers between musical genres — something the Sixth Floor Trio manage to do with apparent ease.
Those who knew the first movement of Brahms's Op. 114 Trio may have been mildly surprised to hear the cello line played by a bassoon (which otherwise starred as “that great Latin jazz instrument” in Belize), but all the arrangements were idiomatic for the instrumments. Hollingsworth first showed his amazing prowess on the fiddle in the opening bluegrass tune, and Abrams, who played the piano fluently, took an impressive turn on the clarinet for the Klezmer suite. Turning back to the bassoon for the Kansas song, Hollingsworth nailed his final high “e” (ask your local bassoonist how difficult that is). Teyssier stuck to the clarinet all evening, on which he produced an amazing variety of sounds.
Chamber music societies who would like to crack the windows and let a little air into stuffy concert series should give a listen to the Sixth Floor Trio. It really is possible to create a wide-ranging program of small-scale instrumental music without any pandering or loss of sophistication. The good-sized audience on Friday evening was enthralled.
The third and final Fuze! concert of the season presents Pablo Ziegler and Maya Beister in “Canyengue: the Soul of Tango” on April 6 at 6:30.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 20, 2012
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