Jan. 28, 2003 – Even if the publicity takes a rather low-key approach to promoting it, anyone who looks at the photographs of the Claremont Trio can see that two of the musicians look an awful lot alike. And for good reason: Violinist Emily Bruskin and cellist Julia Bruskin are twins.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1979 to parents who are amateur musicians, they got exposure to classics from infancy — their father set up stereo speakers near their cradles. They began studying their respective instruments at the age of 4 in the Suzuki method, which centers on hearing classical works as whole, rather than individual instrumental parts, and on developing a strong sense of pitch.
Eventually both ended up in the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, destined, it seemed, to go on to one of the top music schools. And then both decided that while they wanted to be musicians, they didn't want to be music majors. Fortunately, there existed a program tailor made for their types of talent and interest — the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard Exchange — and both were accepted into it.
The program within the Columbia University Department of Music allows Juilliard students to take courses at Barnard College and Columbia to meet liberal arts requirements and allows Columbia and Barnard students who pass auditions and annual juries to study music at the Juilliard. Both sisters received their undergraduate degrees last year, Julia in Eastern European history and Emily in neuroscience and behavior.
According to an article in the Columbia News, each says her major has contributed to her sensibilities as a musician. Julia says she is more aware of cultural influences on composers. "It's interesting to see what was going on in the world when certain pieces of music were written," she says. Emily says her scientific studies have taught her a lot "about the way you hear in relation to different areas of your brain."
Each sister has an opinion about the other's choice of instrument: "Violinists are more high strung and they tend to take themselves pretty seriously," Julia says. "Cellists play baselines. They're more grounded, more laid back," Emily counters.
Degree pursuits notwithstanding, both remained committed while in college to classical music careers — but the market for a violin-cello duo being rather restrained, they needed at least one additional colleague, and they found her in pianist Donna Kwong. The three met in 1999 at the Taos School of Music in New Mexico.
Kwong, born in Vancouver, British Columbia, began piano studies at age 7. In the years that followed, she won top prizes at several Canadian music competitions and the gold medal at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Associateship in Piano Performance, and she received an invitation to study at the Royal Schools of Music. She opted instead for the Juilliard School, where she received her bachelor's and master's of music in the prestigious accelerated degree program and was a piano minor teaching fellow.
As a trio, the three have studied with Robert McDonald at the Juilliard School and have worked with coaches including Isaac Stern and members of the Juilliard, Tokyo and Vermeer Quartets.
The Claremont Trio won the 2001 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and consequently made its New York debut opening the 2001-2002 Young Concert Artists Series at the 92nd Street Y. It took part in the 2000 and 2001 Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshops at Carnegie Hall and was presented in a chamber music series at the Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall. Last summer, the group toured Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia as part of a cultural exchange co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and Carnegie Hall.
Emily Bruskin has performed as soloist with the Quincy (Massachusetts) Symphony Orchestra and has given solo recitals in Boston. As a member of the Firebird String Quartet, she was a prize winner in the 1998 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and a recipient of New England Conservatory's Eugene Lehner Chamber Music Award.
Julia Bruskin made her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra after winning its Young Artists Competition when she was 17. That same year she won the New England Conservatory Preparatory School Concerto Competition. She received additional prizes from the Harvard Musical Association the New England Conservatory.
Kwong made her concerto debut with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra at age 13 and has appeared as soloist with L'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and the Vancouver Academy Symphony Orchestra.
The group's repertoire includes lesser-known pieces from two composers, American Ellen Zwilich and Swiss-born Ernest Bloch, and the musicians are enthusiastic about exposing audiences to new music from emerging or obscure artists. They have opted to go with two of the Old Masters for their Virgin Islands program, however.
They will open with Beethoven's Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1, to be followed by a 20th century piece by Paul Schoenfield, "Café Music." The final work will be Smetana's Trio in G for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 15.
A New York concert review said the trio members "have honed themselves into an exhilarating, polished team, and certainly deserve an honored position among others in the genre. Their styles fuse admirably and their tonal resources blend remarkably well."
A reviewer for Strings Magazine described the trio as "a superbly accomplished young group with much intuition among the musicians, backed by splendid technique and dash."
For more information, check out the Claremont Trio Web site.
Concert time is 8 p.m. Thursday at the St. John School of the Arts in Cruz Bay. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $25 for students with I.D. Tickets are being sold Connections in Cruz Bay and also will be available at the door if seating is still available. Reservations are not taken by telephone. The school will operate a cash bar. For more information, call 779-4322.
The trio will present the same program on Wednesday at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas. For ticket information about that performance, see "Claremont Trio to perform at Tillett Gardens".
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