Commitment to contemporary chamber music includes works by 8 Pulitzer Prize– and two Grawemeyer-winning composers
The Verdehr Trio—violinist Walter Verdehr, clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr and pianist Silvia Roederer—has announced its retirement at the end of the 2014–15 season after 43 years.
The trio, founded in 1972 by husband-and-wife duo Walter and Elsa, has toured in 58 countries and has commissioned more than 210 new works for the violin-clarinet-piano ensembles. Included in the bevy of works are pieces commissioned by eight Pulitzer Prize– and two Grawemeyer-winning composers.
“We’ve decided to stop performing as a trio and to focus more on projects, and to tie up the things that we’ve [started to] record,” Walter Verdehr says, noting that Elsa’s asthma has worsened.
The group is widely renowned for growing the number of works for the violin-clarinet-piano trio—an instrumental combination that seriously lacked a breadth of material—the most well-known piece being Bartók’s Contrasts.
“There were only five or six pieces [for this instrumentation] when we started out in the early ’70s,” Verdehr says over the phone from his office at Michigan State, where he is a professor of violin. “We got tired of playing those pieces—I mean, we loved them, but we wanted to play some other music.”
The Verdehrs started commissioning works, and it “snowballed” in the ’80s, Verdehr says. The list of composers the trio has worked with is extensive and includes Peter Schickele, Gian Carlo Menotti, Bright Sheng, Ned Rorem, Libby Larsen, Jennifer Higdon, Thea Musgrave, William Bolcom, Augusta Read Thomas, and Wolfgang Rihm, among others.
“We thought this has potential,” he says, “potential to be literature that stands on its own, like string-quartet literature.”
Four decades in, it seems the Verdehrs have done it all—from meeting Mother Teresa in India to performing at the White House.
But the trio’s retirement doesn’t come without a heavy heart.
Verdehr says there’s always a “bit of sadness” in saying goodbye. “We are so closely associated with [so much of this music]—we commissioned it, we learned it, and then we performed it,” he says, “but we want to help other groups who are trying to learn this repertoire and encourage them to play it.”
The Verdehrs set the standard for the violin-clarinet-piano trio, and the husband-and-wife duo each inspired students of their own to venture down the path the trio paved. Walter’s former student, Monica Curro, started a group in Melbourne, Australia called the Plexus Trio, while Elsa’s former student, Maxine Ramey, formed the Sapphire Trio.
Walter will continue to perform as a soloist and chamber player, and teach part-time at Michigan State—Elsa will teach three students next year.
Roederer, too, will continue to perform and teach as a professor of piano and keyboard pedagogy at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
“We only did a few concerts this year, and have sort of devoted ourselves to editing the recordings,” Verdehr says.
Tying up projects is a must—the prolific trio has enough material to produce six more CDs, he adds, and there are still a slew of projects to be completed, including two DVD releases, 25 transcriptions of 18th- and 19th-century repertoire from manuscript to digital form, and the transferring of live recordings onto CDs.
The International Clarinet Association has sponsored a Verdehr Trio competition for new works to be commissioned and premiered at the ICA Congress, which was held in Madrid in July.