Webstream producers sometimes try to compensate for the lack of intimacy, the missing “being there”, with value added visuals – cinematic camerawork for example, or works of art on display alongside the musicians. The producers at the Ensemble Music Society of Indianapolis entertained no such delusions, and made no such concessions for their presentation of the Horszowski Trio performing Morton Feldman’s 1980 Trio. And while such diversions can often supplement the program without getting in the way, the starkness of Feldman’s piece befitted the nearly bare production.

Horszowski Trio plays Feldman
© Ensemble Music Society of Indianapolis

There were multiple cameras, saving the couch surfer from a fixed vantage (even if handled with occasionally abrupt zooms and shaky pans), but that was it. The stage at Glick Indiana History Center was fully lit, the acoustics bright and clear and the microphones unforgiving; the turning of pages, the rustle of clothing, fingers on strings, downbeat exhalations, were all picked up and transmitted. 

It would be nice to say that the austere, nearly brutal, production was done befitting the piece. That almost certainly wasn’t the case, but it did serve to highlight something fascinating about Feldman and about his Trio in particular. It’s among his later pieces and among his most sublime. Through gradually evolving near repetitions, reducing at one point to a solo pianissimo violin, the piece never losing its creeping momentum. The piece cannot rise above distraction. Any activity pulls the listener away. And yet, nothing truly distracts. The mind always follows.

Horszowski Trio
© Ensemble Music Society of Indianapolis

Listening to the Trio, and listening to the wonderful Horszowski play it, is a pleasure in several ways. There’s the almost literally breathtaking beauty of the music and there’s the spirit and precision of the players (Feldman demands both and Horszowski delivered), but there’s also a cerebral satisfaction. Feldman poses problems that can’t quite be put into words but can still be felt. As the solutions unfold, the logic isn’t articulated (as in, say, a Bach sonata) so much as felt. It triggers the same response as solving a crossword puzzle clue – or more precisely realizing the solution after the puzzle has been set aside, when the deciphering has been relegated to the deeper thought processes. Feldman’s may not be a verbalized solution, but the same feeling of epiphany clicks in, again and again.

But to make the puzzle work requires a presentation of more or less perfection; the elucidation of nonverbal logic at least at Feldman’s level cannot be done in approximation. Horszowski gave it everything it needed – a tempo almost too slow to count (while performances of the Trio are generally less than 90 minutes, they luxuriously stretched past the two-hour mark), a delicacy in attack that left the space around the notes mostly empty, and the focus to stay together and on count through shifting time signatures. “Satisfactory” might be a middling grade in most situations, but a fully satisfying performance of Feldman, as the Horszowski Trio delivered, is about as good as it gets. 


This performance was reviewed from the Ensemble Music Society of Indianapolis video stream