‘Accident’ isn’t a word normally associated with The Zodiac Trio. The violin, clarinet and piano ensemble is famed for giving complex and innovative performances around the globe. However, a few days before this one-off concert at Canongate Kirk, clarinettist Kliment Krylovskiy broke his arm in a car accident. Happily, cancellation was avoided: along with three substitute clarinettists of exceptional calibre, Krylovskiy himself was able to play in at least some of the night’s programme.
It was an evening of fascinating, conceptual, contemporary classical music; nearly all of the composers of the music were present and correct, receiving the audience’s applause alongside the performers in a true celebration of musical endeavour. Whether the melodies were fiendishly difficult or simple and tranquil, the message of the music was always clear, elucidated by the extensive programme notes which were fascinating, if risking a little pretension.
Where the ideas behind the music became slightly wispy, the trio substantiated their claims with moving, meaningful playing which indicated a real understanding of the composers’ visions. It was clear by the interactions onstage that the relationships between composers and musicians were close, giving an intimate feel to the concert. Perhaps even more impressively, the three extra clarinettists never stuck out as being newcomers, though they each had different playing styles and had only been playing the music for a few days.
However, the trio shone brightest when all of its original members were playing together; their experience with one another made for a very natural performance. ‘Black Market’, which opened the concert, was dizzying and playful. Coupled with the church’s acoustic, the tempo meant that some of Vanessa Mollard’s pizzicato was lost in the melee, but generally the complicated rhythms and melodies of the piece cut through brilliantly.
For the next piece, Five Summer Haiku, Krylovskiy became a performance poet of sorts, introducing each themed movement with its appropriate haiku, while Sally Day took his place in the trio. This engagement with the music’s inspiration avoided being smug through its earnestness - it was effective rather than affected, buoyant rather than aloof. ‘Clouds’ was a nebulous, rolling affair, with pianist Riko Higuma colouring the phrases subtly, while ‘Twilight’ had Mollard using the body of her violin as percussion, emulating the noise of a stone being kicked down a street. Touches like this, which explored the potential of instruments and playing styles, made the programme stand out among the many other classical Fringe performances this year.
Each member of the trio had a solo piece. Naming the Stars, Higuma’s solo, was fantastic; ethereal and elegant, it floated along and filled the church with its delicate melody. The composers and arrangers of all of the pieces seemed to have some connection to the trio, making the music both recent and personal, whilst allowing the audience to share in its full meaning: a luxury not many classical audiences receive.
Shinobu Miki replaced Krylovskiy in Larry Bell’s Serenade No. 4, ‘Walk That Lonesome Valley’, written for the Zodiac Trio. They roared through the muddling mash of the first movement towards a lyrical, nocturnal section, before incorporating the eponymous folk tune in the final movement. Alex South played in the final work, Visions from the Aboriginal Dreamtime by Andrew List, in which the trio aurally replicated the Aboriginal creation myth to truly mesmeric effect. This was possibly the most ambitious piece of the night and was an appropriate choice to end on: rhythms shifted constantly in a replication of Corroboree ceremonies, while images of gigantic mythical beings flickered into life through the roiling passages intertwining the three voices.
The applause greeting the group of twelve musicians and composers was the lengthiest I have yet experienced at the Fringe; this curiously small group of listeners was certainly glad to have attended the concert. It was such a privilege to experience this quality of playing that it seems wrong for ‘The Zodiac Trio’ and ‘accident’ to appear in the same sentence. Accidents or accidentals, they take it all in their stride.