by Ann Butler, The Durango Herald
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Read notes for Ladders to the Sky (2005) for piano trio
Willa Cather did it. So did Georgia O'Keeffe. Now composer Gwyneth Walker has joined the ranks of artists who portray the Southwest even though they're not natives.
The Red Shoe Piano Trio performed its annual recital at 3 p.m. Sunday in Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College. The trio is made up of FLC faculty members violinist Mikylah Myers McTeer, cellist Katherine Jetter Tischhauser and pianist Lisa Campi.
Walker created a 17-minute work called Ladders in the Sky to commemorate the centennial of Mesa Verde National Park. The Red Shoe Piano Trio performed the world premiere of the piece Sunday afternoon at its recital in Roshong Recital Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Walker composed the piece without ever having set foot on the mesa or in the ruins. She took as her inspiration photographs she found on the Internet and in Canyon Spirits, John Ninnenmann's latest book of photographs. (His day job is as dean of natural and behavioral sciences at FLC.)
Those photographs were projected onto a large screen behind Lisa Campi, Mikylah Myers McTeer and Katherine Jetter Tischhauser as they played the work, one which reflects many aspects of the World Heritage Site.
The piece worked on all levels. It stretched the classically trained musicians as they portrayed the wail of an ancestral Puebloan religious chant, the thrumming of life returning to the mesa after a cold winter and the lightening of spirits as one rises up a ladder from the intimate darkness of a kiva into the light.
The photos, which were a wonderful match to the music, emphasized that these were real people who lived in the now deserted cliff dwellings, who were a part of the place and who lived, loved and worshipped there.
And Walker's score was delightfully accessible and appropriate.
This piece deserves to be played at the centennial celebrations and in area schools. It shows how sense of place and history can inspire different forms of art, and how those forms then celebrate the sense of place and history.
The entire program was a birthday party. Not only did it honor Mesa Verde's centennial, but it joined the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. And the final piece was written 150 years ago.
The women began with Mozart's Trio in E Major, K. 542. It's a piece that reflects the symphonies Mozart was creating at the same time, and the sound is much lusher than a trio generally produces. My only caveat on this piece was that the piano seemed a bit out of balance, but it's a minor caveat indeed.
And the final half of the recital was simply gorgeous. Bedrich Smetana's Trio in G minor, Op. 15, is the only piano trio he composed. A therapy after the death of his 5-year-old daughter, Smetana's work ranges from grief and a funeral dirge to a bit of political protest and on to healing at the end.
All three of the women were in excellent form, making me sad that this is their last concert together this year. It's a long time until next February.