What happens when you combine virtuosic musicianship, robust new repertoire, and mutual respect among colleagues and friends? You get Parhelion Trio, a NYC-based new music trio whose combination of flute, clarinet, and piano have been a driving force in the New Music scene since 2010. We got a chance to talk with the members of the trio about their formation, future, and thoughts on working with living composers.
Could you give a bit of a background on Parhelion Trio and how it was founded?
-Andrea: Parhelion Trio was founded in 2010 when Sarah and I both attended the Institute and Festival for Contemporary Performance, which was once a summer program held at Mannes College. I remember watching Sarah perform for the first time at Le Poisson Rouge (for the festival)—she was playing this great piece by José-Luis Hurtado for solo flute and percussion trio that highlighted her incredible flute badassery. The New York Times also wrote a nice write up of this concert.
- Sarah: aww, thanks Andrea! Your performance of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos for solo piano was also pretty cool.
- Andrea: *laughs* I think at this point it was inevitable that we would collaborate in some capacity together in the future. We launched the trio later that same year with another clarinetist from the festival, but it wasn’t until we brought on Ashleé Miller in 2013 that we began to find some momentum and really learn how to play together.
- Sarah: It’s funny, I have no idea how we landed at the combination of flute, clarinet, and piano, but I think that ultimately it comes down to mutual admiration and friendship.
- Andrea: Yes! I think one of the main reasons to which we owe our longevity as an ensemble is that we have continued to grow together over the years, as both artists and people.
- Ashleé: With each year we feel more grateful for one another, and have fostered a deep appreciation for each other’s talents and contributions to the group. We are excited to continue forging this path and see what the future has in store for us!
Why the name Parhelion?
Sarah: It took us a while to figure out the perfect name. We would come into rehearsal and each bring in a few ideas. I was actually doing a Google search for a group called Phenomenon of Threes (Keith Underwood, Esther Lamneck, and Martha Locker), but I forgot to type the “s” at the end to make it plural. What I got instead was an image of a parhelion! When I read more about it on Wikipedia I thought, “Perfect!” I was so sure that this was going to be the name of our group and I was determined to convince the others. Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult. They were sold.
So what is a Parhelion?
Ashleé: It’s an atmospheric phenomenon (sometimes it’s called a Sundog) that creates a halo effect around the sun with two bright spots on either side. The effect makes it look like there are three suns on the horizon! They are caused by light refracting off of ice crystals. Hopefully one day we’ll get to see one in person.
What are some recent and upcoming projects of yours?
Andrea: This past season we did a tour of Denmark and Iceland as one of the Ensembles in Residence for the New Music for Strings Festival alongside the amazing Friction Quartet. It was incredible to tour with such outstanding musicians including Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet and Mari Kimura whose subharmonic violin techniques are superb! This spring, we had a memorable performance at Arété which involved a world premiere of This Machine by Daniel Felsenfeld which is emotional piece fueled by rage against the Trump administration. Coming up, we are thrilled to help CreArt open their season on October 5 at Greenwich House Music School! We also have some exciting collaborations to look forward to this season with our friends from our 2018 residency at Blackbird Creative Lab. We’re also playing at The Stone (The New School) on March 14, 2020 as part of Lisa Bielawa’s residency and at Weill Recital Hall on March 31st for an all-Sunny Knable program. Stay tuned for more details!
Sarah: We’re also looking forward to our third residency at Avaloch Farm Music Institute. We love Avaloch! This time, we’ll be working with Seong Ae Kim and Alexandra du Bois who are both writing us pieces for different upcoming projects. The piece by Alexandra is for our “Vera Rubin” project which is dedicated to the late astrophysicist who discovered evidence of the existence of dark matter and faced many obstacles as a woman in her field.
Being a new music ensemble, you are continually working with and meeting new composers. What have you found most challenging (and conversely most rewarding) about working with living composers?
Ashleé: Yes, working with new composers is certainly the most exciting and rewarding part of music making! With our uncommon instrumentation, new composers often find themselves stepping into uncharted territory. Something is bound to happen! And, we often find that composers look to us for guidance and limits about our personal abilities as performers when they are sketching out new works. So in a way, each new work is sure to challenge us, and in turn challenge us even more with each new collaboration. Shall we say an unfolding cycle of self-amelioration...or is it castigation? Anyways, what emerges are snapshot-like compositions that reflects our unique, and often new, relationships with each composer friend as well as our personal growth as performers and ensemble. So even when we have compositions by the same composer, they are often startlingly different.