Three for the books

By Lawrence Cosentino
The Verdhehr Trio will unofficially retire after Tuesday\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s concert. Illustration by Vince Joy.

Verdehr Trio puts capstone on final concert series

Friday, June 21 — Around the world, the chamber music combination of violin, clarinet and piano is synonymous with Michigan State University’s Verdehr Trio. They even have an entry in the Britannica-hefty New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, just before “Verdi.”

For the time being, that entry is a going concern, but not for much longer.

After 40 years of music making, hundreds of world premieres, 20 CDs and many spins around the globe, Tuesday will be the last official entry in the Verdehr Trio’s longstanding summer concert series.

It’s the last hurrah in a “tapering off” tour that began last February. (With typical reserve, Verdehr avoided the pathos of saying “farewell.”) The series showcases some of the 300-plus new works commissioned by violinist Walter Verdehr and his accomplices in modern music, clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr and pianist Sylvia Roederer.

In the slanting rays of retirement, the Verdehrs are entitled to look back and enjoy mastery of all they survey. They did nothing less than forge and sustain a new medium, piling up a wild variety of works from every major living composer, from Peter “PDQ Bach” Schickele to Australia’s dean of composers, Peter Sculthorpe, to German master Wolfgang Rihm to American masters like Joan Tower. No matter what style of music the composer threw at them, Verdehr and his colleagues ripped each one open like a birthday present.

“We’d like to make people believe in them, just like a piece by Bach or Brahms,” Verdehr said.

The Verdehr Trio has been around so long they’ve commissioned pieces from a father and son: Indiana composer Don Freund wrote “Trio Music” in 1979, one of the first pieces commissioned by the Verdehrs. Freund’s son, Stefan Freund, a founding member of the avant-garde ensemble Alarm Will Sound, wrote “Trio Dances” for the trio last year.

Tuesday’s concert will sample some of the trio’s greatest hits, serving up a stimulating slate of music by William Bolcom, Gian Carlo Menotti, Jennifer Higdon, Bright Sheng and William Brohn. The worlds of sound conjured on stage will range from Sheng’s sonic portrait of Tibet to James Hartway’s “Pictures From Michigan,” with three movements that evoke MSU’s Beaumont Tower, Tahquamenon Falls and the Sleeping Bear dunes.

Many of these works have been picked up by other ensembles, from the Lincoln Center chamber orchestra to France’s Zodiac Trio.

It’s bound to be a sentimental night, despite the Verdehrs’ tight professionalism and forward-looking philosophy. Verdehr will probably recognize old allies in the audience such as John Cantlon, the MSU administrator from the 1980s who helped the trio launch its voyage into new music and introduced Verdehr to another supporter, MSU President Lou Anna Simon.

“We also were able to get many Michigan and all our MSU composers to write great pieces for us, so we are very grateful to MSU,” Verdehr said.

A tour to Cuba and to Oslo, Norway is in the works for the fall, but this is the last concert of the last summer concert series at MSU. Verdehr hasn’t ruled out future ad hoc local dates, but Tuesday’s concert offers a chance to hear a piece of music history.

Verdehr Trio 40th Anniversary concert

7:30 p.m. June 25

Wharton Center