Press Room

Classical musicians, like many other musicians, like to get out from under the umbrella of larger groups and take the spotlight in smaller ensembles.

The Lancaster Symphony Orchestra’s new chamber music series put violinist Igor Yuzefovich, the orchestra’s concertmaster, pianist Michael Sheppard and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski in that spotlight Sunday night at Franklin & Marshall College’s Roschel Center for some outstanding music-making.

The three, performing as the Monument Trio, started the concert with Franz Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio in G Major, “Gypsy Rondo.” The work was light-hearted but not inconsequential, especially in the final movement when the contrast between the major-key, rhythmically-steady sections and the minor-key “Gypsy” sections were played up for all they were worth.
Next came Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio in C Major, opening up a whole new world of complexity and seriousness. All four movements of the work revolve around the same four notes, appearing in endless permutations and moods.
There were times when the work seemed to flirt with abstraction, others when warm-spirited romanticism took hold.

“It’s all about inviting the audience into our world — the performers’ world,” Yuzefovich told the audience during his introduction to the piece, and that’s what the performance that followed did.
The performers’ world can sometimes be a frightening one. Who needs a horror movie when you’ve got the Trio No. 2 in E Minor by Dmitri Shostakovich? This work got a searing, terrifying performance from beginning to end. The work evoked tolling bells from the piano, with scraped and dessicated strings playing dances for the dead, sometimes evoking mania or the furious buzzing of hornets.

The finale’s Jewish theme, a dance melody that degenerates into pounding obsession and then into exhaustion, evokes the blackest of black humor. Appropriately, the stunned audience took a few moments before applauding the amazing performance.

Astor Piazzolla’s “Primavera Portena,” the “Spring” section of his “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” was no lightweight finale. The players could let go and let the subtle rhythms swing, but the smoky, dense atmosphere evoked by Piazzolla’s complex harmonies seemed to convey a sense of melancholy. In the trio’s gentle performance, it became the positive to the Shostakovich negative, a dance of the life that continues despite damage and loss.

The series will continue March 22 and May 17.

Lancaster New Era
March 2, 2009  



One of the musical pleasures in Baltimore over the past five years or so has been the appearance and steady growth of the Monument Piano Trio. I thought early on that this group had the potential to enjoy a career well beyond the city. I still do, especially after Sunday night's concert at An die Musik, where the trio has artists-in-residence standing.

Violinist Igor Yuzefovich (assistant concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra), cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski (the BSO's assistant principal cellist), and pianist Michael Sheppard enjoy an obvious musical rapport. The lovely, refined phrasing they produced in the delicate slow movement of Beethoven's G major Trio (Op. 1, No., 2) was one example of how sensitively the players listen to and respond to each other. In the more rambunctious portions of that work, Sheppard encountered an occasionally cloudy measure, but he and his colleagues offered plenty of impressive playing. Same for the rest of the program, which ventured into much rarer territory.

Max Bruch is today known primarily for a handful of pieces for violin (or cello) and orchestra. His C minor Piano Trio doesn't enjoy much attention at all, but the Monument group made a strong case for it, tapping deeply into the music's lyrical groove. Rodion Shchedrin's Three Funny Pieces from 1997 actually can justify the "funny" tag, particularly the one called Let's Play an Opera by Rossini, which boils down Rossini's trademark devices into a manic few minutes, and the music hall kick of the Humoresque. The performers brought out the often quirky coloring of Shchedrin's writing with aplomb.

Sheppard has been writing a transcription for piano trio of Brahms' Symphony No. 2. The world may not need such a transcription, and there may be more than enough repertoire written expressly for piano trio to keep any ensemble busy for a long, long time. But I'm partial to transcriptions (I can't help myself from seeking out solo piano arrangements of things like Elgar, Bruckner and Mahler symphonies), so I'd hardly question Sheppard's decision to reduce Brahms to violin, cello and piano. Next season, the complete transcription will be performed; on Sunday, the second movement was unveiled as a teaser. Some of the original material doesn't translate ideally (the darkest harmonies can't help but sound thin when paired down from orchestral strength), but Sheppard has skillfully and faithfully honored Brahms. And the performance had considerable warmth and character, just as you would expect from the Monument Piano Trio.

- Tim Smith
Baltimore Sun


The Shostakovich anniversary was also the focus of an ambitious and rewarding concert Wednesday night at the Peabody Conservatory featuring the Monument Piano Trio...  The radiant soprano Janice Chandler-Etieme reconfirmed her standing as one of Baltimore's vocal treasures when she joined the trio for an emotionally potent account of the intimate, symbol-filled Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok... Violinist Igor Yuzefovich, cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski and pianist Michael Sheppard matched the singer's eloquence and intense concentration.  The composer's final symphony, no. 15, with its enigmatic quotations from the Rossini's William Tell Overture and Wagner's Ring, sounds remarkably persuasive in Victor Danchenko's ingenious arrangement for piano trio and percussion.  The Monument members and percussionists Barry Dove, Robert Jenkins and Brian Prechtl caught the score's high and low spirits, irony and tragedy in a taut, riveting performance.  Yuzefovich, Skoraczewski and Sheppard did mostly effective work in the one well-known item on the bill, [Shostakovich's] Piano Trio no. 2.

- Tim Smith
Baltimore Sun
September 30, 2006

An die Musik's ensemble in residence, the excellent Monument Piano Trio, split in duos for most of its concert Saturday afternoon. Dariusz Skoraczewski delivered a remarkably assured performance of Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata - ruby red in tone color, white hot in expressive shading. ...  Sheppard's playing was stronger when he backed Igor Yuzefovich in Grieg's C minor Violin Sonata. The violinist's unfailingly lyrical line and gleaming tone sent the music soaring. The three musicians gave a taut account of a student work by Shostakovich, the Piano Trio No. 1, which meanders through various styles before, surprisingly, settling into romantic cliche.

- Tim Smith
Baltimore Sun

November 22, 2005


...With the first note of the Haydn trio,[C Major, Hob. XV:27] Yuzefovich, Skoraczewski and Sheppard became a unit, no longer individuals playing together but rather one intricately voiced stream of music, taking the audience through lands of wonder, worry, pleasure and pain. The young, prize-winning performers demonstrated mature musicianship with every meaningful sound blended together.  ... Next, Dvorak's "Dumky" trio grabbed the audience by the throat with the cello's first imploring notes and didn't let go through all five Slavic dances. Not only was Monument's ability to capture the listener with its strength of character entirely breathtaking, but also the equally important precision with which they were able to masterfully play at thrilling tempos. ... After the audience caught their breath during intermission, the trio embarked upon a journey through Mendelssohn's warm trio [D minor, op. 49]. Just as they did through the first half, the trio clicked tightly together while allowing every note to carry its own meaning and every instrument its own powerful voice and personality. There were moments of mystery that held the audience at ransom, begging for resolution. When the trio decided to grant the audience relief, it felt as though we were submerging into warm baths of safety and comfort, free from the stresses of the world.  With the last bold chordal stretch of the final trio, the audience was left speechless, capable only of clapping our hearts out.

- Sasha Kozlov
Johns Hopkins News-Letter

September 30, 2005

...Violinist Igor Yuzefovich, cellist Maxim Kozlov, and pianist Michael Sheppard revealed plenty of individual and collective strengths in an appealing program... the clarity of articulation and tightness of ensemble work proved admirable; the players took that finale [Haydn Piano Trio in G Major] at Mach speed without losing their grip...

- Tim Smith
Baltimore Sun

December 2, 2004

... The jaunty, impish Beethoven Trio was full of sudden shifts in dynamics and timbre,... the three musicians often threw a phrase back and forth as if engaged in a spirited game of one-upmanship... the Monument [Piano] Trio turned its youthful enthusiasm to an intense romanticism...

- Geoffrey Himes,
Baltimore City Paper

October 13, 2004

... The penetrating musicianship and dazzling virtuosity for which Mr. Sheppard is known was clear with every note ... Mr. Yuzefovich proved to be an equally great musical contributor, adding another beautiful layer of melody to the program. His technically flawless control over the violin, made only sweeter by his long, singing tone, were especially clear in the Mendelssohn...  Maxim Kozlov brought to the trio a certain depth and richness of sound, and managed to steal the audience's breath... in the second movement of the Mendelssohn trio. There, his passionate and painful cry was like a hand grabbing at the heart...

- Sasha Kozlov
Johns Hopkins News-Letter

October 15, 2004