Brahms Horn Trio

Neil Kimel, horn

Robert Hanford, violin

Andrea Swan, piano

August 25, 2020

Rush Hour Concerts

Robbie Ellis, host


TJ Cole – Drifter

Johannes Brahms – Horn Trio in Eb major, Op. 40

I. Andante

II. Scherzo. Allegro

III. Adagio mesto

IV. Finale. Allegro con brio

Neil Kimel’s career as a horn player began as anything but a traditional or predictable one.  After receiving a B.A. in Cinema Studies from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, he was invited to join the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida where he performed and recorded under the baton of its music director, Michael Tilson Thomas.   Neil then returned to his home town of Chicago where diverse performance opportunities included backing up various acts on Oprah Winfrey’s popular television show, flying to Hawaii to perform with soprano Charlotte Church, playing in a pit for a Broadway show in New York City, and recording numerous commercial jingles.  Summers were filled with performances with many festival orchestras including Spoleto USA, the National Orchestral Institute, and the Tanglewood Music Center where Mr. Kimel was awarded both the C.D. Jackson Memorial Prize and the Harry Shapiro Award for Outstanding Brass Playing.  He then won the position of second horn with Chicago’s Grant Park Orchestra in 2000 with whom he has recorded numerous times. The winters found Mr. Kimel fleeing Chicago’s cold and snow for sunshine and warmth as third horn with the Sarasota (FL) Opera Orchestra.  Additionally, Neil has performed with the Symphony Orchestras of Kansas City, Nashville, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Dallas, Toronto, Chicago and the Cleveland Orchestra with whom he toured to Vienna playing in the famed Musikverein.

Sir Andrew Davis appointed Mr. Kimel as second horn of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago in 2008.  When Neil leaves the opera pit, he is the principal horn of the Chicago Philharmonic with whom he has appeared as soloist, a member of Tower Brass of Chicago, as well as a chamber music coach at Northwestern University and Adjunct Professor of Horn at DePaul University.  Privately and in masterclasses around the country, Mr. Kimel coaches musicians of all instruments in audition preparation and mental techniques that lead players to a more consistent performance.

Robert Hanford is the concertmaster of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. During the summer he is also a concertmaster at the Aspen Music Festival. Previously, Mr. Hanford was the Associate Principal Second Violinist of the Minnesota Orchestra and a member of both the Milwaukee Symphony and Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony. He has appeared as soloist on many occasions with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony and other Midwestern orchestras, including the Chicago Philharmonic. Mr. Hanford attended Northwestern University and is currently on the faculty as a violin instructor.  He graduated with first prize from the Orpheus Conservatory in Athens, Greece. For many summers he was concertmaster and violin instructor at the Birch Creek Music Festival in Wisconsin. He has also performed and taught at the Apollo, the MidAmerica, the Milwaukee, and the Roycroft Chamber Music Festivals.

In addition to his professional career as a violinist, Robert has studied and performed on the theremin, one of the first electronic instruments.  Robert is also an amateur artist blacksmith, having attended courses of study in Wyoming and Illinois.  His most recent passion is canoeing, and earlier this summer he completed a nine-day solo canoe trip in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.

Andrea Swan is a well-known chamber musician, collaborative pianist, orchestral keyboard player, soloist and teacher in the Chicago area. She is the principal keyboard player with the Grant Park Music Festival  and plays regularly with the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra.  She is a founding member of the Evanston Chamber Ensemble and the Pressenda Trio.  As a collaborator and chamber music player, she has appeared frequently on the Chicago Symphony chamber music series, on live WFMT radio broadcasts, and in recitals throughout the United States and the Far East.

Throughout her career, she has performed in several contemporary groups, including a 20 year stint with the Contemporary Chamber Players of the U. of Chicago, the Fulcrum Point New Music Project and the Chicago Chamber Musician’s Music Toward the Millennium Project. She regularly plays for instrumentalists in their final auditions for the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera Orchestras, and has served as the official pianist for local and national competitions, including the Stulberg International String Competition, held annually in Kalamazoo, Michigan each May.

Ms. Swan received her undergraduate degree from Oberlin College, where she studied with Jack Radunsky and was awarded the prestigious Bezazium scholarship. She continued her studies with Gyorgy Sebok and Menahem Pressler at Indiana University, where she earned a Master of Music degree with highest distinction and was awarded the Performer’s Certificate.

Program Notes:

This 10 minute work is inspired by a woodcut piece also titled Drifter by Rockwell Kent. The inspiration is immediately obvious once you observe both at the same time.

TJ Cole (b. 1993)

Drifter (2015) 

TJ Cole (she/her, they/them) is a Philadelphia-based composer, originally from the suburbs of Atlanta. She has been commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Nashville in Harmony with Intersection, Time for Three with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, Play On Philly!, the Music in May Festival, Music in the Vineyards, the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, One Book One Philadelphia, among others.

Her music has been performed by various ensembles including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Utah Symphony, the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra, the Henderson Symphony Orchestra, the Appalachian Symphony Orchestra, the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra, the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra, the Dover Quartet, the Bakken Trio, and the Nebula Ensemble. She has also worked on numerous projects with Time for Three as an orchestrator and arranger, and served as a composer-in-residence at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in 2014. 

TJ has participated in composition programs including the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, and the New Emerging Artists Festival, and studied with Samuel Adler for a summer at the Freie Universität Berlin. In 2014, she won an ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer award.

TJ has also been involved with music-related community outreach projects. She collaborated with bassist Ranaan Meyer as an orchestrator on his project, The World We All Deserve Through Music, and with First Person Arts by co-curating and performing in a musical story slam. During a yearlong ArtistYear Fellowship (2016-2017), TJ was able to co-run and collaborate in musical performances and songwriting workshops with residents of Project HOME, a Philadelphia based organization fighting to end chronic homelessness. 

TJ received her Bachelor’s degree in composition from the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied with Jennifer Higdon, David Ludwig, and Richard Danielpour. 

TJ writes, performs, produces, and engineers in the synth-pop band twin pixie.

Other than music, TJ also enjoys drawing, baking, sewing, and taking care of the various cats in her life: Xena, Zelda, Simmie, and Bruce.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Horn Trio, Op. 40 (1865) 

Born to a horn playing father and seamstress mother, Johannes Brahms would one day shock the world by masterfully writing a trio for horn, violin and piano, a combination previously unthought of. His father would start him on his musical studies with horn until passing the musical torch to Otto Cossel, when Johannes reached the age of seven, for piano lessons. Even as early as adolescence, Brahms was already playing piano in the dance halls, needing to contribute income to his poor family. He started to gain recognition as a concert pianist after a tour at the age of nineteen, though he also conducted choirs and became an excellent conductor during this same stage in life.

While he started composing quite early in life, he would destroy many of his first works, never being satisfied with the outcome. Though, at the age of twenty, he began to receive public acclaim for his compositions when we went on tour as accompanist to Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi. It was on this tour that he met Joseph Joachim, who he later dedicated his Violin Concerto to. In addition, Joachim became a great friend. On this tour, he also met Franz Liszt.

Joachim would introduce Brahms to Robert Schumann, an invitation which he accepted on this same tour. Schumann was impressed with Brahms and published an article titled ‘New Paths’ about him that year, announcing to the public that Brahms was “destined to give ideal expression to the times.” It was on this trip that Brahms also met Clara Schumann who would rely on Brahms heavily the following year after Robert’s attempted suicide and confinment to the asylum. Brahms moved into the Schumann household, temporarily setting aside his musical career, to assist the family and visit Robert since Clara was not allowed to.

During this time, Brahms and Clara became very close and, from letters, we know he must have been deeply in love with her. Brahms was naturally conflicted given his respect for the ailing Robert who would pass two years later at the Asylum. After Robert’s passing, Brahms took leave rather abruptly, dividing his time between Hamburg and Detmold, where he had work in both cities. That year, in 1859, he would premier and perform as soloist for his own Piano Concerto No. 1. He then visited and stayed in Vienna in 1862, being appointed conductor with the Vienna Singakademie in 1863. He resigned from this post the following year but would decide to make Vienna his home.

Fast Facts:

  • At the meeting of Brahms and Liszt, Liszt would sight read Brahms Scherzo, Op. 4 and Brahms would supposedly fall asleep during the performance of one of Liszt’s works. 
  • So intimidated by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms would work on his 1st symphony (sometimes nicknamed Beethoven’s tenth) for 21 years, finally completing it in 1876 at the age of 43.
  • An early critic refused to review Brahms’ Horn Trio, claiming it was an ‘indefensibly unwieldy’ instrumentation combination, saying it’s an illegitimate work because of that. 

Program Notes:

In 1865, Brahms’ mother, his first confidant and admirer, passed away. It was this summer that Brahms would take lodging in what is now known as the Brahms House in Lichtental. On his summer to-do list was composing a trio that included the natural horn, or waldhorn, which is the predecessor of the French Horn we hear today. Though the modern valve horns were starting to be used in the 1830s, Brahms intentionally wrote for natural horn, maybe because his father had taught him this as a child, or maybe because of his preference for its rounder tone. 

The gravitas and sadness of his mother’s passing is immediately prevalent in the opening Andante. You can also hear the forest, mountain town in which he was residing while writing this work, reflected in that opening movement’s melancholy. The second movement’s Scherzo is anything but melancholy, feeling more dance-like, though providing a rather brooding trio section before returning to the dancing Scherzo theme. 

The following Adagio mesto brings back the pain and grief from the Andante, being perhaps one of Brahms’ most sensitively written and heartfelt slow movements. There is no doubt about Brahms’ frame of mind when composing this piece. Though the Finale shows moments of this mind set, on a whole we have shifted the color to a more playful tone, perhaps reminiscing of joyous moments past. One also can not help but hear the hunting horn calls throughout this movement, calling back to his childhood memories of hearing his father practice, or perhaps the horn calls right outside his summer home, echoing off the nearby mountains.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

The Rush Hour Concerts series is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts

and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

Don’t miss Nexus Chamber Music

next week on

Rush Hour Concerts!

Tuesday September 1, 5:45pm

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