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Popular piano trio opens a new round of Sundays
September 29, 2011

Three years ago, the Mendelssohn Piano Trio opened the season for Columbia's Sundays at Three chamber music series. The group's performance went over so well that the series decided to have them back again to open this year's season opener on Oct. 2.

It's easy to see why. The group, which boasts members from both Montgomery and Baltimore counties, has proven popular since its inception in 1997. It holds residencies at two institutions, including Washington, D.C’s Embassy Series and Pennsylvania's Messiah College, and features three of the region's top musicians.

Violinist Peter Sirotin was a child prodigy who made his professional debut at age 14 with the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra. Pianist Ya-Ting Chang, who is also Sirotin's wife, was also a professional child performer. In her native Taiwan, she won first prize in the 1987 Taiwan National Piano Competition.

Then there's cellist Fiona Thompson, a native of England who studied at the Royal Northern College of Music. The Baltimore County resident has serves as the principal cellist of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra since 1998 and has also performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The magic combination of these three top-tier musicians is what makes them immediately likable on stage, according to Sundays at Three's artistic director, Ronald Mutchnik.

"They have a very natural rapport between themselves and with the audience. Everybody goes away from their concerts feeling that they've experienced something special. There is a cleanness in their sound, an honesty in the way they interpret the music."

Mutchnik says the main reason the trio is able to put across the music of big-deal composers is that they make it a point not to appear as such a big deal themselves.

"They don't put on histrionics, they're not showy and they don't try to exaggerate things on stage. I think that's refreshing in this day and age, with all the hype you see.

"It's nice to see a group of people and simply see that they play music well, they like each other and the audience gets it. So that's why we love having them."

The trio's violinist, Sirotin, for his part, has sung the praises of the series. "This particular series is very good about wanting variety for the audience. They have a lot of loyal audience members who come back all the time."

When the trio appeared for the series in 2008, it presented works by Haydn and Schubert with a dash of its namesake, Mendelssohn, thrown in for good measure.

This time around, the group will revisit the first two composers and play Haydn's Trio in E-flat Major, Hob. XV: 10 and Schubert's Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major. Their third offering will be a work by Brahms, the Trio No. 3 in C Minor.

The idea to have the group play compositions by well known composers was deliberate, Mutchnik adds.

"We like to start off our first concert with big name composers, composers that everybody knows and loves: Haydn, Brahms and Schubert are pretty much about as famous as it gets. And these are all excellent pieces of music — any one of them is a gem of the repertoire and we felt that that combination was the right thing to start off our season."

The Mendelssohn Piano Trio will open the Sundays at Three concert season Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. in Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia (Oakland Mills Road, opposite Dobbin Road). Admission is $15. Anyone age 17 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

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