The Bridge Ensemble evokes some peculiar images. Unlike the trolls of the famous fairy tale, the Bridge Ensemble does not play on or under a bridge. This Seattle-based group is a piano quartet, another name that might suggest the misleading picture of four pianos. Wrong again, the quartet is made up of one piano, a violin, a viola and a cello.
The Bridge Ensemble will perform tonight at The Met as a part of the Spokane Chamber Music Association series. The group will perform piano quartets by Gustav Mahler, Gabriel Faure and Alfred Schnittke.
Members of the quartet decided to name their group The Bridge Ensemble because the players represent a bridge between two musical cultures - two of the players are from Russia, the other two from the U.S.
The string players in the ensemble - violinist Mikhail Schmidt, violist Susan Gulkis and cellist David Tonkonogui - met through another ensemble they share in common, the Seattle Symphony. Pianist Karen Sigers came to know the other Bridge players when she performed as soloist with the symphony in 1992.
Both Schmidt and Tonkonogui were born in Moscow and were members of orchestras and chamber groups in the Russian capital before immigrating to the U.S. in 1990 and joining the Seattle Symphony. Both had studied with members of the famous Borodin Quartet.
The California-born Gulkis became the Seattle Symphony’s principal violist in 1992 after having held a similar position with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
Sigers grew up in Georgia and holds piano performance degrees from the University of Georgia and Michigan State University. She is completing a doctor of musical arts degree at the University of Nebraska.
After playing chamber music informally for awhile, The Bridge Ensemble made its debut in Seattle in May 1993. The group has since played in the Seattle International Music Festival and in other festivals and concert series throughout the country. The group has become known not only for its performances of the standard piano quartet repertoire, but for its advocacy of new and unusual works as well.
Tonight’s concert will include the only completed movement which still exists of Mahler’s Piano Quartet, the earliest known work by a composer best-known for his massive symphonies and symphonic song cycles. The 16-year-old Mahler wrote the work in 1876 for a Russian music competition. Not only did Mahler fail to win the competition, the quartet’s score and parts he sent to Russia were never returned.
Only the first movement and 24 bars of the scherzo were rediscovered in 1960, long after Mahler’s death, in a manuscript once owned by Alma Mahler, the composer’s widow. The first performance of the quartet’s completed first movement was given in New York in 1963. Even so, the work remained unpublished until 1973.
The other unusual work on tonight’s program is the String Trio by Alfred Schnittke, probably the most famous living Russian composer. Until a few years ago, Schnittke was barely known outside Russia. In fact, he was not all that well-known inside Russia. For years, performances and publication of Schnittke’s music were suppressed in the Soviet Union. The Soviet musical establishment condemned the “bourgeoise formalism” Schnittke had adopted from avant-garde composers in Western countries.
Schnittke wrote the String Trio for festivities celebrating the 1985 centennial of the birth of Alban Berg, one of Schnittke’s great heroes.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Bridge Ensemble Location, time: The Met, tonight, 8 Tickets: $10, $8 for students and seniors available at The Met, 455-6500, Hoffman Music, Street Music, and at G&B;