I approached Monday’s Symphony Center concert of Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma performing Beethoven piano trios by with some trepidation. For nearly 20 years those piano trios have held a special place in my heart. This came out of a 3-day festival at the Kennedy Center’s roof-top Terrace Theater in Washington, DC, where nearly all of Beethoven’s works for piano trio were performed by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
The opening concert went well. It included two works Ax, Kavakos, and Ma also played: the Gasenhaus Trio in B-flat major, Op. 11, and my favorite Beethoven Trio, in E-flat major, Op. 70 No. 2. The concert also included Trio in G-major, Op. 1 No. 2. It was a wonderful way to start the festival on a lovely Monday evening, September 10, 2001.
The concert the following evening didn’t happen because that morning two airplanes destroyed the World Trade Center, one airplane hit the Pentagon across the Potomac River from the Kennedy Center, and a fourth airplane was brought down in rural Pennsylvania. Because rescheduling was impossible, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio almost crammed two nights of music into a single marathon concert on the following evening, Wednesday, September 12, 2001.
While it’s hard to put into words the fear and uncertainty we all felt in DC during those horrible days, one memory stands out as sharp as a dagger: standing on the rooftop of the Kennedy Center and seeing the still smoldering Pentagon across the Potomac 36 hours after the attack. By that time, I had been living in DC for 17 years. Everyone sensed that our lives had changed irrevocably, but it was too soon to know how.
The final work on that sad Wednesday evening was the Archduke Trio, one of Beethoven’s most sublime works, which was also the final work that Ax, Kavakos, and Ma played this past Monday. To this day, I am unable to hear the slow, Archduke variations without getting choked up, and I have avoided performances of it. I was hoping to get through Monday’s concert without my handkerchief, but Ax, Kavakos, and Ma performed those variations too beautifully. In retrospect, there was no better music than Beethoven’s piano trios to soothe the anguish we all felt from 9/11. There’s also no better music to stir up memories, however painful.