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One of the world's finest chamber music ensembles is The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. And this January, pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jamie Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, will be celebrating their 35th anniversary together. Over the years, the trio has frequently collaborated with a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.

As Jeff Lunden reports, the musicians are about to premiere a new piece she's composed.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has written several compositions for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio or the KLRs for short. And she says it's always great fun to hand over a new piece to them.

ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH: I'm my first audience. But my performers are my second audience. And to have this kind of a mutual relationship that has gone on for all of these years is just a very inspiring thing for me as a composer.


LUNDEN: Zwilich's newest work for the trio is actually a quintet. So, the group is joined by viola player Michael Tree and double bass player Harold Robinson. Joseph Kalichstein, the ensemble's pianist, says one of the things he likes most about Zwilich's music is it's audience-friendly.

JOSEPH KALICHSTEIN: On the surface, it seems so accessible and so easy to listen to and catchy, in the sense that certain tunes, sometimes stick in your head for months. And yet it's extremely, extremely complicated in subtle ways, and well-crafted in subtle ways. So for me, that's the best of both worlds.


LUNDEN: Zwilich took her inspiration for the piece from Franz Schubert's famous "Trout Quintet." The KLRs have played it many times.


LUNDEN: One of the main reasons Zwilich wanted to write for this unusual combination of instruments is because it gave her an opportunity to showcase the double bass.

ZWILICH: Going back to Mozart's time, there were always wonderful bass players here and there. But now the level of bass playing is so high that if you're writing a piece of chamber music, you can include the double bass as an equal partner to everyone else. He can participate in this wonderful electricity of chamber music, where everybody is a soloist one moment and a partner the next.


LUNDEN: Zwilich also gets to have a little fun in the quintet by taking Schubert's trout theme...


LUNDEN: ...and incorporating in her bluesy second movement, called "The Moody Trout."


LUNDEN: Zwilich says this movement is even a little programmatic – bringing the fish to musical life. And pianist Joseph Kalichstein says he certainly hears the trout in the music.

KALICHSTEIN: And the last few measures of the movement, you really see the last twitches of the tail...


KALICHSTEIN: ...of the trout, you know, disappearing in the water.


LUNDEN: Zwilich calls the final movement of this 20-minute work a romp.


LUNDEN: And like the opening movement, it's very rhythmic.

ZWILICH: Music is not just about notes working out together and the mathematics of that. It's about the human soul. It's about the human heart. It's about the human body. You know, if you've done certain things right, people should want to dance.


LUNDEN: The quintet was commissioned by a consortium of 12 presenting organizations around the country, which means there will be several performances of it over the next few months. Joseph Kalichstein says it's a way for a lot of chamber music presenters to get in on the creation of a new work, without footing a big bill for the commission.

KALICHSTEIN: So, it's more affordable. And, not to mention for us, it's a great delight because to be able to play a piece 10, 15 times just off the bat.


LUNDEN: As KLR approaches its 35th anniversary, Joseph Kalichstein looks back on all the pieces they've commissioned, many of which have become part of the chamber music literature. And he hopes this new quintet joins them.

KALICHSTEIN: That's the closest we come to creating, rather than just recreating and it's incredibly satisfying.

LUNDEN: The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, plus Michael Tree and Harold Robinson, will be giving the New York premiere of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Quintet at Carnegie Hall this evening. In January and February, they'll be playing it in venues all across the country.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.


MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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