Naomi Niskala was only three years old when she began training to be a professional classical musician. But the journey started even before that.
“My mother decided she wanted me to be a classical pianist before I was born,” she said, “so from the day I came home, the radio played classical music in my crib 24 hours a day.”
Niskala is the piano professor at Susquehanna University and is also a member of Trio Kisosen, which will be performing on the university campus this Friday, in a recital presented by the Department of Music. The trio also consists of cellist An-Lin Bardin and violinist Matheus Sardinha Garcia Souza.
All three are graduates of Yale School of Music, but they didn’t all meet there. According to Niskala, she and Bardin have known each other for several decades, and have had the opportunity to perform with one another over the years. A few years ago, Bardin played a concert with Souza, who then joined them to form a trio. They each started their musical journey at early ages, having parents who were major factors in teaching them to appreciate classical music, helping them to learn their instruments, and driving to and paying for all of their private lessons, music theory classes, and orchestra rehearsals, as well as taking them to concerts, Niskala said.
“I don’t know if there was anything particular about classical music that drew any of us, other than we were exposed to it and its beauty from an early age, and it was appreciated in our environments,” she said, adding, “Music is a language, so the earlier and more often you’re exposed to it, the better you understand it.”
Each member of the trio has performed as soloists and chamber musicians throughout the world in some of the most prestigious venues, such as San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, New York’s Carnegie and Merkin Halls, Berlin’s Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal, and les Invalides in Paris.
Together, the trio has performed throughout the northeastern United States, and plans to tour California in September.
Niskala said they seek to perform both “new music” by classically trained composers still living or recently living, as well as “traditional music” for a piano trio that dates back to the 1700s.
“Each century of classical music, each composer, has its own musical language,” she said, “and therefore its own challenges in figuring out and interpreting that language.”
Sometimes, that even requires their instruments to be played in unique ways. Such as a pianist strumming or plucking the strings inside the piano. In addition, some classical pieces may incorporate influences from styles such as jazz, ragtime or Broadway.
On Friday, the trio will be performing three works: Mozart Piano Trio in C Major, K. 548; Paul Schoenfeld’s Café Music; And the Smetana Piano Trio in G. Minor, Op. 15.
Susquehanna University’s Department of Music is excited to welcome the trio to Stretansky Hall on Friday. According to music professor Marcos Krieger, these three highly-trained musicians offer great examples and opportunities to the campus and beyond.
“Trio Kisosen brings to our students a great model of high technical preparation coupled with strong individual musicality from the trio members,” he said. “This level of chamber music work is the result of a long process of collaboration and mutual musical understanding, and we don’t often get in our region chamber ensembles with the invested commitment to teamwork as seen with this group.”
“The result is genuine and compelling,” he added. “They perform these highly demanding musical pieces as if it were a natural conversation between three friends – the ultimate aesthetic goal of this kind of repertoire.”
Niskala said she and the other trio members continue to be challenged by the music they play.
“Even after hundreds of hours in the practice room preparing each piece for a concert stage, even after returning to perform a piece numerous times two, three, and four decades later,” she said, “you will never be done with that piece – you will never perform it perfectly.”
And the depth of each piece is never fully mined.
“A good piece of music lasts through the centuries because there’s always more you can find in the piece,” she said. “There’s always more you can dig for. There’s always more than one way to interpret it. And that’s the challenge, as well as the inspiration — you have to be wanting to continuously learn, and to be excited knowing there’s no finite end to your learning.”
The trio members continue to learn and grow as they also teach others to learn and grow in music performance. While Niskala teaches piano at SU, Bardin and Souza teach privately, at festivals, and at community music schools in New York City.
The trio also performs at colleges, universities and performing arts high schools, where they have opportunity to work in master classes or in lessons with the students.
“It is always a joy to share our love and knowledge of music with not only students, but with concert-goers,” Niskala said. “When you see that light bulb go off in a student, when you hear a student play a phrase in a new and genuine way, when an audience member comes up to you afterwards, telling you how moved they were by the music you played – these are all incredible moments.”
The trio will be presenting another concert on March 23, which will include the Haydn Piano Trio in A Major Hob. XV:18; Bloch Three Nocturnes; and the Brahms Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8.