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Wolfgang, Johannes and Tania: The Red Shoe Piano Trio introduces Cuban-American composer with the greats

The Red Shoe Piano Trio is made up of violinist Richard Silvers, cellist Katherine Jetter and pianist Lisa Campi-Walters. (Judith Reynolds/Special to the Herald)

The Red Shoe Piano Trio is back. Violinist Richard Silvers, cellist Katherine Jetter and pianist Lisa Campi-Walters are preparing a big recital for Feb. 19.

Excited to be playing together after a pandemic-driven hiatus, the Trio will perform a musically rich program contrasting two major works with something new. The Trio will open with Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major and conclude with Brahms Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor. Composed about a century apart, 1788 and 1887, both are considered to be masterpieces of the piano trio repertoire.

“We are so excited,” Jetter said. “These are big standards. We think both are beautiful to listen to and rewarding to perform. We’re excited, too, that we are playing a full program.”

Indeed, the Mozart and Brahms would be more than enough for a full program. But Jetter persuaded her colleagues to add a contemporary one-movement work by a relatively unknown Cuban-American composer. So, sandwiched in between Mozart and Brahms, the Trio will perform Tania León’s “Elegia a Paul Robeson.”

Tania León. (Courtesy)

Tania who?

Tania León, 80, is a composer, conductor, educator, Pulitzer Prize winner and recently named a Kennedy Center Honoree. León is also The Red Shoe Trio’s gift to local music lovers.

“Back in December when the Kennedy Center Honors were announced, I was intrigued by the name of the American composer Tania León,”Jetter said.

The Trio was in the process of scheduling its only recital for this academic year and had discussed performing a piece by a woman and potentially a woman of color, Jetter said.

“So, when this Cuban-American woman composer was announced, I started reading about her,” she said. “I was fascinated and went to her repertoire list. I was delighted to find a one-movement trio. We even changed the date to not conflict with the Super Bowl.”

León is online as she is professor emerita at the City University of New York, and that prestigious institution is properly proud of its music faculty. She is the first CUNY-affiliated faculty member to earn a Kennedy Center Honor.

In 2021, León was awarded the Pulitzer for her orchestral work titled “Stride.” It was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic to celebrate the centennial of women’s voting rights. A few years earlier, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and named a USA Fellow.

If you go

WHAT: The Red shoe Piano Trio in recital with pianist Lisa Campi Walters, cellist Katherine Jetter and violinist Richard Silvers in works by Mozart, León and Brahms.

WHEN: 3 p.m. Feb. 19.

WHERE: Roshong Recital Hall, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $15 adults, free for FLC students with ID. Cash or check at the door.

Her culminating chapter of achievements has been built on a 65-year career in music performance and education. Cuban born in 1943, León came to America as a 24-year-old political refugee. Her musical gifts had been recognized and encouraged early. She graduated from the Peyrellade Conservatory in Havana in 1960, and in a time of political unrest, she chose to also earn a business degree in accounting. In 1967, she emigrated to Miami on a “Freedom Flight” and quickly transitioned to New York. She took a crash course in English, broadened her studies and graduated from New York University in 1971. In the process, she had a few lucky breaks.

An impromptu piano performance secured an audition at the New York College of Music, later New York University. In 1968, she substituted for a friend as an accompanist for Dance Theatre of Harlem. That gig clicked, and she toured with the company throughout the Caribbean and Europe.

In 1973, León acquired U.S. citizenship and broadened her musical sphere. In 1976, she was invited to lead the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series. By 1985, she was on the Brooklyn Conservatory faculty. In 1993, León got a composing fellowship with the New York Philharmonic. Now, at 80, León can look back on her decades of teaching at Brooklyn College and an additional 30 years at CUNY Graduate Center’s music doctoral program. She retired in 2019 and sits on several boards, including the ASCAP Foundation, MacDowell and the New York Philharmonic.

It seems high time León’s music came to Colorado. Thanks to Jetter’s curiosity and the Red Shoe Trio, that will become a reality Feb. 19.

What’s in a name?

The Fort Lewis College Red Shoe Piano Trio has been performing in various formations for more than 20 years. It grew out of the original FLC Piano Trio before violinist Richard Strawn retired in the first decade of this century. In 2005-06, the ensemble underwent a makeover and switched to its current, more colorful sobriquet.

Cellist Katherine Jetter and pianist Lisa Campi Walters have anchored the ensemble from the beginning. They have invited FLC violinists such as Mikylah Myers McTeer, Kasia Sokol, Nathan Lambert, M. Brent Williams and Brandon Christensen to join them. The violinists have moved on in their careers, so this year, FLC faculty member Richard Silvers has joined the Trio.

When he arrived in Durango two years ago, the seasoned musician and teacher immediately began performing as a soloist and in ensembles including the San Juan Symphony. Silvers, Jetter and students have formed the FLC Chamber Orchestra, which will perform in concert with the FLC choirs on April 27 in the Community Concert Hall.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

Kennedy Center Photo of Tania León: Kennedy Center