Chamber Trio Earns First Place in International Competition

The chamber trio of Daniel Berk (I), Heshie Liebowitz (II), and Alex Yin (II) entered this year’s international Great Composers Competition having never played together as a trio before. Yet this summer—looking for opportunities to make music with others, safely—the three boys wanted to fill the musical gap they were feeling on the heels of the spring’s quarantine. Initially, their plan was simply to play together, but when the opportunity arose to participate in the online competition, they took it.

The Great Composers Competition is a series of international music competitions for young performers organized in categories—for instrumentalists (piano, strings, winds, percussion), singers (opera, sacred music, art song, musical theatre), and chamber groups.

Daniel (French horn) plays with Alex (violin) outside of school, and Heshie (piano) had performed with Alex before; each admired the others’ musical skills. Though repertoire that involves the horn is limited, they selected Brahms’s Horn Trio, Op. 40. When they were pleased with how well the piece turned out, Heshie took the initiative of submitting the recording on the group’s behalf.

Knowing they needed large spaces in which to practice and perform while maintaining a safe distance, the boys were lucky to secure rehearsal space first in an auditorium on the Brandeis campus, and second, at a new Steinway piano retailer showroom in Newton, prior to the store’s official opening.

“This was my first time playing in a chamber trio,” says Daniel. “As Alex says, there’s not much to play for horns, but this piece is a hallmark of the repertoire, and it put me in the hot seat. I wasn’t used to minimal rehearsal—we only had two rehearsals before we recorded—so that was a new experience, just getting the music and rehearsing on our own. We put it all together more quickly than any of us would have liked, but we were really pleased with how it came out.”

All three boys have been playing their instruments since they were very young—Heshie playing piano since before he can even remember. “When it comes to chamber music, what I enjoy most is playing with other people,” he says. “It’s fun to play with your friends, first of all, but it’s also rewarding because you get to explore with different sounds that you can’t make by yourself on your own instrument.”

“One thing I love about violin is the flexibility of the instrument,” says Alex. “You have so many options available to you. For instance, I can play solo music, I can play chamber music, or I can play in an orchestra.”

“Horn and brass are pretty different from other musical families, because they rely a lot less on finger technique and a lot more on trusting yourself and taking leaps of faith,” adds Daniel. “It feels like more of a mental game than a physical one. So when I play with instruments that demand a lot more technical skill—like piano and violin—it’s awesome to help produce that contrast of the long tone of the horn—which is not extremely complicated—with the sounds of the piano and the violin, which are just going a mile a minute, lightning fast. That combination of sounds is just a beautiful thing to help create.”

Now that the boys know what they can create together as a chamber trio, they hope to play together more in the future. The Brahms piece they performed has four movements, and the boys played the middle two. “The most iconic parts are actually movements one and four,” says Daniel, “and we were hoping to save them for when we can play in person together, and perform in person—hopefully on the Roxbury Latin stage!—as well.”

Watch the boys’ prize-winning performance, in full.