Chamber Music Houston Concert

Acclaimed piano trio airs its dirty laundry: On the road friendships, black socks and traveling mayhem

Acclaimed piano trio airs dirty laundry: On the road mayhem & more

Vienna Piano Trio
The Vienna Piano Trio performs a concert as a part of the Chamber Music Houston series. Photo courtesy of the artists

Not many friendships are made thanks to dirty laundry.

If you happen to be one of the world's most acclaimed piano trios, the schedule of which demands being away from home for weeks and weeks at a time, chances are the banality of everyday living will soil the perceived glamor of traveling classical music chamber ensembles, of gallivanting from city to city to perform in some of the best concert halls in the world.

Because, no matter who you are, everyone needs clean undies, socks and crisp wearables — whether one is appearing on stage or not.

To save the visiting musicians from the hilarious mayhem that are the characters of a typical Houston washateria, Chamber Music Houston board member Elizabeth Duerr offered her washer, dryer and ironing instruments in her Galleria area condominium to Austrian pianist and Vienna Piano Trio founder Stefan Mendl, who was on the road for longer than expected.

 "Young musicians are very fit and eager, interested and open — and that is just as important as experience."

Because Duerr knew darn well that although Chamber Music Houston audiences are amicable — despite what you might have heard about classical music fanatics — they just wouldn't stand for wrinkled formal attire on the stage of Shepherd School of Music's Stude Concert Hall. The Vienna Piano Trio will perform there Tuesday with a program that includes Mozart's Piano Trio in G Major, K. 496; Schumann's Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63; and Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49.

And so while exchanging laughs about music and travel, waiting for the appliances to finish their cycles, Duerr and Mendl developed a personal connection.

Musicians on the road

"We try to keep our tours between two to three weeks," Mendl tells CultureMap during a phone interview from his home in Vienna. "Travel within Europe is easy because we can jump to a city, play a concert and return home sometimes in one day. But when we travel to Australia, New Zealand and North and South America — the longer we are away, the trickier things are."

You have to be prepared for the unexpected, he adds. That includes having enough clothes — black socks, there never seems to be enough pairs of black socks — and toiletries so you aren't having to make emergency shopping runs.

 You have to be prepared for the unexpected, he adds. That includes having enough clothes and toiletries so you aren't having to make emergency shopping runs. 

"But you can't pack so tightly that you don't have room to buy presents or souvenirs from unusual or exotic places," he says. "You never know what you're going to find. And you never know when you're going to get another opportunity to return to some of the smaller cities and towns.

The Vienna Piano Trio performs roughly 60 concerts per year. One of the musicians prefers to drive whenever possible. While they stay at the same hotels, it's not always that they travel together.

The wide gap in the musicians' ages — Mendl is 49, violinist Bogdan Božović is 30 and cellist Matthias Gredler is 39 — makes for both colorful travel experiences and vibrant music making. Gredler replaced trio founding member Marcus Trefny in 2001, and Božović replaced trio founding member Wolfgang Redik in 2012.

"In travel and in music, you have to choose very carefully with whom you're going to spend your time," Mendl explains. "We've been very lucky to find musicians that add an exciting element to the group. With young musicians, it's really fun. They are very fit and eager, interested and open — and that is just as important as experience."

Requested works

In the ensemble's home turf, every performance includes different repertoire. On tour, however, there's a core number of works that are requested often. But every once in a while, a presenter asks for unusual scores that require rehearsing on the go. Luckily for them, some hosts such as Duerr have excellent pianos. Luckily for Duerr, Mendl doesn't mind having an intimate audience of one while sharpening his saw.

 "The trio has a lot of personality on stage . . . They project a warmth that's inviting."

Duerr has been on the Chamber Music Houston board since the late 1980s, serving as secretary for 18 of those years. She's an amateur flutist who prefers the piano over the woodwind.

"Even though I play the flute, the piano is the instrument with which I grew up," she says. "I find Stefan to be an incredible pianist, both very sensitive and powerful in his playing. The trio has a lot of personality on stage, although that doesn't mean I think they are doing some sort of act. They project a warmth that's inviting."

Perhaps Duerr is responding to her penchant for things of Germanic or Austrian provenance? After all, her late husband was German, she majored in German in college and speaks German fluently.

"Maybe," she responds. "But I am really a Texan, born and raised here in Houston."

And like a true hospitable Houstonian, Duerr will host the ensemble in her building's guest rooms while they visit Houston for Tuesday's performance. Because that's what friends do.

She won't mind if her piano gets a workout.


Chamber Music Houston presents the Vienna Piano Trio on Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., at the Shepherd School of Music. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-348-5400.