Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Kylwyria: instrumentation as unusual as their name. From Chamber Music America

Kylwyria: pianist Julia Den Boer, hornist John Gattis and violinist Erica Dicker.

Kylwyria: pianist Julia Den Boer, hornist John Gattis and violinist Erica Dicker.

There’s joy in Kylwyria.

Not necessarily in György Ligeti’s Kylwyria, the imaginary land the composer fabricated in his childhood—complete with detailed maps, a language, legal and social systems.

But certainly for New York City’s Kylwyria, the trio that includes violinist Erica Dicker, hornist John Gattis, and pianist Julia Den Boer. Joy in performing. Joy in commissioning. Joy in exploring their instruments.

“We love and admire one another,” Dicker says. “We love working together. And we love how our instruments interact.”

Formed in 2016, Kylwyria met in a casual way that belies their drive to explore. “John is the one who brought us together,” Dicker says. “He and Julia met at Stony Brook”—where they both finished DMA degrees—“and John and I met through New York City gigs.

“We are particularly interested in the peculiarities of our instruments, and the extended techniques,” she says. “We’d like to create an incarnation of the horn trio for the 21st century.”

The trio not only takes its exotic name from Ligeti’s imagination, but the Hungarian composer’s 1982 “Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano”—a seminal piece in Ligeti’s compositional life—also serves as a starting point in time for the group’s repertory.

Everything Kylwyria performs is just as exploratory as Ligeti’s music. Luciano Leite Barbosa wrote the group’s first commission, “Line over a Blue Background.” Kylwyria regularly performs Hans Abrahamsen’s “Six Pieces” from 1984 as well. Works written for the group by Viola Yip and Eric Wubbel mix in with new compositions by other living composers like Hannah Lash, Zosha Di Castri, and Vivian Fung. Dicker has also contributed to the group’s repertory.

Kylwyria is not the first trio with this instrumentation, but the sonic differences of horn, piano and strings are still contrasting enough to present challenges. Fortunately there are composers who are up for those challenges, and Kylwyria commissions constantly, trying to build a more robust repertory for their instrumentation.

“A lot of composers find this a difficulty, integrating how our sounds interact,” she says. “The violin and piano and horn just sound in different ways.” 

Kylwyria is still building its network, performing in New York and pursuing affiliations where they present themselves. “We’re a young group,” Dicker says. “But we’ve worked with some really tremendous composers. We hope to become even more active, especially with universities and composition departments.” 

This summer’s residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts will offer a chance for more commission possibilities, and Kylwyria also travels to Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire this September as well to workshop a new Wubbels piece. A major presentation of original compositions, “Written for Kylwyria,” takes place in New York City’s National Opera Center this fall.

“We think that chamber music with horn is a really wonderful thing,” Dicker says, “and not just with wind and brass quintets. We love the way our instruments interact, and we’re looking forward to the future.

“Getting to collaborate with composers seems like a natural extension of the joy we get from chamber music,” she says. “Playing chamber music is one of the most rewarding music experiences, and we think you have to create those opportunities yourself.”

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com.

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