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Rick Hellman

Feb 8, 2023

The trio’s first series of concerts at regional venues, starting Feb. 18 in Overland Park.

LAWRENCE – Based in the Kansas City area and taking its name from the Indo-Persian word for “new” and the Uzbek word for “music” or “melody,” the NAVO arts organization is focused on the new and the international. Now the new NAVO Trio, featuring two University of Kansas School of Music faculty members and one former member, is looking both forward and backward in time to bring overlooked music by women and nonbinary composers to the light of the concert hall and recordings.

This will be demonstrated by the program of the trio’s first series of concerts at regional venues, starting Feb. 18 in Overland Park.

The NAVO Trio is composed of oboist Margaret Marco, professor of music; pianist Ellen Sommer, associate professor of the practice at KU, and violinist and former KU faculty member Véronique Mathieu, who now holds the David L. Kaplan Chair in Music at the University of Saskatchewan.

Marco is also associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging at KU’s School of Music, and she said the mission of NAVO Trio aligns closely with the goals of DEIB.

“We are researching works by underrepresented composers, and we are bringing those to the public for worldwide dissemination,” Marco said. “It is our mission to envision new works and to find works from the past by women and nonbinary composers.”

The performers describe NAVO Trio as a “subset” of the 8-year-old nonprofit NAVO. The women had played together previously in various NAVO and School of Music performances. Their first public performance was in April in Kansas City, Missouri.

“The trio naturally formed itself,” Mathieu said.

“There's no doubt that when we get together for rehearsal, we click, and the music we make is just beautiful,” Sommer said.

Marco agreed and said she was looking forward to yet more in the upcoming series of performances.

“The performances help meld the group,” she said. “In rehearsal, we woodshed and talk about our interpretation, about tempi — all of those things. But for me, it isn't until the performances that we really start to gel and get into each other's spirits a little bit.”

In addition to baroque period and other classical works, NAVO Trio’s “Hidden Gems by Women Composers” concerts will feature four new or newly arranged compositions, some of which address the existential threat of climate change. The trio received a grant from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, based at Brigham Young University in Provo, to commission a piece by Chinese-Canadian composer Alice Ho called "A Wind of Dust."

“Our focus on this piece was to think about what was happening to our climate, and that's where the title came from,” Marco said. “It’s a fact that our climate is heating up. And especially in Kansas, we can really feel the effects of that. I think the title is a bit ominous because, as we know, in western Kansas, our reservoirs are starting to dry up.  

“And then we have another commission from Anne Guzzo, who is a composer from the University of Wyoming. It's an amazing piece called ‘Shimmering Sentinels,’ and it’s also nature-related. Anne wanted to write a piece about the beautiful aspen tree, which, unbeknownst to many people, has this incredible structure underneath the ground, which creates a huge grove of cloned trees.”

Another KU School of Music faculty member, Ingrid Stölzel, is the NAVO Arts organization’s composer in residence, and she is working on a new piece for the trio, Marco said.

The musicians hope to record the new works for an album sometime this summer. Meanwhile, they are anxious to perform.

“Having a smaller ensemble creates more opportunities in terms of outreach performances, traveling and going on the road,” Mathieu said. “Performing as a trio allows us to go to schools or conferences and to play outside of the Lawrence-Overland Park-Kansas City radius, so it's a more portable ensemble in some ways. We can reach out to different audiences.”

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