La Monte Young

Trio for Strings (1958)

Just Intonation Version (1984-2001-2005) World Premiere

The Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble

led by Charles Curtis


Gascia Ouzounian, violin and viola

Erik Ulman, violin and viola

Charles Curtis, cello

Reynard Rott, cello


MELA Foundation Dream House

275 Church Street, 3rd Floor, Between Franklin & White Streets in Tribeca

Saturday, September 17, 2005, 9 pm

Saturday, September 24, 2005, 9 pm

Admission $24.  MELA Members, Seniors, Student ID, $18.
Limited seating.  Advance reservations recommended.  


Please contact MELA by email (mail@melafoundation.org) or phone as soon as possible regarding ticket availability. 

On Saturdays, September 17 and 24 at 9 pm, MELA Foundation presents two world premiere concerts of the Just Intonation Version (1984-2001-2005) of La Monte Young’s classic Minimalist masterpiece, Trio for Strings (1958), performed by The Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble led by Charles Curtis, cello, with Gascia Ouzounian and Erik Ulman, violins and violas and Reynard Rott, cello.  Please note:  The Dream House will reopen for the 2005-06 season on Thursday, September 29, from 2 pm to Midnight; then it will continue during our regular hours, Thursdays and Saturdays, 2 pm to Midnight, through June 17, 2006.   

Young is dedicating these performances of the Trio for Strings to the memory of Leonard Stein (1916-2004), the renowned pianist and disciple of Schoenberg.  Young began to study with Leonard Stein at L.A. City College in 1953, followed by private studies in composition and counterpoint, and in 1955 Stein pronounced Young a composer.  Stein almost single-handedly introduced Young to contemporary music, including Serialism, and Young was especially inspired by the music of Webern.  The Trio, written in 1958, was Young’s last serial work and, although radically different in content from his actual studies with Stein, Young lists the clarity of Webern’s music as one of the influences on the Trio and has compared the durations of the Trio to late Webern in augmentation. 

The Trio for Strings is the first work Young composed that is comprised almost entirely of long sustained tones, and it is undoubtedly his most important early musical statement.  This work has been widely credited by critics, musicologists and art historians with the initiation of a new direction in music and art, since no one had ever before made a work that was composed completely of sustained tones. 

“During the summer of 1958 [Young] composed his first mature composition, the Trio for Strings--a landmark in the history of twentieth century music and the virtual fountainhead of American musical minimalism.” --K. Robert Schwarz, Minimalists, Phaidon Press, London, 1996.

“Despite its Serial underpinnings, nothing like Young’s Trio for Strings had ever been heard in Western music, a piece constructed exclusively of sustained tones and silences.   It creates a musical landscape that seems not so much exotic as otherworldly.  …Young is now widely recognized as the originator of the most influential classical musical style of the final third of the twentieth century.”  --Edward Strickland, Minimalism:Origins, Indiana University Press, 1993. 

The Trio for Strings employs a unique tonal language in which every chord, triad and interval can be found to comprise one of the Dream Chords or some subset thereof.  These Dream Chords were later used as the tonal content of The Four Dreams of China (1962-1984) and The Subsequent Dreams of China (1980).  Curtis worked closely with Young to develop the tuning for this new Just Intonation Version, which evolved organically from the tunings for The Four Dreams of China and the performance practice of the Dreams and the Trio.  The Just Intonation Version as performed by this ensemble brings out aspects of the inner meaning of the work that have never before been made manifest. 

This formation of The Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble, under the direction of Charles Curtis, has performed the Trio several times, including the recent avant-premiere performance of the Just Intonation Version at the Kunst im Regenbogenstadl Dream House, Polling, Germany on July 23, 2005.  The performers have developed an unparalleled skill in the execution of long, continuous bowing, precise intonation and the assured coordination that can only be achieved by many years of practice together in work of this nature.  In these concerts, the work will be performed as a sextet, with the violinists doubling on violas.  Young created the sextet version in part to produce a realization of the work that can be more perfectly in tune and more sustained in character than the original trio version. 

MELA is now bringing this ensemble to New York to produce a recording of the Trio in this new Just Intonation Version under the auspices of a grant from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, for release on the Just Dreams label.  The Ensemble will be in residence in New York for a period of two weeks during which time they will rehearse and record, as well as present the two premiere performances.

Young has written about Curtis:

Charles Curtis has demonstrated a remarkable dedication to the performance of my music.  He is without doubt the foremost interpreter of my music for strings in the world today.  In the last 18 years, Curtis has participated in more performances and premieres of my works than any other interpreter. 

In 1989, Young formed the Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble, with Curtis as director, to focus on realizations of his works and related works for string instruments.  Since that time, Curtis has worked with Young on numerous premieres and performances of his work, including the 2003-04 premieres in Europe of Young’s collaboration with Marian Zazeela, the over three-hour Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord in a setting of Abstract #1 from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals. 

Curtis has led performances of Young’s music at the Barbican Centre in London, the Darmstadt Festival, the Inventionen Festival in Berlin, the Cathedral of Dreams Festival in Krems, Austria, Dia Art Foundation in New York, the Beyond the Pink Festival in Los Angeles, the Schleswig Holstein Musik Festival, with Belgium’s Ictus Ensemble at the Brugge 2002 Festival and at Kunst im Regenbogenstadl in Bavaria.  Since August 2003, Curtis has also performed with Young and Zazeela in their group, The Just Alap Raga Ensemble.  

The performance will be approximately one hour in duration.  Admission  $24 / $18 MELA members; seniors; students with ID.  Limited seating.  Advance reservations recommended.  For further information:  www.melafoundation.org

MELA’s programs are made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency and generous contributions from individuals and MELA Members. 

You can help us celebrate MELA’s 20th Year by contributing to MELA’s programs.  To donate directly to MELA Foundation online click below or mail your contribution to MELA Foundation, Inc., 275 Church Street, New York, NY  10013.  Your support is vital to our existence.  Thank you. 

Published Commentary on the Trio for Strings

“The Trio for Strings is undoubtedly Young’s most important composition of this period, and the work which firmly establishes his place as the first composer to discover a truly minimalist language and to develop it in a totally individual way.”  --Keith Potter, Four Musical Minimalists, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

“A revolution in Twentieth Century music occurred in 1958, when La Monte Young wrote the Trio for Strings.  This Serial piece, with its silences and long tones, paved the way for music based on tonality, drone and infinite time spans, brushing aside elaborate formal development in favor of the contemplation of pure sound.” --David Paul, Seconds Magazine, No. 50, New York City, 1999. 

“These long, static notes, dyads, and chords mark the origin of Young’s concern with sustained intervals, and their structure reveals his compositional archetypes.      …This is a skeleton for the sine-tone installations of the late 1980s and 1990s, in which he experiments with overtones closely surrounding the octave over a low drone. …Notice the virtually symmetrical disposition of durations, entrances, and exits, found in 12 of the 29 gestures.  Since our conscious experience of time moves unidirectionally forward, such symmetry is perceptually outside-time.”  --Kyle Gann, “The Outer Edge of Consonance,” in Sound and Light: La Monte Young   Marian Zazeela, Bucknell Review, Vol. XL, No. 1, Lewisburg, 1996.

“What La Monte introduced was this concept of not having to press ahead to create interest.  He would wait for the music to take its own course.  You start a long tone, that tone has its own life until it extinguishes, and then the next one starts.  So it was this kind of Oriental patience that he introduced into the music which created a static form.  Even his piano playing and his saxophone playing, even if it was fast, always dealt with repeating the same notes over and over again.  So the form is always standing like some kind of a mountain--like La Monte, the mountain--and not creating a real varied form.  I think that without that there could have been no In C, because In C is a static piece in that same tradition.” --Terry Riley, Talking Music, William Duckworth, Schirmer Books, New York, 1995.

“In for Brass (1957) and Trio for Strings (1958) he refined his extended duration technique, placing the emphasis entirely on harmony and minimizing the sound activity; the highly selected material is manipulated by means of precise procedures.  With these compositions Young initiated what came to be known as MINIMALISM in music.”  --David Farneth, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan Press, New York, London, 1986.

“The Trio--composed entirely of long tones and rests, some lasting a minute or more--is now generally recognized as a defining work in the minimalist movement, and Young as its founder.” --Edward Strickland, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (second edition), 2001

“What is clear is the sequence of creative events that brought it [minimalism] to public recognition. La Monte Young wrote the first slow, unchanging works in the late 1950s, starting with his Trio for Strings of 1958. Terry Riley has always acknowledged Young’s influence, and added the element of repetition starting in 1963 with his tape works Mescalin Mix and The Gift.”  --Kyle Gann, “Minimal Music, Maximal Impact,” in NewMusicBox, November 2001

“The Trio was the first work in full-blown musical minimalism after the transitional pieces for Brass and for Guitar.  …Young originated minimalism with the monodynamic sustained tones that were to evolve into full-fledged drones as his work developed.” --Edward Strickland, Minimalism:Origins, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1993.