Slovak Trio hopes to foster ties with Japan through a pair of classical concerts

by Hanna Lange

Staff Writer

The armed forces isn’t a typical place to form a band, but that’s exactly where the latest combination of the Slovak Trio first met.

Cellist Ludovit Kanta, violinist Ewald Danel and pianist Norbert Heller all played together as part of the Slovakian Military Art Ensemble in 1982. Kanta, who is now based in Kanazawa, Japan, tells The Japan Times he hopes the trio’s upcoming shows can help foster ties between his homeland and his adopted country, but admits it took him a while to obtain the skills needed to do this.

“At the beginning, when I practiced . . . and surely produced a scratching sound, I embarrassed my parents in front of guests by shamelessly forcing them to listen my ‘performances.’ ”

Now a father of three himself, Kanta clearly understands the motto, “Practice makes perfect.”

For those who lived in Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia) after World War II, the Slovak Trio moniker may ring a bell. Three top Slovakian musicians: pianist Michal Karin, violinist Tibor Gasparek and cellist Albin Berky, formed the original incarnation, which influenced music culture in the country between 1950-60.

“All three were legendary players of Slovakian music,” Kanta says. “Soloists of the Slovak Philharmonic.”

Karin passed away in 1973 and the ensemble disbanded. However, in 1986, Kanta, Danel and pianist Marian Lapsansky, were commissioned to perform at a farewell ceremony for composer Josef Kresanek. It was at this event that the Slovak Trio was reborn and subsequently trademarked. That meant the name was officially theirs when the trio was contracted as a state ensemble by the Slovak Philharmonic. They performed together until Kanta’s departure to Japan in 1990.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishing of diplomatic ties between Japan and Slovakia, numerous cultural exchanges were held last year in Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra performed in Kosice, Slovakia.

The Slovak Trio is extending the festivities (let’s call it a 21st anniversary) by playing shows in Kanazawa and Tokyo. It’s not a reunion per se; Kanta, Danel and Lapsansky have played on and off since 1990. The addition of Heller to replace Lapsansky this time around also marks a difference. The latter was unable to come to Japan due to health problems. However, Kanta has also performed with Heller in the years since he left Slovakia, so audiences shouldn’t be concerned.

“To be a musician is a very open thing, you cannot hide,” Kanta says. “Having said that, there are some elements of music-making I prefer the audience doesn’t see. For example with difficult passages, I do not want to show the sweat and clenched jaws, or to show them my limits. I practice until I can easily handle the most difficult passages, so then it appears easy.”

For more than 20 years, Kanta has served as the principal cellist in the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, but it sounds like that will end soon.

“I am going to retire in three years. I expect there will be more time to play as a soloist,” he says, referring to a retirement that includes a halt to orchestra performances. “(As a soloist) you have far more ability to influence outcomes, as long as you still have that internal fire and drive.”

Slovak Trio performs at Ishikawa Ongakudo Concert Hall on Feb. 2 (3 p.m. start; ¥4,000 for adults; www.ongakudo.jp); and Hamarikyu Asahi Hall in Chuo-ku, Tokyo, on Feb. 4 (7 p.m. start; ¥5,000 for adults; www.asahi-hall.jp/hamarikyu [Japanese only]).