Ten Years of the Perlman Piano Trio A student piano trio generously sponsored by Dr. Kato Perlman

The Perlman Piano Trio Fund provides annual awards for a violinist, cellist and pianist and stipulates that they will present “an annual concert of the great masterpieces of the piano trio (or on occasion, quartet or quintet) literature.” Here’s the story of how it came to be.

by Kato Perlman

Below: The first Perlman Trio, 2008. With Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Derek Powell, violin; Maureen Kelly, cello.

I was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary. Music was always a very important part of our family life. My mother’s dream was that her three children would someday play in a trio. I studied the piano and loved it, and my two brothers played the violin and cello. We all had outstanding music teachers.
My piano studies came to an abrupt end when the Germans occupied Hungary. I was 15. After the war, I was unable to resume my piano studies and later received my Ph.D. in organic chemistry. All through the years I enjoyed many wonderful music events.

Below: The Perlman Trio, 2009. With Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Maureen Kelly, cello; and Eleanor Bartsch, violin.

In the United States, with my husband David Perlman, a professor and dean at the School of Pharmacy at UW-Madison, I enjoyed classical music and attended many wonderful concerts at the Memorial Union. Among the outstanding artists who played at the Memorial Union was Itzhak Perlman. My husband, who liked to joke, called Itzhak Perlman “Cousin Itzi” though he was no relation. More on this later.

Below: The Perlman Trio, 2010. With Kato Perlman; Eleanor Bartsch, violin; Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Maureen Kelly, cello; and Daniel Kim, viola.

Unfortunately, in 1980, my husband passed away from cancer at 59, just at the height of his career. Several years later, toward the end of my career as a senior scientist working on patents related to vitamin D in Professor Hector DeLuca’s lab, I was lucky to have received a substantial amount of royalties. At that time, the famous Beaux Arts Piano Trio retired. I owned many of their recordings. Chamber music was always one of my favorites; it came to my mind that since we already had an outstanding Pro Arte Quartet, maybe I could support the establishment of a piano trio.

Below: The Perlman Trio +1, 2011. With Taylor Skiff, cello; Eleanor Bartsch, violin; Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Kato Perlman; and Daniel Kim, viola.

After a lot of negatives and road blocks, as a last resort I decided to talk to Emeritus Chancellor Irving Shain who had already supported the Beethoven Sonata piano competition for many years and was a friend to my late husband. Thinking he might throw me out, he did not; he listened and was instrumental in establishing the student piano trio. He came with me to every important meeting, spent many hours on this project and then wrote the excellent Memorandum of Agreement outlining the requirements for the Trio, among these an annual performance. When it came to a name I mentioned to him Dave’s little “joke,” so he turned to me and suggested the “Perlman Piano Trio,” in Dave’s memory.

Below: The Perlman Trio, 2012. With Jeongmin Lee, piano; Roy Meyer, violin; Taylor Skiff, cello.

Originally, the Perlman Piano Trio functioned similarly to the Beethoven competition, as a competition award. I wrongly assumed that the music school would allow the students to decide who would like to participate. This was not the case. Since the chamber music faculty decided who can and should participate, the best and most talented students were picked. The result was a wonderful annual concert at Morphy Hall packed to the gallery.

Below: The Perlman Trio, 2013: From top, clockwise: Daniel Jacobs, viola; Madlen Breckbill, violin; Alice Bartsch, violin; Jeongmin Lee, piano; and Taylor Skiff, cello.

Playing music on a professional level is a special talent. These students come from “musical families” which also often means that they cannot afford to give financial support to their children. So, I decided to turn the Perlman Trio into a fellowship. There was only one catch: I would need a very large endowment to create enough income to create such a fellowship. Chancellor Shain came up with the wonderful idea of a “spendable account” with an endowment, unique at the time, which I was able to support and build up slowly over the years.
Another great idea from Irv Shain: the “Loaner Cello.” Most young Trio cellists do not have a good cello for their annual performance, so I made another donation to purchase a good cello, selected by Parry Karp and now owned by the Music School.

Below: The Perlman Trio, 2014. L-R: Madlen Breckbill, violin; Alice Bartsch, violin; Daniel Ma, cello; SeungWha Baek, piano; and Jeremy Kienbaum, viola.

After that memorable first concert, Chancellor Shain warned me not to have too high expectations, since it is possible that not all of the concerts will be successful due to the changing trio members. Luckily, this never happened, due to the talented students and the hard work of chamber music professor and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp, collaborative piano professor Martha Fischer, and the rest of the faculty. Every year, the Perlman Trio has performed their wonderful professional concerts to packed audiences. We just celebrated the 10th anniversary.

Below: Three Perlman Trios, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Top photo, Perlman Trio, 2015. Clockwise from top : Jeremy Kienbaum, viola; SeungWha Baek, piano; Valerie Sanders, violin; Keisuke Yamamoto, violin; Daniel Ma, cello.

Center photo, Perlman Trio, 2016. L-R: Adam Dorn, violin; SeungWha Baek, piano; and Micah Cheng, cello. Two additional members are not included in this photograph: Keisuke Yamamoto, violin; and Luke Valmadrid, viola.

Above: The Perlman Trio, 2017. Micah Cheng, cello; Chan Mi Jean, piano; Adam Dorn, violin.

Our 2018 members will be Kangwoo Jin, piano; Bartholomew Shields, violin; Micah Cheng, cello; and Luke Valmadrid, viola. The concert is scheduled for Saturday, April 14, 3:30 PM in Morphy Hall.

Kato Perlman

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