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Posted Oct 2, 2012, 3:26 pm
Nobody performs Beethoven’s Triple Concerto more frequently than the women of the Eroica Trio. This has given the three Julliard-trained musicians deep insight into the work.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra will open its 2012-13 season with the Grammy-nominated Eroica Trio performing the Triple Concerto under conductor George Hanson
In addition to the TSO concerts, the Eroica Trio will also perform a special chamber concert on Tuesday evening featuring Beethoven’s early Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op. 11. The concert at Catalina Foothills High School will also feature Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65 and George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess Fantasy.”
Childhood friends become the Eroica Trio
The Eroica Trio is cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, pianist Erica Nickrenz, both founding members, and violinist Sara Parkins, who joined in 2006. In demand worldwide, the Trio hasn’t had the opportunity to return to Tucson since they premiered a work by Raimundo Penafore commissioned for them by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music in 1999. This is their first performance with the Tucson Symphony.
The roots of the Eroica Trio were formed in childhood. Sant’Ambrogio, who started playing at two and Nickrenz, who started playing at age six, began playing together when they were 12. Both have extensive musical heritages and met through Sant’Ambrogio’s father, a cellist for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, which was being recorded by Erica’s mother, Grammy-winning producer Joanna Nickrenz.
Violinist Sara Parkin also met Sant’Ambrogio during high school music camp, and later, Nickrenz while attending Julliard Pre-College. After playing together informally, the Eroica Trio formed in 1986 at the Julliard School of Music with original violinist Adela Peňa.
A different kind of concerto
Unlike the bravura of most concertos, designed to showcase the soloist, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for Cello, Violin and Piano in C Major, Op. 56, begins quietly.
“It’s certainly very elegant,” TSO Conductor George Hanson said. “He wrote it with some particular individuals in mind and he was thinking about their particular strengths. He was also aware that when you have three soloists, you have to keep things from getting too crazy.”
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Having performed the Triple Concerto more than 220 times with orchestras all over the world, cellist Sara Sant’Ambrosio is still in awe of it.
“You don’t just have the majestic architectural structure of the first movement,” she said. “You have this very intimate, very vulnerable, very poignant slow movement, in his emotional language. Then you have the last movement, which is just a load of fun.”
A triple concerto is a rare work because of the inherent problems in balancing the three soloists with different timbres and volumes. Beethoven solved this problem by leading off with the cello, the quietest of the three instruments, then adding the violin and/or piano. Some of Beethoven’s first works were for piano trio, so he understood the dynamics, limitations and opportunities of the three instruments together.
“What Beethoven did so brilliantly,” according to Sant’Ambrogio, “is he gives the line always to the cello first, so I’m not competing with the other instruments when I take the melody. And he takes the cello really high, sometimes higher than the violin, because the higher the sound, the easier it cuts through. I love that – it’s like being up in the stratosphere.”
'Like a slice of heaven'
The Triple Concerto is not as focused on virtuoso display as Beethoven’s piano concertos. Written in 1805, it has a hint of the aristocratic salon, compared to his Symphony #3 Op. 55, the “Eroica” of a year earlier. Having a complete trio allowed Beethoven to explore the intimacy of a chamber ensemble within the larger context of the full orchestra.
“The first movement (Allegro) is magic, and like so many of Beethoven’s first movements, is almost complete unto itself,” said Sant’Ambrogio, who noted that some of their performances have received standing ovations after the first movement. “It’s so majestic and regal, so much of what our idea of Beethoven is. You really get to plumb the depths of his personality and his compositional genius.”
The slower second movement, Largo, develops more drama and emotion.
“The slow movement is like a slice of heaven,” said Sant’Ambrogio, “particularly the opening cello solo with the orchestra ascending to heaven, so beautiful and profound and so deep.”
The dances of 18th Century Poland
The real heart of the work is the third and final movement, Rondo alla Polacca.
“Beethoven was trying to capture a snapshop of the musical scene at the time,” said Hanson, “and one of the things that was popular at the time were these dances from Poland.”
“The last movement,” said Sant’Ambrogio, “is incredibly playful, incredibly fun, just seat-of-your-pants kind of playing. It’s sort of bawdy and really peasant-y.”
“Because we play it so often, one of the joys of working with different orchestras is that they each bring their own talents to the work, so that influences the interpretation every time,” she said.
The TSO program Friday and Sunday will also include the Overture to Richard Wagner’s opera, “The Flying Dutchman.” and Richard Strauss’ tone poem, “Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).”