Originally created 02/23/01

Eroica Trio came together through 'fateful twist'



Classical-music combos come together for a variety of reasons. Some are assembled by teachers who recognize talent or a compatibility in their students' playing. Others are formed by musicians who yearn to play the chamber-music pieces written for duos, trios and quartets.

But the Eroica Trio, which performs An Evening of Beethoven Saturday with the Augusta Symphony, was brought together by destiny.

Violinist Adele Pena and pianist Erika Nickrenz grew up in the same New York neighborhood and were playing together by age 9. Ms. Nickrenz moved to St. Louis when she was 12 to study piano with Isabelle Sant'Ambrogio and began to play with her teacher's granddaughter Sara Sant'Ambrogio now the Eroica Trio's cellist. At 15, Ms. Sant'Ambrogio found herself at a music camp in the Berkshires, where she began playing with Ms. Pena. When all three women found themselves studying at the Juilliard School of Music, forming a trio seemed the natural thing to do.

"It's like a fateful twist that we got together," said Ms. Pena in a telephone interview. "It's a story people think we made up. I still feel so lucky and so blessed. I am so lucky, being able to play with such amazing, creative people. When I think about Erika and me at 9, goofy and in braces, I really just have to laugh about it."

On Saturday, the trio will perform Beethoven's Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Piano, known in music circles as The Triple. It is a piece that the Eroica Trio, named after Beethoven's famous Eroica Symphony, play more than any other trio in the world.

"It's such a thrill to do it," Ms. Pena said. "It's something I never tire of. It's funny because the more I perform a piece, the more comfortable I get with it and the better I feel. Every time I walk on the stage, I welcome the opportunity to play it."

Ms. Pena said she loves playing The Triple with an orchestra because it adds a dynamic to the piece that always impresses her.

"Mostly, we play recitals," she said. "With this, we get to collaborate with an orchestra. It really does add another variable to the mix. The dramatic sweep of the piece, the heroic aspect of it, gives it extra flair."

The concert will also feature performances of Beethoven's Prometheus Overture, Op. 43, and Symphony No. 5, Op. 67 in C minor.

The trio is preparing a commissioned piece by Kevin Kaska, a young composer associated with John Williams and the Boston Symphony. It will premiere the piece in the fall.

"It's been great to have a hand in something new," Ms. Pena said. "It's a really great piece, too. It has a jazzy, wide-open American feel to it that is very different from The Triple."

Although the Eroica Trio will soon have this new gun in its arsenal, audiences won't see the women drop the stalwart Beethoven from their repertoire.

"Some people complain that The Triple is kind of a monster piece, very unwieldy," she said. "But I think if you just sit back and let it wash over you, you'll really come to appreciate what it is about. People can feel like something has changed for the better from hearing this music, can be taken to an emotional level that can't be achieved any other way. After all, that's what music does. It opens doors in our minds and in our hearts."

On stage

What: An Evening of Beethoven, featuring the Eroica Trio, presented by the Augusta Symphony

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre on the campus of Augusta State University, 2500 Walton Way

Admission: $15-$35

Call: 826-4705.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.