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Eroica Trio’s joyful revelations at Gardner Museum
Zoë Madonna | January 30, 2017

The “end of time” in Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” is twofold. It denotes the end times of the Book of Revelation, with the appearance of angels on the earth and the second coming of Jesus. It also denotes the dissolution of predictable meter and rhythm in the music; in the score, some movements don’t even have time signatures. On the page it may look nebulous, but performed by insightful musicians, its organic form materializes. At the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Sunday afternoon, the Eroica Trio (Erika Nickrenz, piano; Sara Parkins, violin; Sara Sant’Ambrogio, cello) with guest clarinetist Laura Ardan illuminated this timeless piece, filling Calderwood Hall with mystic dances and songs.

But first, the intermissionless program began with British composer Anne Dudley’s arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No. 2, which was created for the trio and is a staple of its repertoire. Wild edges outlined the initial phrases, deliberately ragged and defiant as Parkins and Sant’Ambrogio sawed deep into their strings, but soon they covered a full spectrum of tone colors. Like master calligraphers, they shaped wide lines into thin, delicate ones with a flick. Some of the distilled power of the original Bach solo work was lost in the lush trio arrangement, however.

Captured in 1940 while serving as a medical auxiliary in the French army and sent to a German prisoner of war camp, Messiaen composed most of the “Quartet for the End of Time” on scraps of paper smuggled by a sympathetic guard, writing for himself and three other musicians in the camp. It was a work of celestial transcendence, an affirmation of faith in love and joy, and a breath of hope in a time more apocalyptic than any in living memory. Some time after the premiere in the camp, the clarinetist, a Jew named Henri Akoka, escaped by jumping off a moving transport train with his instrument under his arm.

In their solo moments, the musicians were stunning. Ardan’s “Abyss of the Birds” echoed with deep, long streamers of sound. During “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus,” a rapturous song flowed from Sant’Ambrogio’s cello, and she tilted her head back and opened her mouth like Bernini’s St. Theresa in ecstasy. Nickrenz (daughter of the museum’s music curator, Scott Nickrenz) created a field of blooming chords for Parkins to ramble through in the final movement, the violin’s plaintive high notes keening toward salvation and fading into oblivion.

However, the ensemble passages stood out the most. Nickrenz’s piano rang like glass bells against the melody of the haunting Vocalise, and the exuberant Scherzo electrified the air. In the “Dance of Fury,” the four instruments sounded as one so precisely and naturally that the borders between them seemed to vanish. If angels exist, it was such as they sing, awesome in the purest sense of the word. In dark, terrifying times, the most radical and transcendent message perhaps is love.

KSO season opens with a flourish
Eroica Trio's performance memorable

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra opened its 78th concert season Thursday night at the Tennessee Theatre with a suite and two overtures from largely ignored operas and an infrequently played concerto that was dismissed in its day as merely a French interlude intertupting more important compositions.

Despite the obscure nature of the music, it was a generally well-played performance of music that has established concert-hall independence and high audience satisfaction levels, demonstrated Thursday night by its enthusiastic reception.

The "interlude" was Beethoven's "Concerto in C Major for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra," Op. 56, written in 1804 during a period in which some of his greatest music was written. The internationally renowned Eroica Trio made their performance of the "Triple Concerto" with the KSO memorable.

With cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio often playing the lead voice, handing off ideas to violinist Sara Parkins and pianist Erika Nickrenz, as well as the orchestra, the Eroica Trio more than satisfied the audience. The cello introduction to the lovely second movement was especially beautiful.

But it was the Eroica's encore performance of Astor Piazzolla's gorgeous "Oblivion, Tango for Chamber Ensemble," written in 1982, that stole everyone's heart.

Sant'Ambrogio's cello soulfully sang "Oblivion's" melancholy melody against an arpeggiated accompaniment almost as minimalist as a Philip Glass sound pattern.
—Knoxville News Sentinal

Beautiful Women Create Beautiful Music

At St. Paul’s Church, Sunday, February 14, the Grammy Award-nominated Eroica Trio – Erika Nickrenz, piano; Sara Parkins, violin; Sara Sant’Ambrogio, cello – presented a program specifically selected to reflect the romantic association with Valentine’s Day. Resplendent in festive red, they began with a lush medley of Gershwin tunes “Porgy and Bess Fantasy”, arranged for them by Kenji Bunch. Quickly establishing their authority over their respective instruments, the musicians played brilliantly with a pure tone and considerable brio.

“Berceuse (Lullaby) de Jocelyn”, the best known selection from Benjamin Godard’s Opera of the same name “Jocelyn”, followed. Selections from Argentine Tango-master Astor Piazzolla referenced Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. “Otono Porteno”, a paean to autumn, “Oblivion”, and “Primavera Portena”, a salute to Spring, concluded the first half of the program. After intermission, the ensemble offered an exuberant rendering of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Trio No 2, Opus 66 in c minor” in four movements.

Praise for the ensemble was unanimous. Lillian Van Hest, Impromptu Classical Concerts’ President, noted: “Passion! Passion! Passion! They made it look like they were having ‘fun’ while working their brains out.” On a more technical level, Van Hest observed: “The piano collaborator is sort of the ‘unsung hero’, gluing the scores with precision.”

“Each performer of this trio was flawless! The passion in phrasing of the cello, with percussive movements on the piano, combined with the difficult attacks on high notes on the violin, left me spellbound.” “The church was silenced to hearing a pin drop, and to add to the fray of this talented trio, their true beauty radiated to everyone in the SRO packed audience! Truly loved every minute from beginning to end, and look forward to them returning for next season!”

For forty-four years Impromptu Classical Concerts has enriched the cultural life of Key West. The superb performance by Eroica Trio continues that noble tradition.


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"Eroica's musicians...have the muscle to be purely dramatic and emotional, but here, they stand out for subtler reasons: all three players are soloists who have a lot to say, and every note, no matter how light, has some significance. Indeed, no voice ever fades into the background; rather, the instruments not featured in a particular passage assume the active stance of intelligent listeners, making comments on the main statement or, in some cases, quietly but compellingly pursuing their own trains of thought." —Anne Midgette, The New York Times

"Just as in their successful Carnegie Hall debut and smash-hit CD release, these women demonstrate that on musical merits they have earned their foothold on the very highest rung of the profession." —The Wall Street Journal

"Brahms' music has rarely sounded as sweet...real music worthy of the Eroica Trio's considerable gifts... The Trio proved particularly adept at responding to the score's emotional range, bringing a combination of rhythmic vitality and melodic grace to the opening movement, and shaping the finale with particular dramatic urgency." —Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

"Forget the marketing hype, the Eroica Trio is the real thing... The thing that most impressed was the litheness of the group's ensemble... Each player in this group brings serious chops to the table, and the group has converted this currency to richer coin by assiduously studying one another's phrasing and tone." —The Boston Globe

"It was the sizzle of the musical ensemble that seduced listeners at the Orange County Performing Arts Center." —Susan Bliss, Los Angeles Times

"The Eroica Trio's EMI label debut features one of the best-ever recordings of Ravel's Piano Trio in a performance that shows off the group's wide range of color and expression." —USAToday

"It's been decades since this country has produced a chamber music organization with this much passion... This is a group that feasts on artistic and technical challenges." —The San Francisco Examiner

"They play chamber music for the concert hall. There is an edge of the seat intensity to every note they produce." —The New York Times

"The passionate, brilliant program catapulted the audience from its seats not once but twice for Beethoven's Triple Concerto. The excitement and intensity of the first movement ended with such a grand flourish that the audience was on its feet applauding loudly immediately after the last note. Although caught by surprise, the musicians took this spontaneous breach of concert etiquette in stride... The musicians responded beautifully with elegant, balanced sound that ranged from extraordinary pianissimo to full, controlled fortissimo. Their playing was precise yet dynamically expressive, with stunning contrasts... The synergy within the Trio and between them and the orchestra was superb." —Marilyn LaRocque,Las Vegas Sun

"The Eroica Trio gave a knockout concert at the Bovard Auditorium. These people have it all: technique, temperament, interpretive savvy, good looks and a winning stage presence." —Herbert Glass, Los Angeles Times

"The Eroica's unbridled passion flows from all voices at some point, regardless of the piece. This group maximizes drama inherent to any piece, whether it rests in melody, tempo, rhythm, texture or harmony." —Whitney Smith, Indianapolis Star

"The Trio plays with technical flair, raw driven energy and high spirits." —The Wall Street Journal

"In the Eroica's vivacious performance, the outer fast movements charged along with snappy pizzazz. The slow movement evoked New Age and jazz noodlings. The surfaces glittered... When the group paused to think more contemplatively...the interpretation became truly inspired. Those were memories to take home." —Charles Ward, Houston Chronicle

"The three young women played with a love of life that made the sorrows and troubles of Sweden seem distant for a while." —Svenska Dagblaget(Stockholm)

"The (ladies of the) Trio played as though they were caressing the music...the music sizzled." —Watanabe(Tokyo)

"Even on a purely visual level, one notices a special harmony between them... The musical result is balanced and sophisticated." —Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung(Germany)

"Everyone felt themselves transported to another world...the Trio's technical brilliance...was superb." —Die Presse (Vienna)

"The real treat is being able to savor the glorious melodies of these baroque masters in such rich-toned splendor -- and the result is ear-opening." —Andrew Farach-Colton, barnesandnoble.com

"The members of the Eroica Trio have a genuine passion for Brahms...a true love of the music as Brahms wrote it. Here they offer intelligent, well-thought-out performances, faithful to the score yet unafraid to interpret Brahms' intentions. This release is not just an excellent group of chamber musicians strutting their proverbial stuff, but a record designed to be a complete experience. The ensemble skillfully negotiates Brahms' turn-on-a-dime writing in a marvelously organic fashion; as with the best performances, they make it seem effortless." —Daniel Felsenfeld, Andante

"This is a hugely stirring recording, full of strength and soul. It's very romantic -- very lush -- but well within bounds (that is, Brahmsian bounds). Over the past several weeks, I have found it hard to stop listing to this CD." —Jay Nordlinger, National Review

"Eroica brings a joyous piano trio sound." —Ken Keuffel, The Arizona Daily Star

"The Eroicas are fiery, sexy and very polished when they are playing Astor Piazzolla... On their Baroque CD, the playing is polished, the tone is rich... Their Shostakovich is real Russian vodka: it's bitter, ironic and wild... The Dvorak Trio is a delightful piece, full of dance rhythms, melody and unexpected changes." —Ron Biss, Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)

"It's one thing to talk in general about performers who operate on the same wave length, and quite another to witness a virtuosic display of musical unanimity on the level of Saturday night's superb recital by the Eroica Trio...what proved most striking about the evening was how seamlessly the three performers merged their distinct contributions into a single ensemble voice." —Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

"In the case of the frankly lovely, frankly female Eroica Trio, musical priorities are conspicuously high. The ladies brought power, grace and conversational ease to the joyful bombast of Beethoven's Triple Concerto." —Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara News-Press

"The Trio's brilliance leaves you in awe. The playing of this wonderful trio was so beautiful, so perfectly luminous, seeming to emerge from one soul: it deserved -- demanded -- almost religious awe. With refinement, passion, technical brilliance, precision and wonderful unanimity of spirit, this group exists in very rarefied company; these players have learned to breath the same air, to carry on phrases from each other with perfect accord in tone and dynamics...with infinite variety and luminosity." —Lindis Taylor, Dominion Post (New Zealand)

"The Eroica musicians form one of the most exciting groups on the classical stage... It is rare to see and hear musical intuition so tight. The audience demanded an encore." —John Sutherland, The Seattle Times

"The Eroica Trio gave a stunning performance all around, but its delivery of the Shostakovich Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67 was outstanding... The fact that the Eroica Trio included this (repertoire) in the program shows that not only do the musicians display a depth of musical maturity but that they also understand the power music has on people." —Christine Huggins, The Dartmouth

"This is a group which feasts on artistic and technical challenges... The Eroica brought wondrous empathy and discretion to the task, calibrating dynamics with heart-stopping mastery." —Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner

"So locked in are they to the musical moment that at times they sound like one instrument making a single, ethereal sound. There were moments in the Beethoven piece when the two string players applied such incredibly light touches that the music almost seemed to resonate directly from the early 1800s, when Beethoven wrote the piece, rather than from their instruments." —Jim Lundstrum, The Post-Crescent

"This was a perfect concert... The Eroica Trio performed with incredible intensity and energy, one-ness in its music, a supple litheness in its tone, and an equality of voice. Each musician is an internationally recognized soloist in her own right, and this made for an extraordinary group dynamic. No one was subservient. No one was dominating. They each gave a fullness of dramatic expression to the music. The audience was ecstatic in its foot-stomping applause... The (ladies of the) Eroica Trio will always be my heroines." —Margaret Hennington, The Guardian (Australia)

"The Eroica musicians seemed to slip into their own world, accompanying each other lyrically and, it seemed, effortlessly." —Mary Kunz, Buffalo News

"The Eroica is one of the finest and most dynamic piano trios today... This performance was another remarkable example of the group's flawless ensemble playing and impeccable artistry. Its interpretation was sincere and thoughtful, impassioned and full of life." —Edward Reichel, Deseret News

"This was a magnificent performance! It was a delight to see the rapport among the players. Their music breathed a deep understanding of each other and the many different relationships that exist among them in the music. This was an exciting and very memorable concert. I, for one, was only too pleased to be in the audience." —Stephen Fisher, Evening Standard (New Zealand)

"Here's one of those wonderful CDs that you will love the first time you listen to it. Guaranteed. All six selections are truly enjoyable, the Trio's fresh intensity shining out of every note and phrase." —John Farnworth, The Register-Guard

"The Eroica Trio attracts new listeners to classical music. The musicians have much to offer listeners of all stripes." —Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"The Trio performed the work with impeccable musicianship, flawless technique and irresistible enthusiasm." —Robert Fuller, Des Moines Register

"Nothing short of spectacular, nothing short of marvelous...the most exciting musicians on the classical scene today... To be part of the performance -- either as a member of the orchestra or the audience -- was extraordinary. To experience the composer's genius interpreted with such passion was a rare treat." —Jack Zaleski, The Forum

"The Eroica Trio was an inspired ensemble that received a well-earned standing ovation at the conclusion of the concert." —Marshall Turkin, The Palm Beach Post

"What proved most striking about the evening was how seamlessly the three performers merged their distinct contributions into a single ensemble voice... The Eroica's playing is marked, first of all, by exquisite beauty of tone, a rich blend of sonorities that gives even the most vigorous music a rounded edge. The group is unafraid of overt displays of feeling, whether ferocious or lyrical." —Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

"What poured forth from the Jemison Concert Hall stage was beyond reproach. Three monumental works were presented by the reigning mavens of piano trio music...the ensemble delivered a balanced, meticulously controlled performance. In Beethoven's Trio in B-flat, Op. 11, every nuance exuded warmth. Melodies ebbed and flowed among the three players...with purpose and definition." —Michael Huebner, The Birmingham News

"The Trio's performance goes straight to the heart of the strings. The audience was treated to a display of dazzling musicianship. The entire performance was characterized by its technical excellence, artistry and energy. It is hoped that the Eroica Trio will return soon." —Jenny Burchell, The Tribune (New Zealand)

"The Eroica Trio lighted up the new Clark Music Center with its remarkable combination of uncanny technical precision, vibrant artistic interpretation, and an electrifying and exhilarating performance." —Nede Naque, The Laurence

"The Eroica's artistry is powerful enough that it could play the back of a cereal box and make it compelling." —Charleston Gazette

"Continuous dynamic flexibility is a hallmark of the group, but they the musicians live for the big moments." —Los Angeles Times

"They looked like supermodels and played like demons on crack... Rarely does one hear such a combination of sheer physicality, gripping intensity and idiomatic versatility as this threesome served up." —The Tucson Citizen

"The Trio brought its dark, rich sound and propulsive rhythmic energy to a crowd ready to cheer..." —The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)

"The women of the Eroica Trio play nothing halfway. Hair flying, bodies heaving, bows shedding hairs left and right...the Eroica achieved gestures of orchestral power and sweep." —The Washington Post

"Each musician possesses a superbly fluid technique... Their technical freedom is of the kind that makes the difficult seem easy and their seamless ensemble a matter of course." —The Albuquerque Journal

"These people have it all: technique, temperament, interpretive savvy, good looks and a winning stage presence." —Los Angeles Times

"(The Eroica Trio) plays with refinement, passion, spontaneity, imagination and the fullest grasp of stylistic nuances." —Chicago Sun-Times

"The Eroica took the listener on a sensitively guided odyssey that grew on you bit by bit." —The Arizona Daily Star

"Eroica Trio is the real thing...It is, thankfully, exactly what a chamber music ensemble should be -- (composed of) thoughtful, intelligent, rigorously trained musicians in love with the art of music and the artfulness of performance... The Trio performs spectacularly." —Michael Manning, The Boston Globe

"Eroica brings the audience to its feet. Following an extended standing ovation, the Eroica Trio performed a beautiful, sensual encore that had the standing-room-only crowd applauding enthusiastically again. Indeed, if the Trio had decided to play all night, the audience would have stayed." —Jack Zaleski, The Forum

Bates Concert Hall
José Trinidad: a tribute to a spiritual performance

Deep in the snow,
a child cries fallow
in unknown repentance
as to his final end:

In Takser, Qingai,
in shelter swaddled,
cries the new Lama
awaiting his pain.

St. Petersburg heralds
a prince Igor chemist,
out of some central Asian
Steppes humming quite low,

while deep in Jambi,
Batangharin river,
a mother gives birth
to a child never known.

I Nyoman Windha
delights with his subtle
Balinese Banjar Kurtri
melodies for the soul.

And many in the south
east ghetto of Austin
cry out in the darkness
and will never be known.

Yet loud from the vibrance
of Bates Hall in Austin
the Eroica Trio
proclaimed Bach's Chacone:

it's subtle tonalities,
the integration of chords,
the weaving of dancing themes
were obvious to all;
in an audience that panted
for the next cherished note
made aware to the listener
as the flawless performed.

What grandeur we experienced!
what ascension of soul,
from the cello and violin
to the piano holding taut;

at one moment all keystrokes,
all the strings' plaintiff chords,
reached the Altar of Heaven
every artist strives for:

that moment of harmony,
that eternal one Chord,
that timelessness of Heaven
heard at once from all strokes.

And so moves the program,
and the artists move the chords,
not aware that the eternal
had been gifted to all.