ANGEL / EMI
Clockwise from the top are pianist Erika Nickrenz, cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio and violinist Adela Peña.
Talent, passion and beauty -- chamber trio Eroica plays all three
Yes, it must be a rough life, we mumble into the phone, the life of an in-demand international classical musician, dashing here and there, a blur of airport lounges, musty green rooms, sterile hotel rooms and tiny rental cars.
"It sure is," Sara Sant'Ambrogio says on her end. "I'm lying next to the pool in my bikini, soaking up the sun in Los Angeles while the rest of the country is freezing. Then we're off to Hawaii, and from there to the Barrier Islands off Florida. The weather and the people and the food are always changing. My son is 17 months old, and he's been to Europe 14 times. I'm thinking, actually, there are advantages to this."
The Eroica Trio
In a benefit for Make a Wish Hawaii
» Place: Mamiya Theatre, St. Louis School, 3142 Waialae Ave.
» Time: 8 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $40 and $60
» Call: 550-8457 or online at honoluluboxoffice.com
Sant'Ambrogio is the one who "chells" (plays cello, that is) in the Eroica Trio, that fabulously talented, impossibly glamorous threesome who knocked the fuddy out of duddy chamber music more than a decade ago. They're playing Saturday at Mamiya Theatre for the Make a Wish organization, and also four times next week on Maui.
They're pitched as the Charlie's Angels of classical music -- One blonde! One brunette! One pianist! -- and their publicity materials play up their natural beauty and easy elegance. In the Trio's photo-op snapshots, Sant'Ambrogio is the one usually hugging the dolphin or the llama or the tiger cub while pianist Erika Nickrenz and violinist Adela Pena stand by, beaming uncertainly.
ALL THREE of the women are based in New York, and have played with and around each other since childhood. And well, duh, they look great. You know that already, you're staring at this page's photo. The trio's Eroica name doesn't come from the root for erotic, however; it's the Italian word for "heroic," the label Beethoven slapped on his extraordinary Third Symphony. That's why they chose it. And there are two other legs to the stool that keeps the trio grounded -- they play music with tremendous technical expertise, and they play with fierce passion. Glamour, talent, excitement, it's a triple play in any book.
Enough with the three-talk. Naturally, it's been "something like three years since we were last in Hawaii, when we played with the Honolulu Symphony," said Sant'Ambrogio. "The press of touring varies -- we like to take some weeks off in summer and during the holidays, like everybody else, but it's 80 to 100 dates a year. Between, we're always rehearsing, never finishing.
"The good thing about being a musician, instead of an athlete, is that you get better the longer you play. Jascha Heifitz recorded his amazing Brahms Concertos when he was 55. Fifty-five, and at the peak of his abilities!"
Yeah, that's really up there. Like athletes, however, the Eroica Trio gets so torqued while playing that it becomes a physical workout. "Adela always has the same violin, and I always have the same cello -- it gets its own seat on the plane -- and Erika has piano provided, so a lot of our tour baggage is gowns. Gowns and gowns. We almost never wear black, so there are lots of colors.
"The thing about gowns is that the design must leave our arms free to move, and they don't get too hot. When you're playing intimate music for 3,000 people, you really have to throw your body into it, your whole being. A performance becomes extremely athletic.
"I wind up with good sinews and muscles, and my friends ask what workout I'm using. I tell 'em, it's cello-robics!"
ALL THAT energy is necessary because the trio generally performs with no electronic amplification. "Probably 98 percent of the time we aren't miked," said Sant'Ambrogio. "In outdoor locations, you generally can't get away without being amplified, but we prefer the natural acoustic sound."
The repertoire stays the same, and it always changes. Although Sant'Ambrogio has another group she fiddles with -- Triptych, a jazzy improviso for nightclubs -- the Eroica Trio isn't stuck in a chamber ghetto. It seems they'll play almost anything, ranging from the Beethoven Triple Concerto (naturally, and they apparently hold a world record for most performances of it) to Vivaldi's edgy prettiness to Schoenfield's "cafe music" to Gershwin's rawboned city rhythms to pieces written, it seems, yesterday, like Mark O'Conner's "A Day in the Life of Johnny Cash."
"It would be incredibly boring to plays the same stuff all the time," said Sant'Ambrogio. "The thing about traveling is that you also get to hear all kinds of great music. Traveling is great for the kids -- all three of us have sons! -- because it makes them alert and curious and easy-going. My boy loooooves the cello. When I rehearse, I can't put it away when I'm done until he plays with it a while. So adorable."
Got a tip as a traveling mom on the go?
"Always check in looking nice and smile at everyone -- you're more likely to get upgraded. Travel with things that remind you of home, even if it's stuff like candles and CDs of your favorite music. Keep a spare set of your toiletries and soap and stuff packed, so it's different from your home stuff and doesn't get mixed up."
Hey, that's THREE tips!