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Amelia Piano Trio: Web-Only Q&A with Violinist Anthea Kreston
Q: Welcome to PT! What's the first impression you'd like to give the PT listening audience of the Amelia Piano Trio? How would you like to distinguish yourselves from other piano trios?
Anthea: Well, I guess the reason we play chamber music is because it is so much fun, and I still can't believe how lucky I am to be able to do something for a living that is so fulfilling emotionally, so I think that people usually come away from the Amelia experience with the feeling of joy and love that we all have when we play. How to distinguish - I think we take risks - musically (with our choice of repertoire, and the way we throw ourselves into the performing) and with our career path choices that are not always the safest, surest path, but are always exciting and invigorate both us and our audience. An Amelia encounter is never a boring encounter, we hope!
Q: Do any of you find that you have to compromise your playing at all when performing in a trio setting, as opposed to when you perform solo? On the other hand, do you find that being in this trio makes you a better musician?
Anthea: I don't feel that I have to compromise ever - chamber music is really an exercise in diplomacy, and I love the process of convincing the others that my way is the best (hopefully not even having to use words, but instead just by playing with conviction), and I am always on the look-out for what the others think and feel about a piece, a passage, and am happy to be convinced by them as well. I know that I am playing with two wonderful and inspired musicians, so I can only look forward to their ideas and feeling about a piece. I like to play with other people much better than playing by myself - who wants to travel and go to a bunch of cool places, all by yourself? It's much more fun to go to a bar with a trio than by yourself!
Q: Do any of you come from musical families?
Anthea: I come from a musical family - the youngest of 3 girls - my oldest sister is a fantastic violinist who resigned from being concertmaster in L'Orchestre de Paris to become a cracker-jack studio violinist in Los Angeles, and my next older sister is a great cellist - teacher and performer - who lives in Berkeley, CA, and is very experimental with her musical path. My mother just retired from being the executive director of the Chicago Youth Symphonies, which she almost single-handedly built up from a small time orchestra to one of the best youth orchestra organizations in the country - they now have 3 orchestras, and have won many awards, including several ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming. My dad used to play accordion, but quit when he was around 9 - there are still some recordings, though!
Q: Where/when/how did you all first meet and decide to form this ensemble?
Anthea: Jason and I met at the cafeteria in Aspen, and the rest is history. We loved playing together, and soon formed the trio. Later, Jason also joined the quartet I was playing with - the Avalon Quartet (I was in the quartet for 7 years, Jason for 2). The original pianist, Jonathan Yates, was an old acquaintance from Chicago. Jason and I decided to try out having a piano trio, and we made a list of pianists, and Jonathan was on the top. He was the apprentice conductor for the Chicago Youth Symphonies at the time, but he was up for it, and we just started to perform more and more. Our big break was the Isaac Stern Carnegie Hall master classes - he really took us under his wing, and helped us out with concerts and advice. He is still a big inspiration to us - I try to get all his fingerings off of his trio recordings. They are just the best recordings! - Stern-Istomin-Rose Trio.
Q: What is the Amelia's former pianist, Jonathan Yates, up to these days? Did he part ways with you on good terms?
Anthea: Jonathan decided to go back into conducting, and is attending Julliard this fall, working with Muller. We couldn't be happier for him, and the transition was smooth and supportive all the way around. Keep your eyes out for him on the podium near you!!!
Q: You play everything from Bach to Zwilich. Does your trio really come alive when playing the music of a particular composer? In other words, does the Amelia Piano Trio have a favorite composer and/or piano trio? On the other hand, is there music that you absolutely will not play?
Anthea: I guess I just love Brahms. I don't know - actually, I love everything we play. There is such a great variety in the repertoire, I just feel lucky. So, I guess "no" for the favorite composer for me. In terms of stuff we won't play, I guess we have a pretty rigid "Cheese" filter - we don't go for "Classical Lite".
7. Q: What is the most challenging music you've ever performed together?
Anthea: I think that Schubert might be the hardest - but, because it so totally awesome, it doesn't ever feel like a pain to have to work so hard at it - it is always worth it!
Q: In 2003, you won the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming. You've commissioned works from such diverse composers as Jia Daqun, Rami Levin, David Little, Carter Pan, Adam Silverman, Augusta Read Thomas, and Pulitzer Prize winner John Harbison, whose first full-length Piano Trio you will play in the coming week. How do you decide/agree on which composers to approach? This must also be a huge financial commitment; from where do you get the support?
Anthea: There are several ways that new pieces happen for us - one is a composer just calling us up, or seeing us at a concert, and saying - "Hey, if I write you guys a piece, will you play it?" - which actually happens pretty often. In this case, we just have to do some research - collect scores or CDs from that composer, talk to other people who have played that composer's stuff, figure out if it will work wel with our programming, etc. We are very selective - otherwise, we would have so much new music to play, we would only do that!
The second way is if a concert series contacts us, and says "Hey, we are commissioning this composer for one piece next season, and we told them who was playing on our series, and they requested that they write a piano trio for you guys." Then, we go through the same process as above.
The third way is that there is a composer who we want to commission - like, John Harbison. This was a unique case, however - I had met and played for Mr. Harbison when I was about 18, and we hit it off. So, I had a small connection with him before we approached him about the trio. We thought to ourselves - "Wow, wouldn't it be totally fantastic to have a full-length Harbison Trio in the Piano Trio literature?" Then we thought "Oh my God, like, how are we going to raise the money, and how are we going to convince the totally most famous composer that he needs to write a Trio, and that it should be for a totally not famous, young trio?" And so, we just launched in, and went to a dress rehearsal for The Great Gatsby (Harbison's Opera) at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and saw him there, and then I just asked - Do you want to write a trio for us? And he said, OK, that's a great idea - call my publisher and let her know I want to do it! Which was great, but then we had to figure out how to pay for it. So, we figured it out - it took a while, and a couple of bottles of Tums, but after our first commitment for the premier date and financial support from the Caramoor International Music Festival, we gathered up our courage, and went for individual donors. We are really thankful that Joan and Irving Harris and Lea Simonds helped us out with our major donations, and that Tom and Vivan Waldeck, Judy Evnin, and the Green Lake Festival of Music came up with the rest! Geeze, that was a little stressful, but worth it - the piece is AMAZING!! and it is OURS! for the first year, anyway!
Q: Each of you seems to have several other musical pursuits outside of the Amelia Piano Trio, from solo recital engagements, to collaborations with other orchestras and chamber music ensembles. Is your loyalty to the group ever compromised by these outside engagements? How do you keep it all balanced?
Anthea: I just love to have a mix of stuff in my musical life - it brings spontaneity and joy to all the other things I am doing, so I am happy that each of us has many different interests.
Q: You performed in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, and subsequently met Pipa and Erhu virtuosos Yang Wei and Betti Xiang, with whom you've formed the East Meets West quintet. Was that your first experience in the Eastern music tradition? What was your most memorable experience from the Silk Road Project?
Anthea: Going to Tanglewood for the very first Silk Road meetings and performances was pretty mind-blowing. We met Yang Wei there, and he is so fun, and just one of the most amazing musicians - we started to play outside of the Silk Road Project together almost immediately. Soon we were playing with Betti as well, and it just became obvious that we should form our own group. It just seemed so natural, and like it was meant to be.
As for memorable experiences on the Silk Road - Jason and I went on tour to Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgistan in the spring, and it really felt like we were in a different century - in a book somewhere in the back of your mom's book shelf. The people were beautiful, we were treated like royalty, and the cultural exchanges were magical. Not to mention that I brought back a 50-foot circular rug that goes around the circumference of a Yurt - and I am going to install it on my wall, going up the stairs in my entryway to my house...
Q: Can you tell us something about the music you'll play on PT?
Anthea: We are playing a ton of different things - Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, Bach, Harbison, and a whole day dedicated to our group with Betti and Wei - we are even doing some Suk and Piazzola - as well as a Brahms piano quartet with a guest violist! I am excited even typing it here...
Q: Anthea, you also play viola. Any chance we'll hear you on the viola in the coming week? Now be honest, did you end up sticking with the violin because you were tired of all the viola jokes?
Anthea: Well - I didn't bring the viola - didn't you hear they don't let them on airplanes anymore because they are a security risk - someone might try to play it? If someone brings me a viola, I will play "Danny Boy" for you guys - no prob. Basically, I still love the viola, and am always happy to play when anyone asks -- there aren't too many pieces for piano, cello, and viola, though.
Q: How close are all of you as friends? Do you feel like an extended family, or is it mainly just business as usual? With all the traveling you do together, all the endless hours in practice rooms together, do you ever feel like, "I need to get away from these people!"?
Anthea: Jason and I are "Spouse-Types" - so, I guess you could say we are pretty close - we are home-owners, too, and we have joint-custody of Chester, the rabbit. Rieko and I knew each other a little from Curtis, so everything is friendly - we go out to meals together and hang out, especially since we have gotten here to NPR.
Some Not So Serious Questions...
Q: What is your favorite book?
Anthea: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Ayn Rand's Fountainhead.
Q: Favorite movie?
Anthea: Harold and Maude.
Q: Favorite TV show?
Anthea: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Emergency Vet and Iron Chef.
Q: What do you like doing with what little free time you have?
Anthea: Stained Glass, reading and just basically anything at all.
Q: What are your top 5 favorite CDs, CDs you can't live without?
Anthea: El Triumpho, Jeff Buckley, Kind of Blue, any Beatles, Cat Stevens.
Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure in music? Something you don't quite want to admit that you listen to but you totally love?
Anthea: I ALWAYS admit everything - that is one of my personal problems!!!
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