State Of The Art: Eroica's Sant'Ambrogio Says Day Of Trio Has Come

Trio's debut CD was awarded NPR's Performance Today's "Debut Recording of the Year."

Over the past decade and more, chamber music has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks in great part to the success and popularity of string quartets like Kronos and Brodsky, among many others.

But cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio of the Eroica Trio thinks that could change.

"I think that the piano trio is going to become the dominant form in classical music," Sant'Ambrogio said recently. "Piano trios have always traditionally been the poor stepchild of the string quartet and I think that's really going to change."

The trio — which also includes pianist Erika Nickrenz and violinist Adela Peña — has appeared with the Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco orchestras, among others. Immediately following their Carnegie Hall debut in 1997, they were offered a recording contract on Angel/EMI.

Their self-titled debut CD was awarded NPR's Performance Today's "Debut Recording of the Year." Their latest and fourth release, Pasión, was released in October and features works by Spanish, Argentinean and Brazilian composers, including Piazolla, Villa-Lobos and Turina. All their albums have been produced by Nickrenz's mother, three-time Grammy winner Joanna Nickrenz.

Sant'Ambrogio's optimism about the future of the piano trio is based on the nature of the ensemble itself.

"I think that piano trios are going to be the hot group of the 21st century," she said, "because it's a much more outward, emotional solo-istic, audience-participatory form than the string quartet."

Part of the difference between the two, Sant'Ambrogio believes, is in the purpose and goals of their performance.

"The string quartet is four people playing inward, toward each other, trying to sound like one voice and in some ways it excludes the audience," she said. "Whereas the piano trio is three soloists facing outward toward the audience, drawing them in."

And the repertoire of trios — the Eroica claims to have performed Beethoven's Triple Concerto more than any other ensemble — is different from that of the quartet.

"The [trio] repertoire is just huge and heavy on the romantic composers and the big dramatic stuff," Sant'Ambrogio said. "It's so much more exciting for the audience because it's visually and aurally more exciting, because you're listening to three different lines. You're seeing three soloists throw these phrases back and forth between each other and the orchestra. And string quartets don't really have concertos with orchestras."

This year the Eroica Trio have commissioned a new work by Raimondo Penaforte, Tango for Seven, which they will premiere with the St. Lawrence Quartet. Next season will see them premiere two new large-scale works for piano trio and full orchestra with the St. Louis and Milwaukee Symphonies.

The trio's 2000-01 season includes over 80 concerts throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Switzerland and Italy. They will also take part in this year's 20th anniversary Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert series. Upcoming concerts include performances at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (January 12), the National Museum of Women in the Arts (February 14) and with the Seattle Symphony (March 29, 31 and April 1).