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Friendship, fate bind Eroica Trio

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Friendship at first sight can happen anytime, anywhere. Just ask Eroica Trio pianist Erika Nickrenz. She was 9 years old, living in New York's Greenwich Village, when she met violinist Adela Pea.

"We met at a little musical called 'Greenwich House', " Nickrenz said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News from New Jersey, "and we were set up by my piano teacher. We just hit it off in every way, and we haven't stopped playing (together) since we were 9."

It was just three years later when Nickrenz met the third member of their future trio — cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio. "My mother, Joanna Nickrenz, is a Grammy-Award-winning record producer," Nickrenz explained, "and she had been making recordings of the St. Louis Symphony, where Sara's father, John Sant'Ambrogio, had been principal cello for 30 years. They got their heads together and said, 'Oh, my goodness — we have girls the same age! You've got to send Erika to my camp.' So I went to study with Sara's grandmother, who was head of the camp, for three summers, and we met and played there."

It must have been fate, then, that brought them together at the same time to study at Juilliard. "We played with all different people and just kind of had a gut instinct that if we tried playing with that combination of the three of us, we would have something special," said Nickrenz. "Within 10 minutes of playing together, we decided to really be very motivated and serious about pursuing a career together because it felt so good and special — the chemistry between the three of us."

Sixteen seasons later, Sant'Ambrogio, Pea and Nickrenz — now known as the Eroica Trio — continue to delight audiences worldwide. They will open the season for the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Tickets may be purchased by calling 561-3999.

Nickrenz acknowledged that although they didn't talk about it when they first formed the group, the trio has turned out to be a role-model for young girls. "We were the only all-female group having a career at the level that we have," she explained, "and we've definitely run with that. It's very exciting because at most of our concerts, we'll have groups of young girls that come — little fan clubs."

With an international career spanning from Europe to Japan, the trio has also found fans of all ages and nationalities all over the world.

Particularly memorable was Hanoi, Vietnam. "It was so exciting because people there were so starving for music," said Nickrenz. "Because it was a communist country, the tickets were not sold, they were released, basically, and within five minutes they were snatched up.

"So they decided to broadcast it nationally, and they also had huge screens out on the streets. Thousands of people stopped in their tracks and on their bicycles to watch and to listen to this concert."

As far as repertoire, Nickrenz said the trio has tried to expand as much as it could. "We've done some really unusual things, such as record music from the Baroque era for the piano trio combination — which is just not done — so we were mavericks in that era."

She also said that they have reached to the contemporary end of the spectrum, commissioning as many works for the trio as possible. They also try to rediscover works that have been lost to the repertoire.

Their latest CD, "Pasin," exemplifies their eclectic reach. "It's a really unusual CD because it's of all-Latin music," she said.

The trio will be releasing a new album in January of Brahms trios.

"We've been playing his trios since we started playing as a group together, and that's something we've been looking forward to recording for years. It's a dream come true, and it's heart-wrenchingly beautiful music, and I believe we're playing one of them on the concert in Salt Lake."

The program in Salt Lake City will include Brahms' Trio in B Major, Op. 8, Shostakovich's Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67, and Beethoven's Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11.

E-mail: rcline@desnews.com