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Dreams come true for Eroica

Classical trio delights in its success over the past 20 years

Adela Pena, Erika Nickrenz and Isabelle Sant'Ambrogio of Eroica Trio.
Adela Pena, Erika Nickrenz and Isabelle Sant'Ambrogio of Eroica Trio.
Emi Group

What is the Eroica Trio? A little of this, a little of that. A piano, a violin, a cello and a whole lot of interesting music.

"When you look at our program in Salt Lake City," said Adela Pena, "you'll see that it includes some quirky stuff as well as the tried-and-true masterpiece. And that is, pretty much, the way we work."

Pena, the trio's violinist, was 9 when she started playing with the trio's pianist, Erika Nickrenz. Now, Pena, Nickrenz and the trio's third member, Isabelle Sant'Ambrogio, have children of their own; each has a son.

"It's pretty unbelievable," Pena said by phone from her home in Brooklyn as her 4-year-old was watching "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars." "We feel a sense of fate has been with us the whole time. We feel very lucky to all be moms, and of such adorable boys.

"We feel it's really funny that we all had boys, because Eroica is such a female-energy kind of thing. We thought probably God gave us all boys to kind of offset the female energy."

With a laugh, Pena said the three are amazed to be able to have such a successful career. "We were kids dreaming about this stuff, and here we are, doing it. We just feel very lucky that we've been able to share our lives — our personal and musical lives."

The Eroica Trio's most recent album, "The Best of Eroica," chronicles some of their successes over the past 20 years. "To see this album put together, called 'The Best of' — we thought, boy, we've really been around the block. We thought you had to be half-expired to have a 'Best of.' "

She added, however, that they are pleased with the album. "It made us very happy that a record company had felt like our body of work had warranted something like this. It includes all different styles, which is kind of our hallmark, anyway, in our programming."

The CD has everything from Vivaldi to Piazzola to Schoenfield. "I think it's a pretty good representation, and I think that's why the label chose this particular selection of pieces — because it is our hallmark for the Eroica sensibility, which is, let's just dig into whatever style strikes us at the moment, and mix it up and make it fun and make it passionate and exciting."

That passion and excitement came through in Pena's voice as she discussed what they would be "digging into" when they come to Salt Lake City. The first piece on the program, she said, will be an arrangement of Bach's "Chaconne." "It was originally for solo violin. And the trio just didn't think that was fair. I was the only one who would get to play this amazing piece."

So they had an arrangement done by Anne Dudley, a British composer. Pena said that it emphasizes the romantic, lush aspect of Bach's music. "It's very full. It's really very passionate.

"People think of Bach as sort of the bewigged churchgoer, but really, the guy did have, what, 13 or 20 children? (Bach had seven children with his first wife and 13 children with the second.) He was a pretty romantic guy. You can really sense that in this arrangement. It takes advantage of all the different sound qualities that you can use in a trio to highlight the harmonies that are already there."

The second piece, she said, is a rarely performed work by British composer Rebecca Clark. "I haven't heard it live, ever," she said. Pena likes this piece because of the creative way the thematic material develops among the instruments. "A lot of trio works, and especially a lot of romantic works like that, will have the piano versus the strings. This is very creative in the sense that each instrument really has its own voice and the thematic material is just passed around in a very creative way.

"So I just think the audience will enjoy that a lot. It's a really fun piece that's full of gorgeous themes."

She added, "Since we have an arrangement and an off-beat piece on the first half, on the second half — in typical Eroica fashion — we're doing Schubert E-flat trio. That is really just one of the great masterpieces of the trio repertoire. It's just out of this world — literally. It takes you to a spiritual place you didn't know existed."

Pena said that Schubert develops a theme across more than one movement, which was something that composers didn't do until the late romantic period — after the time that Schubert was writing. The theme, she said, is first presented in the slow movement, a heartfelt, funeral-like march full of pathos and feeling. "Then it comes back in the last movement in this glorious major version — I'm getting chills talking about it. It's so incredible. And the piece is very epic.

"It's about 45 minutes long. I really takes you on this journey."

If you go . . .

What: Eroica Trio

When: Tuesday,7:30 p.m.

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall

How much: $20, $5 for students

Phone: 581-7100