—a conversation with Mike Telin
Time for Three premiered Christ Brubeck’s new concerto for two violins, double bass and orchestra with Randall Craig Fleischer and the Youngstown Symphony on March 20. We spoke with the trio by conference call at a radio station in Harrisburg, PA to talk about Time for Three and the new concerto.
Nick: Hi Mike, this is Nick Kendall, one of the violinists.
MT: Yes, we met a couple of weeks ago right after your Oberlin concert.
NK: Yea, that’s right. We have the other guys here as well.
Ranaan Meyer: Hello this is Ranaan, nice to meet you.
MT: Nice to meet you too
Zach De Pue: hello it’s Zach
ZDP: You know I lived in Cleveland for a year, and I still have my Browns season tickets.
MT: Do you?
ZDP: Yes I do
MT: Wow you are one of the few who has bothered to keep them.
(lots of laughing)
ZDP: I know, it’s a sad thing but I am a die-hard.
MT: I’m not sure how much you were following things, but they literally could not give away the tickets.
ZDP: Yes, I know. I was unable to give mine away sometimes as well.
(More loud laughing)
MT: First, thanks to all three of you for taking the time to talk, and I’d like to go directly to the piece. What are your perspectives? Are you having fun with it?
RM: It has been a total blast to work on it. Perhaps you know that he uses all of the eras of jazz and, for me, my root of falling in love with music was through jazz at age 15. I dove in and I never came out. So it has just been so much fun to be able to do all of these different styles of music. This piece allows us to live in that jazz world for about thirty-one minutes, and we are so excited to be able to premier it with the Youngstown Symphony in about eight days.
MT: For Nick, how did you first get involved with the violin and more importantly, how did you get into genres other then classical music?
NK: I started the violin at the age of three. My entire family is in the music business. My grandfather was one of the pioneers of the Suzuki movement here in the United States in the early sixties. My sister is the assistant principal cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra. My cousin is the principal cellist in the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, and there are other musicians as well, so that is how the original inspiration came about. I studied Suzuki as well, so I did a lot of ear training, as well as reading, you know doing a lot of scale practice. I think that Suzuki has gotten a bad rap, but because of it, I was very acute in my hearing. Therefore, I was always open to a lot of different styles and a lot of different energies musically. Also my mom is Japanese, and I actually went to kindergarten in Japan, and was around a lot of the music. So I had a lot of diversity at a very young age and I think that is what opened me up to other types of music.
MT: What are your takes on the piece?
NK: I love it. The whole aspect was for us to have a piece where we could have a lot of fun on stage, and allow us to interact in a genre, as Ranaan said about his love of jazz, I also have loved jazz from a very young age. I always listened to Stephane Grappelli. So it is fun to have a piece with orchestra in our Time for Three language. Chris has been so open to creating a dialogue about around what we wanted in the piece, as well as his vision of the piece, so it really is a true collaboration. He probably told you that on the outset of this project, we literally started the whole thing with a jam session where we shared ideas about what we wanted. It has been an opportunity for all of us involved to have something to say.
MT: Yes, he did tell me about how you guys developed the themes for the piece during the jam sessions. He also told me about how the name of the concerto came about. I really hope you guys saved the tapes from the sessions because they could be the basis for something really fun in the future.
NK: Yeah, there is a future project there.
MT: Moving to Zach, I know that you also came from a musical family, and I understand from Chris that you did some touring with your brothers as a trio?
ZDP: A brother quartet actually, the four of us played together throughout my entire childhood, and still do from time to time. All of us were classically trained, although we spent a lot of time, not playing jazz so much, but fiddling. My older brothers entered and won fiddle contests. I was the youngest but I had a wonderful time learning some fiddle tunes and being around a different genre outside of classical music. It was an eye opening, ear opening experience. I think that for all three of us, experiencing these different styles early on in our life, makes it kind of like being able to speak a second language, it opens your world to a different culture in a way in a musical sense. We were not just in classical music. We were with musicians of all genres. I think we all learned to enjoy ourselves in any setting. And, being able to work with a guy like Chris on a Jazz concerto, which celebrates all of the idioms that jazz has gone and traveled through has just been a wonderful experience. To have a guy like Chris who has grown up in the jazz world, although he has fantastic chops as a classical composer. I think we are all impressed by his capabilities, and he is also such a humble guy. He takes suggestions although he doesn’t need a lot of suggestions because he is such a capable dude. This project has been a cool thing to work on.
MT: It sounds like an amazing piece. I know the description that I was sent about the piece made me wonder if there was a genre that it doesn’t cover. There seems to be everything from baroque all the way to Mardi Gras Funk Parade.
NK: Oh Yah the Funk Parade.
MT: Nick, I want to go back to something that you said earlier about the piece being in the Time for Three language, tell me, what is the Time for Three language?
NK: Wow, I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. (laughing) Well what I meant by that is that over the years of our existence, I mean when we first started we were not trying to be a language or genre specific band. We would take elements of different genres, and fuse them into our own interpretation. For example, in the beginning Zach would play a fiddle tune or maybe a famous bluegrass theme that he knew, but Ranaan and I had no idea what the piece was, so Ranaan would do a funky bass line and I would use my instrument as a percussion instrument, and we would just put a different take on the piece. Because the two of us were not aware of that specific style, we would come up with our own way. So what I mean is that even in the realm of jazz and all the different languages that are portrayed in this piece, we are still interpreting it in our own way by doing things that may not be common to that tradition. So that what I meant by that, we have our own approach. Composers who have written for us have said that when they hear us, they love the sounds that they are getting, as simple as the way we treat the bow against the string, maybe in a little different way then how we were taught by our teachers at Curtis. They [the composers] will say, what are you doing, and we have to say, well we haven’t really thought about it, because it is so much in the moment and something we all come up with. I think we are always finding new approaches to our music and maybe even creating new techniques. Who knows?
MT: Exactly. Ranaan, as a composer, what is your take on the Time for Three language, or multi-genre compositions? For example, on your latest CD, the tune Wyoming, I believe that is one of your pieces, so how do you describe a piece like that.
RM: Yes, well first, I do have to say that it is challenging for even us to describe our music to people without them actually hearing it. But, with that in mind, the way I usually think of it is, in addition to what Nick is saying, it is just thinking of us as a classically trained garage band. We went to the Curtis Institute of music but we decided that in addition to all of the incredible music that has stood the test of time, we also want to produce our own stuff, and have a good time doing it. We want to do the same thing that all the great composers have done, which are getting into so many different emotions and telling so many wonderful stories through their music I think that no matter how basic or sophisticated music is, these two things are the goal. Our rehearsals are usually spent developing music, thinking in terms of how can we say this with this piece or at this moment in the piece. It’s fun. It’s like having three Paganinis in the room. We are creating it and playing it as well. I think it is a great combination.
MT: I think it makes for a great combination, especially when you hear your music live; it really draws you in as an audience member.
MT: Zach, how do you juggle your job as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony with Time for Three?
ZDP: I have a unique situation in Indianapolis. When I was hired, they actually created a new position of principal guest concertmaster. A few times each year they invite Alexander Kerr, who is now teaching at Indiana University, but used to be the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, so this gives me just that extra little bit of time and flexibility to do something that allows me to figure out new approaches in the classical music repertoire, because we care about it and we want it to live on for another 150 years. We want it to keep evolving. It is exciting to be able to be part of new art and old art. I am fortunate to be able to put the two together. It is a juggling act and it is not an easy schedule, but it is worth it.
MT: Thanks to all for taking the time to really talk about your own music, because I am finding that almost everyday I receive releases from publicists for different presenters, artists and venues that use a lot of phrases such as this group is genre bending or blurring, destroying boundaries, smashing or breaking down walls. (laughing) No really, I have gotten about five of these in the past week alone, and I must say it is making me frightened to go to a concert.
TIME FOR THREE: Bring bulletproof vests, be prepared to dive under your chair and come packed!!!!
MT: But really, can’t we just have a concert of really nice music?
NK: That could be a very interesting article. Do you think that sort of language is deceiving?
MT: I’m not sure it is actually deceiving as much as it is that I simply don’t know what it means.
ZDP: I agree with you, these are all overused statements that really don’t say what the hell you are talking about.
RM: You know, I have a new camp that I am starting, it is a cutting edge camp and it is really hard for me to make the connection with the students of what it is about. It is such a new concept. So I too have been putting a lot of thought into how we can just make this simple so that it can be easily understood. But of course none of this is your “normal” thing, People are not used to it, so that’s why the record industry has categories, it makes things easier to sell. Selling can mean dollars or it can mean understating. So if you are selling an idea, it is important to be clear about what it is, so that it doesn’t make people want to put on the bulletproof vest. I think the really cool thing about Time for Three, is that we never really came to it from a marketing angle. You know, at least from my understanding is that the term crossover was invented by the record industry because they wanted to have artists cross over into other genres to make it easier to sell. So for us, whenever somebody comes up and says wow, what a cool concept you have come up with, I always respond with the same answer and although they don’t usually believe me, but it really is true that we just accidentally stumbled upon this only because Nick, Zach and I were open to all the ideas from different types of music. And, we just thought it was fun, we wanted to explore more languages, more genres that connect with each other at a higher level. That’s the reason we did it. I always wish that what I have just said could be put into a PR thing, just to let people know that it was just an organic thing. We are pretty much doing it because we love it, and it is pretty much that simple.
ZDP: We are kind of like the whole foods of classical music.
MT: Exactly, and I think all of it really came through at your show in Oberlin. Especially the in the introduction to the Bach Double, when you talked about goofing around with pieces away from your teachers, who always let you know that they had studied Bach with Bach himself. I thought that was a very humorous moment.
RM: That’s cool, you were there?
MT: Yes I was, and I think after you did perform the Bach Double you should have held up a sign that said, Now, all you publicists, define that!!
TFT: (A lot of laughing).
ZDP: I want to follow up on something that Ranaan was saying recently, that I found very intriguing. I always imagine what it would be like if Mozart were alive today. What would his music sound like? What would Beethoven sound like? Because certainly during their time, these guys were cutting edge all ready. Look at Beethoven, that guy just wanted to mess with as many things as he could. He wanted to push the system. So you just have to wonder what a Beethoven event would be like. Back then the technology was candles and sheet music. Now there is so much technology out there, although very few people seem to be using it because it would be in some way not natural or organic. So what would Beethoven be doing with this technology? Would he use lights o n stage the way that rock bands do? I am so curious about this, because we have so many more tools at our fingertips that symphony orchestras are leery of using because they don’t want to take the art form in a way that somehow isn’t natural. But I think that people like to experience music in a way that is of their time.
RM: It really is amazing how creative those guys were while using so much less then we have today. Can you image Beethoven if he had had just a few more technical resources? Would he have dismissed them? I think some people would argue that he would have, maybe he would not have wanted to focus on these extras. But for others, they are saying, he was already so creative, why wouldn’t he have wanted to take advantage of things? I don’t know, but I find it interesting to think about.
MT: Yes it is interesting to contemplate. I have always been sure that Bach would be embracing all of the new technologies. You know I never thought about the fact that, as you said, they did so much with so little. Well, guys, thank you very much for taking the time. I enjoyed your show, and I have enjoyed you CD very much. I am such a big fan of Leonard Cohen, and I loved the track of Hallelujah on the CD, but when you did that as your encore in Oberlin, I though it was a very special moment. You know, for me, what was so incredible about that show was the fact that you have three guys playing two violins and a bass and that is all that is on that huge stage in a hall that seats over a thousand, and yet, as an audience member, you feel so close to everything, You really draw the audience in.
NK: I think we all really appreciate the fact that you are calling us after hearing us live, and hearing the record, and then talking about the Brubeck piece, because a lot of times it is the other way around, so thanks so much we really do appreciate being able to do it in this order.
MT: No thanks so much to all three of you.