by Mike Telin
Musical sparks will fly on Wednesday, July 13 at 7:30 pm when Time for Three, this year’s Kent/Blossom Kulas Guest Artists, will present a free concert at Cartwright Hall on the campus of Kent State University. (Tickets are required and can be reserved by calling 330.672.2787)
In addition to Wednesday’s performance, the band members — violinists Nikki Chooi and Nicholas (Nick) Kendall and bassist Ranaan Meyer — will coach student chamber music ensembles, conduct master classes and workshops, and participate in a Q&A session. “Wherever we go, organizations ask us to talk about the entrepreneurial side of the group,” Ranaan Meyer said during a recent telephone conversation. “Our music is unique, and how we stumbled upon what we’re doing is kind of like the American dream. So organizations want us to dive into what has enabled us to have a career.”
The story of Time for Three (Tf3) began in 2000 when its founding members were students at the Curtis Institute, and violinists Zachary De Pue and Nick Kendall discovered that they shared a love for bluegrass, country, and western fiddling. Soon Ranaan Meyer turned them on to his passion for jazz and improvised music. “In the beginning we were just blowing off steam, and using the group as a tool to complement the other styles of music that we were involved in,” Meyer recalled.
Although Tf3 soon began playing gigs together, they gained critical attention in 2003, when a lightning-induced power failure occurred during a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The story on the group’s website reads:
While technicians worked to restore the lights, Meyer and De Pue, who were both performing as members of the orchestra, obliged with an impromptu jam session that included such folk-inflected works as Jerusalem’s Ridge, Ragtime Annie, and The Orange Blossom Special. It was very different music from the scheduled symphony, but the crowd went wild.
Earlier this year De Pue left the group to focus on his work as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and was replaced by Canadian violinist and fellow Curtis graduate Nikki Chooi. Last week Chooi was named concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and was replaced with another cross-over virtuoso violinist, Charles Yang. (Chooi will still be on hand for the Kent/Blossom residency and concert.)
During our conversation Ranaan Meyers talked about the group’s beginnings, and how they first started playing Tf3’s signature musical genre of mash-ups.
The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:
Mike Telin: Things must be a little hectic for you guys right now with a change of personnel and recording a new album.
Ranaan Meyer: It’s been wonderfully insane. We immediately dove into recording the new album with Charles and our team at Universal Music Classics. It celebrates triumph and tragedy, and features mashups of pop tunes with classical works. We’ve done mash-ups before, but what is so fascinating about these is that the storyline is so focused on triumph and tragedy. Of course there’s a plethora of pop and classical repertoire that is all about that. Finding the correlations that work together on a poetical and musical level is really fascinating.
MT: When will the album be released?
RM: The release dates have not been set, but it’s going to be a process. First we’ll record an EP with only a few numbers on it. We have a huge four country European tour in the fall, where we’ll be playing in coliseums for what’s called Night at the Proms. It’s a big deal. We’ll play for six to sixteen thousand people a night, and we wanted to have something out there, so that’s why we’re releasing the EP early.
MT: Will it include any guest artists like the last album did?
RM: Right now the six tracks that will be on the EP are just the trio, but we are in the early stages of talking about who the guest artists might be. It’s a long list right now.
MT: Tf3’s mash-ups are so much fun, and audiences eat them up. I’m wondering how the trio first started doing them?
RM: The first part of the answer is that we have always been open to different musical genres — that’s the spirit of Tf3. Early on, Steve Hackman, a really good friend of ours who we’ve collaborated with many times, suggested that we do an arrangement of a Beatles song, and we chose Blackbird. What’s interesting is that we wanted to pick a pop song so we could rock out. Ironically, the arrangement became one of the most chamber music-like pieces we had in our repertoire at that time. I think that was because classical music was our common language, and realizing that was an eye-opener for us. And as we worked more with Steve we began to focus on that.
Even though Zach DePue is not with the group anymore, I have to give him credit for coming up with great ideas for integrating a classical work into a new piece. For example, I composed Of Time and Three Rivers and about two thirds of the way through there’s this amazing moment where it goes into Dvořák’s “American” string quartet — Dvořák lifted a native American folk melody and put it into his quartet.
MT: When you started the group, did you have any idea it would take off in the way that it has?
RM: No, we really weren’t thinking like that. We were all focused on our own careers. Zach wanted to be an orchestral violinist, I wanted to be an orchestral bass player, and Nick wanted to be a soloist and chamber musician. We were all pursuing those things when Tf3 began to intersect with those goals.
In the beginning, we just needed a musical release. When the administration and faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music caught wind of what we were doing, they hired us out for a corporate event for Dow Chemical, which turned into a huge success. The people went nuts for our performing and the unique spirit and energy that went into it. So after that one show we thought we had to at least try this one more time. We did and had a similar experience with the audience. That’s when we knew that we were on to something.
I have to say that the stars aligned at opportune times. Good fortune allowed us to seize the moment — like during the power outage. We started the group in 2001 and the power outage was in 2003, when we began to get recognition. I think it’s important for people — especially young people — to hear that these things don’t happen overnight. It’s not like you start a band one day and then the next day you have a career. It’s a process. You devote yourself to a journey and then over time you’ll hopefully be able to have a career.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 11, 2016.
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