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Trio aims to make chamber music sexy and glamorous

For many, the mere mention of chamber music conjures up images of an age-old stereotype: a stiff, distinguished group of tuxedoed men performing classical pieces in a cavernous symphony hall. Certainly, no one’s first thought is a trio of young, attractive women as well-known for their subtle sensuality as their technical precision.

Or is it? Judging from their ever-increasing album sales and multiple Grammy award nominations, the members of the Eroica Trio - violinist Adela Pena, Cellist Sarah Sant’Ambrogio and pianist Erika Nickrenz - may be about to knock that old misconception on its ear. The group has been credited with changing the face of classical music by incorporating style, youthful energy and contagious enthusiasm into every one of its acclaimed performances. Every show, critics have said, promises to be an unforgettable experience.

San Diegans who aren’t convinced will have a chance to find out for themselves Saturday, April 23, when the trio takes the stage at UCSD’s Mandeville Auditorium as part of the 2005 ArtPower! performance series.

“Simply put, they’re just great, phenomenal,” said Martin Wolleson, artistic director of ArtPower!, which showcases dancers, musicians, spoken word artists and other performers from around the world this year. “And they have already built quite a fan base in San Diego.”

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That fan base extends far beyond the borders of San Diego County. The Eroica Trio - a name that means “heroic three” in Italian - has toured the United States, Europe and Asia for years, mesmerizing audiences with their innovative compositions of 300-year-old scores by Beethoven and other composers.

“Don’t go just to watch,” said Wolleson. “Go to listen, to experience, to discover.”

Millions have discovered the trio’s work so far, helping them break the Billboard Top 20 in October 2003. Before then, no chamber music group in recording history had achieved such a feat. Pena, Sant’Ambrogio and Nickrenz have also played sold-out concerts in cultural centers around the globe, such as Italy, Aspen,

Hollywood, New York City and Prague.

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“The joy and beauty of their playing is truly amazing,” Wolleson said. “Everyone should see them perform.”

During their upcoming concert in La Jolla, Pena, Sant’Ambrogio and Nickrenz will present Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Trio in Flat, Opus 1, No. 1,” Astor Piazolla’s “Three Tangos: Otono Porteno, Oblivion and Primavera Portena” and Maurice Ravel’s “Trio in A Minor.”

The musicians are not limited solely to the classics. The trio is famous for coloring its concerts with the works of new composers and hints of jazz, spiritual and theatrical music. The group’s six recordings on Angel/EMI Classics Records have been equally diverse, featuring everything from a special commissioned arrangement of Gershwin’s “Preludes” to a unique rendition of Paul Schoenfeld’s “Cafe Music.”

“When I was planning my chamber music series, I looked to include artists who I admire and who I would like to see perform,” said Wolleson. “So the Eroica Trio was a natural selection for me.”

Chamber music was a natural selection for all three members of the Eroica Trio. Friends since childhood, Pena, Sant’Ambrogio and Nickrenz are graduates