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Sara Sant'Ambrogio - cellist, Eroica Trio
May 2001 - On the phone with Philip Anderson

The Eroica Trio is one of those musical anomalies that transcends trends. This piano trio has moved beyond the classical underground that such groups get lumped in with and have become the world's most best selling piano trio. In addition to being exceptional musicians (all attended Julliard and have won some of the most prestigious awards), this trio of female impresarios are exceptionally attractive. This has made a few critics wonder aloud if beauty and classical music are a proper mix. In the days of old, classical was enjoyed by a more stodgy crowd who would easily shut out anyone "not deserving" of their class. These days, with so many musical styles abounding, classical - although not as popular as rock music and such - is becoming more accepted and listened to by "regular" folks.

The magic of classical is undeniable as it is even touted as having "healing" and "learning" properties that affect the brain in positive reinforcements. Classical, more so than most other styles of music, is very demanding and truly must be performed properly to be enjoyed. Unlike rock (and punk), there is no "good enough" middle ground that is still acceptable. In the case of the Eroica Trio, classical is something that flows through their blood.

I recently had the chance to speak with Sara Sant'Ambrogio, cellist for Eroica Trio. In addition to her classical roots, I was happy to find that she has a bit of rocker heart as well - having even performed on such rock albums as for VAST (featuring Jon Crosby). Sara, as she explained in the interview, described music as being indescernable. "It's all music, no matter what form." she said. We found Sara to be a very well-rounded musician with many influences who simply enjoys the art of creativity and making music. Articulate and witty, Sara gave us quite the chat as you can read for yourself...

K2K: To explain the name... Eroica Trio means "Heroic" Trio, in Italian. How did you come up with that name?
SS: We just thought that it sums up our playing style which is very passionate and sort of big and bravura and heroic. But the "a" ending to it gives a slightly feminine feel to it, and since we were three women and that was the first time that that had ever happened, we wanted, somehow, the word to reflect the power but also the feminine side.

K2K: So would you also be considered the heroines of the piano trio?
SS: Well, we think of ourselves sometimes as that. It was certainly an uphill battle in the beginning because there had never been an all-female group at the top of the ladder, the ladder of chamber music. We do feel that we've broken a lot of ground. Now it's going to be an easier path for future generations of women.

K2K: Hopefully so.
SS: I think it actually will be. We're really trying to get the piano trio up there in the front of chamber music because it's always sort of been thought of as the "poor stepchild" of the string quartet. I think that the 21st century will really see a change in that. The piano trio - the whole genre - is so much more romantic. The repertoire is much more heavily based in a romantic era. It's three, sort of, soloists coming together but it's much more outward and emotional. A string quartet - you really think of it as four men looking inwards and trying to blend as one voice. We are really trying to... we try to play up the differences in the voices, but also be able to meld as one voice when we need to. With the addition of a piano, you get a real symphonic range - a much wider dynamic range as well.

K2K: When talking about string quartets and trios, I think some people get mistaken by the idea of a piano trio as perhaps being more than one piano - where a string quartet are four strings.
SS: I've had people ask me that as well.

K2K: What else would you call it, if not a "piano" trio?
SS: You could call it a trio, but this lets you know that it's piano. There is also a string trio. That's the way it is, it's a piano trio. A quartet is not necessarily a string quartet. A piano quartet could be piano, violin, cello, and viola. So a string quartet is always defined by a string quartet whereas a piano trio is always defined by a piano plus two other instruments.

K2K: Do you ever play with other instruments outside of your format?
SS: Yeah, a couple of times per year we'll add a viola or... the violist in the Tokyo String Quartet joined us once, the violist in the Emerson Quartet joined us, and we've had a clarinet join us, and we'd get rid of the violin and have a horn join us... I get to take a break for a piece. This year we did some joined concerts with St. Lawrence String Quartet and had a piece written for the two groups put together - a tango - and that was fun. It was seven players.

K2K: Do you ever break out of the classical mode?
SS: I do. I've done some soundtracks and recorded a couple of rock albums.

K2K: What about as a trio? Have you done any other styles to spice things up?
SS: As a trio, not yet. We've done things where we've worked with dance companies and multimedia, but we were still playing classical music. I've been working on the girls to join me on some of my forays, and they're getting more interested in it, but it's not the natural idiom for them.

K2K: They're not so much "rock" people?
SS: Yeah, but for me, I grew up listening to as much rock 'n' roll as I did classical, and played in different bands, and sang. For me it's more natural to jump back and forth. And for me, I don't really see the division. It's all music to me.

K2K: What other instruments do you play other than cello?
SS: Well, cello is the one instrument that I focus on. I also play piano but I don't really play it very much anymore.

K2K: When you played in other bands, what did you play?
SS: Cello.

K2K: What styles of music?
SS: Pure rock. Classic rock. The band Vast, I'm on their album.

K2K: Yeah, we just had an interview with Jon Crosby [of Vast] recently. How was it working with him?
SS: It was great! He is incredibly talented and really interesting. It was a fun mix for the two of us because he doesn't read or write music. It was fun for us because we would sing it and then I would sing it back to him, thinking "What if I did it like this? It might be a bit better. What if I did it like that?" He would say, "Yeah, that sounds good." So there was no music paper there, so basically I was just writing it in words so that I could remember what the patterns were that he wanted me to do and what we had decided on. It was fun. I originally came in to do one track and he enjoyed it so much that we ended up doing, I think, three.

K2K: Which album was that?
SS: The first one that came out, like, a couple of years ago.

K2K: Is he as shy as he appears?
SS: He is, but he is so sweet, so sweet. I really liked him. I felt kind of protective of him too because he seemed so, sort of, fragile. In classical music you can't be fragile. It's just so difficult. It's such a hard career that you grow up tough and you can handle things.

K2K: How very "heavy metal" of you to say...
SS: Yeah, I know. Exactly. It's funny, but it's true. There's not very much room for anyone, so anyone with a weakness is going to get knocked off the track. You have to be really very level-headed. You can go up in the clouds when you're on stage, but the rest of the time you need to be really strong physically, emotionally, and psychologically. You have to have your feet planted on the ground.

K2K: How did you hook up with Jon, Vast?
SS: My lawyer was his lawyer. My lawyer from my record deal was his lawyer from his record deal. The producer, I knew the producer and he had heard me play a couple of times with the trio. When the producer was talking to the lawyer... they [Vast] had recorded this song and he wasn't happy with it. He didn't like the cello at all. So then the producer said, "It's too bad we couldn't get Sara Sant'Ambrogio." and the lawyer said, "Well, I just did a deal with Sara Sant'Ambrogio and Eroica Trio at EMI. I could give her a call and see." He called me and I said, "Yeah! Are you kidding? I love that stuff." So it was fun.

K2K: What other albums have you appeared on, if any?
SS: That's the last one that has appeared in stores. I did soundtracks. One for Disney and one for Miramax. (whispering) Both really, really bad.

K2K: Can you name them?
SS: Actually, it's really embarrassing because they're really bad.

K2K: Great! I can't wait.
SS: One's called "Animal Behavior." That was with Armand Asante, Holly Hunter, and Karen Allen. It was so unbelievably bad, it's incredible. (laughs) I think it went directly to video. That one was for Miramax. The other one was "Winning Colors" and that was for Disney.

K2K: And you actually acted in the latter one...
SS: Yeah, it's true. (hearty laughter) I had finished doing the soundtrack for "Animal Behavior" and I broke my elbow and couldn't play. I was going in for some editing sessions and was talking to the producers, asking, "So what are you guys doing now?" They said, "We actually picked up this movie that was half shot and ran out of money. We've gotten some more money to put into it, so we're going to finish the movie and some different scenes. We're auditioning actresses for this role..." I said, "Oh really. When are you auditioning?" They said, "Oh tomorrow and the next day. It's a really small role. It's a newscaster, but it's a pivotal scene to finish the film out." I asked to audition. They said, "Well, it can be very competitive..." I said, "Well, I know competition."

K2K: "I know competition, coming from classical."
SS: Right. Exactly. It was no skin off of my nose if I make a total fool out of myself. It would be fun to try something new. I had actually acted when I was young. I was in a theater workshop right then that I was taking in case I couldn't play again. I went an auditioned and got the role and shot it and it was fun. I enjoyed it. The next thing I auditioned for was a soap. I got all the way through the screen test, which is so funny because I was totally miscast. They wanted some real "va-va-va-voom" voluptuous Latin sexy gal. That's totally not me, except for my name. I mean, Sant'Ambrogio sounds like it's going to be that, but I don't look like that. When I got to the screen test, they said, "You're just a few cup-sizes too small." (laughs) Yeah, I'm a little too thin. And then my elbow seemed to be healing up so I went back to playing.

K2K: Hey, you could have been doomed to being a soap star.
SS: Could you imagine? Overall, I think I'm better off. But I do enjoy acting and it's something that I would like to do once in a while because it opens me out a little bit.

K2K: Would you go back to theater or to TV or film?
SS: I would do anything that was an interesting part, that I felt I was exploring parts of me that I don't get to explore. That's the whole point for me - all the different things that I do, I do them to explore parts of myself that I don't get to surface. If not the cello, then I'll write. If the writing doesn't do it, then I'll act.

K2K: You're one of those creative, never-ending pools of talent then...
SS: (laughs) Not from the talent part, but definitely creative.

K2K: You're not a Gemini also, are you?
SS: I am a Gemini.

K2K: Uh-huh! That's what I thought.
SS: (mischievous laughter)

K2K: Like with myself, if I don't have a project going on, I am bored. Even if I have a project, I have to have another one going along with it.
SS: Right. Exactly. That is totally me.

K2K: When were you born?
SS: June 17th.

K2K: So to get back to the Trio for a few minutes... how long has your band... I mean ensemble been together?
SS: Officially, we've been the Eroica Trio since 1986, so about 15 years. But we've been playing together since about 9 years old, but not officially.

K2K: How did you all meet?
SS: We met because Erica [Nickrenz - pianist] and Adela [Peña - violinist] lived about five blocks away from each other, in Greenwich Village. They started playing sonatas together at 9 years old, at this neighborhood music school. Then Erica studied piano with my grandmother for three years. So that's when we started playing together, and we met as well. I got kicked out of my family's music camp and had to find another music camp to go to. So I went to Meadowmount, which is where Adela was going. That's where we met and started playing together.

K2K: Might I ask why you got kicked out?
SS: Oh, I went down the list of rules and broke most of them.

K2K: Alrighty then. You are a little rock 'n' roll rebel.
SS: Exactly. (laughs)

K2K: You don't exactly fit the normal form of classical, do you?
SS: This is true. (laughs) Somehow I'm very happy in the trio format. It gives me enough of my autonomy and enough of the camaraderie to keep me happy.

K2K: Do you enjoy being a "breakout" performer in that you're able to be seen by yourself as opposed to just the trio? Would you be happy if stuck in a symphony?
SS: Oh, I definitely could not do a symphony. It would not work for my personality. I couldn't do that. There are some great pieces that I love playing with an orchestra but I couldn't do that day in and day out. As a soloist I could do it, but not as a symphony orchestra. It doesn't fit my personality. Although I really respect and it's a great life, let me tell you. My dad and my sister are principal players in orchestras. My dad is principal in St. Louis and my sister is principal in San Antonio.

K2K: Are you the official or unofficial leader of the Eroica Trio?
SS: People seem to always ask that. People seem to get that impression. It really is a democracy. It happens to be that I have a little bit more experience in certain areas. I have a little bit wider knowledge of stuff. Sometimes my view will carry a little more weight, but it's totally a democracy and everybody's an equal. Since I have always been out in different worlds beyond classical, I have a little more knowledge, often, about things. Each person has their strengths.

K2K: If I had to imagine what all three of you of are like, without having met any one of you... I would think that Erica seems to be the shy, sweet one, Adela is a bit spicier and you are more the businessperson. Would that be close?
SS: I'm definitely the one who does the most business. I wouldn't call Erica shy. She is more even-keeled. Adela and I are more Latin. Adela is half Sicilian and half Colombian.

K2K: That'll do it.
SS: Yeah, that'll do it.

K2K: How many albums do you have out?
SS: We have four now and we're making a fifth in August.
 
K2K: Why only four after so many years?
SS: Because we didn't want to make any albums until we had a long-term record deal. We didn't want to feel that we had to make one album that was all things to all people. We wanted to have some sense of freedom to go into more eclectic repertoire and to really put a full picture of a trio, and as ourselves as artists, out. So we waited until we could get a five-CD contract with a major label that had worldwide distribution. That worked for us. We signed with EMI and are the number one selling trio in the world. We've also been able to really traverse an enormous range of repertoire. It's really been fun for us. I think it has put out a really bold picture of what the trio really is. The first album was American and French music. The second album was totally standard Slavic pieces. The third album was baroque, with a trio on it. Up until that point, no piano trio had ever recorded the baroque trio sonatas. They're fabulous jewels of pieces, but nobody played them. So we put that out. The fourth album is all Latin music. A Spanish piece, a Brazilian piece, and four tangos by Piazzola. That's out of the ordinary repertoire as well. Our fifth album will be very standard, all Brahms. I'm looking forward to it because we've played the heck out of those trios and we just love them.

K2K: Outside of doing some of the masters, you like to do lesser-known composers. Whose idea was that?
SS: I think all of ours. As a cellist, our repertoire as a solo instrument is so limited that I've always been out there working with composers having pieces written for me. It never occurred to me that since I was playing in a trio that I would change that. That's really interesting to me. In one way, it's my least favorite thing to do in the entire world, but in another way, it's my most favorite thing to do in the entire world. Oh! It takes so much energy to raise the money. We have two new triple concertos being written for us. One we're premiering in St. Louis in November and the other we'll be premiering in Milwaukee in about a year.

K2K: Who are the composers?
SS: The first one is Kevin Kaska and the second one will be by Paul Schoenfield. But to raise the kind of money that you need to raise to get a triple concerto written for you is unbelievably difficult. And then to get all the orchestras to line up so that you can get the money, and to get them not to fight amongst each other, and to get the premiere. Then you're locked into these dates that are two years down the line. Then the composer, I swear to God, you do all this work to get him the recognition and the opportunity to write some great masterpiece, and then you have to sit there and call him on the phone every day to nag him. "Can I just get one page of music from you? Just one. Come on, I'll take you out to dinner." But then, when you get it, if it's great, there's nothing better. You think, "My God." We play the Beethoven Triple all the time now. Just to think that I would be responsible to have a piece like the Beethoven Triple exist... that I would have had some hand in helping it. If one of these concertos is being written for us... and for being one of the great masterpieces that's staying in the repertoire, to think that I would have had some hand in helping it come to life, is great. And what a gift you give to future generations.

K2K: Keeping in mind that songwriting sometimes works differently between classical and the rock world. How does the song obtaining work?
SS: Right. The composers get an up front fee and get royalties. We get the performance rights for three years and then, after that, it goes public. Which is good, because I think that three years is plenty of time for us to put our stamp on it. If it's a great piece, I want everybody to be able to play it. I have no problem with Napster.

K2K: Oh, Napster. I hadn't even thought to ask your views on that.
SS: Music is for everybody.

K2K: I personally enjoyed getting rarities and bootlegged live recordings that you would never see on any CD.
SS: But I also think, for me, like for classical music, if somebody can download one of the tracks for free and like it, they're going to go out and buy the CD.

K2K: That's what I've done.
SS: That's what I do. I do it just to sample it. Then, if I like it, I go out and buy it.

K2K: Hold on, I'm taking notes... "Sara enjoys nipping songs off of Napster..."
SS: (hearty laughter) Oh my God, I crashed my computer last night.

K2K: Are you a Mac or PC?
SS: PC.

K2K: That's why it crashed.

(Sara then goes on to describe the mess that her abode is in as the painters are expected to show)

SS: The painters are in every room of my apartment except for this one tiny little room that I'm huddled in with my cello, my dog, and my phone. Everything else is covered with tarp.

K2K: Where do you all live?
SS: I live in Manhattan, Adela lives in Brooklyn, and Erica lives in New Jersey.

K2K: Someone lives in Manhattan? We on the Left Coast always thought it was just a place to go to do your business during the day at some office.
SS: Really? I love New York. I'm near the park. I have a big dog. I'm in the park every day for two hours. I have friends who live in both... in the rock world. I go see them for lunch, well breakfast for me, lunch for them. Then I go downtown. I love it. I'm totally crazy about it. When I'm in New York and I'm not working, I'm usually in a jazz club or at a concert or at the ballet or theater every night. I love it. You can't imagine. Being from St. Louis, Missouri. I moved here to go to Julliard and I called my parents and said, "I'm not leaving. I'm never leaving" Everything goes. It's such a melting pot. It's got every ethnic group, every religion, every type of profession. And everyone is kind of living on top of each other, so a certain type of tolerance is kind of bred here. You know, when the L.A. riots happened, I got some phone calls from friends saying, "You'd better be careful in New York." I said, "They're not going to riot. We live on top of each other. There's a tolerance." And, it's a very educated city. There are so many universities that people are too smart to riot.

K2K: So what do you think of California, riots aside?
SS: I love California. I have a ton of friends living in California. I would love to be bi-coastal. That's my dream... when I grow up. That would be fun.

K2K: So back to the Trio again... was it easy or hard for you to break into the business - being female and classical and all...
SS: I think that we had to reach a certain level of success in our profession. Once we got to that level, it then became easier. But let's face it... a picture of three pretty girls on a record cover is going to sell a lot better to people who don't know anything about classical music, than three middle-aged men.

K2K: That brings up the fact of some reviews and comments that I had read... most recently on Amazon.com. Some had suggested that your name is subliminal to mean "Erotica" Trio.
SS: Oh right. Great. It never even occurred to us until everybody else said it.

K2K: "And look at how they dress with their mini-skirts and leather pants..."
SS: What are talking about? We're wearing gowns in most pictures.

K2K: I have seen some pictures of you all in some mini-skirts actually.
SS: Who?

K2K: Well, they're mini-dresses.
SS: Well, above the knee is not mini...

K2K: OK, not quite showing the color of the underwear, but....
SS: Thank God. It's above the knee but not mini. People give us stuff about it, and I'm like, "Your daughters are wearing that to the high school prom. Are they trying to be totally sexual?" That's what I wear when I go out to party with my friends. Every dress I wear, I own.

K2K: Some people do seem to misinterpret the group name though...
SS: Well, frankly, it never occurred to us until other people started saying it - Because "Eroica" is a famous symphony by Beethoven. I hardly think that Beethoven was thinking "Let's do a double-entendre and have them think it means erotica." It was a common name and frankly it was great when we first started out because people would say, "Oh Sara, I hear you've got a new trio. What's the name?" and I would tell them "Eroica." "Oh yeah, I've heard of you.", but they hadn't. They had heard the Eroica Symphony, so it gave us a sort of name recognition. It really wasn't until we were becoming successful that people started making the reference to erotica.

K2K: One funny review said, "It's not like they're known for playing any Beethoven. I don't know why they chose that name." That was strange, knowing your repertoire.
SS: (chuckles) Well... we play Beethoven every year. We haven't recorded Beethoven, but there is also a ton of repertoire that we haven't recorded yet. We are actually known for playing Beethoven. The thing that did hit me about it is that people - in reviews and newspapers - would talk about what we look like. Even reviewing our CDs, they would talk about what we look like. Frankly, it's audio. It's a CD. You're not looking at pictures floating by on a screen, so it's really beside the point. Actually, you know what, it's really not such a thing to make a big deal about what we look like. I never thought that I was such a big deal to look at until everybody started making a big deal about it. So, it's flattering.

K2K: ... if you didn't look like fashion models, you wouldn't have such problems.
SS: Hardly. I think that if we were making a living as fashion models, we wouldn't be making a good living.

K2K: Which brings me to this... Whose idea was it for the look that you do have?
SS: It really is what we look like. The nice thing about being a trio is that we have the support of the other two. We never wear anything that we're not comfortable with. We chose what we're wearing.

K2K: I think it's just that the classical crowd isn't used to seeing performers in jeans and leather.
SS: Right. Whenever you break the stereotypes of any kind of genre, you're going to get guff. Whenever you have groundbreakers, those are always who rile up people the most. As far as I'm concerned, it comes with the territory of being in a male-dominated field and being a female. And also then being in a field where everybody is, like, 40 years older than us. Frankly, David Sawyer, the cellist of the Gorneri Quartet - one of the greatest quartets in the world right now - just retired. He played his last concert about two weeks ago at Carnegie Hall - it was just fantastic - and they've been together for 37 years, the quartet. When they formed, David Sawyer was 41. We're nowhere near 41 yet and we've been together for 15 years. So we're just so much younger than everybody, as well as being so much more female than all the other men. So it's going to be shocking. You know what? That's good. People should not get too comfortable just expecting the same old same old.

K2K: It light of that, another review on Amazon.com had stated that your group performs "too safe." That was funny.
SS: Too safe? It's so funny. You know what? You can't win. You are what you are. We are who we are totally true to how we came about being - what we look like, how we play, what we play, what we choose to play. There's always a group of people who say that we're pushing the envelope way too much, and then there's a group of people who say that we play it too safe. The fact that we already look so far out of the mold, they expect us to be like... in the core repertoire, to do only things like Kronos. But we're not Kronos. Lots of people make a mistake because of what we look like - people who are like pop reviewers and stuff, or magazine writers will say something like, "So where would you be if it wasn't for Kronos?" I would say, "Exactly where we are."

K2K: What do you have to do with Kronos?
SS: We have nothing to do with Kronos. The Kronos don't do the main theme core repertoire. If you have to print in the realm of labels - which I always hate anyway - we sort of ride the bridge in between the Bozar Trio and the Kronos. Our main repertoire is the core repertoire of classical music. But we also go outward in every direction. We don't want to be classified. We don't want to be boxed into any one repertoire, or a certain way that we have to look. When we started out, we looked around - everybody was male and 40 years older than us. We thought, "Wow! We'll never fit in, so let's just be ourselves." That way, whether or not we get success, we'll still feel good about what we did because we've done what we wanted.

K2K: Back to your earlier comment about the piano trio being the "poor stepchild," would you consider the piano trio to be the "alternative rock" in classical?
SS: (laughs) You know, in some ways it is.

K2K: It's one of those things that everyone accepts, but it's going to take a while before it busts out.
SS: Right. Exactly. In fact, in some ways I think it's the most interesting thing going right now.

K2K: I brought someone along to see your show who commented that out of all the performances that she has seen before - symphonies and all - yours was the most exciting that she had seen.
SS: Oh, that's nice. We're very passionate about what we choose.

K2K: Myself not having seen as many classical performances over the years, I won't compare it but very much enjoyed it for what it was.
SS: Well that's the thing. I feel that if people come from any walks of life with their open minds, I really doubt that anyone will come away bored. They may decide that it's not their cup of tea, but I doubt that they would forget it.

K2K: Who is your personally favorite composer?
SS: Bach.

K2K: Bach? Most people seem to always pick Mozart.
SS: No, not Mozart. Not for a cellist. For me, I always come back to Bach.

K2K: Who is your favorite performer - limited to classical.
SS: Well, it depends... some people are incredibly charismatic performers and they are just riveting when you're there in the hall with them but maybe not as great recording artists. For right now, I would say that Efgeni Kisen is very charismatic. Martha Argerich, the pianist, is incredibly inconsistent, but just riveting. But also , that comes with the territory. She is not inconsistent as a performer, but she just doesn't show up all the time. She has very bad health problems and is very fragile, but she is really amazing.

K2K: What about in other genres?
SS: There are so many hot performers out there right now. I really like the old Jodeci. It's like hip-hop / R&B. It's very sexy. Very cool. It gets me going. I love Beck. As far as live performers, I think that Prince is the most charismatic performer I have ever seen. It's unbelievable, in that tiny little body, that he can dominate a huge stage and have you just riveted as he makes love to the microphone stand. He is just so sexy and so charismatic, and also extraordinarily talented. Then there is Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys - what a horrendous performer he is. He almost comes off as autistic or something, but a great artist. A talented artist, but an abysmal performer. I also really like Destiny's Child quite a bit and TLC. I'm always interested by, like Elvis Costello and all his different collaborations. It always interests me how he borrows from so many different genres and making a song. It takes a lot of personality to co-op these different styles and then make it your own. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach - I loved it! What a great combination of Elvis' voice and Bacharach's melodies. Fabulous.

K2K: So are you a closet Metallica fan by chance?
SS: I'm not a Metallica fan, though I would have to say that I love all the lead guitarists of all the metal bands. They're the best guitarists around. Those guys can play.

K2K: Oh no! You're not into the "speed freaks," are you?
SS: They just can play incredibly well. I really like Bon Jovi actually. Hard to believe but true.

K2K: Are you into the "speed freak" guitarists like Yngwie and all?
SS: It's not like I'm going to be sitting around listening to. I can listen to it here and there. It's like pure, hardcore rap - I can listen to it and appreciate it, but I'm not going to sit around and play it in my house. But at the same time, I can listen to Bartok string quartets and think the guy is a genius, but I'm also not going to listen to that in my house either. It's not the kind of thing that I want to live with.

K2K: Do you listen more to rock or to classical?
SS: More to rock. Yeah.

K2K: Does your record company know that? (laughs)
SS: Yeah, probably - because they always laugh at me because I'm always calling them to get tickets to things like Radiohead and stuff that's not classical. They say, "You're the only classical artist who knows who these people are, let alone asks for tickets." (laughs) I love Radiohead by the way.

K2K: Maxim magazine recently had an article about what to expect at certain concerts. They said that at Radiohead, expect "a lot of critics and a couple of fans who actually paid to get in" because they are the critic darlings.
SS: They ARE the critic darlings. They haven't caught on they way that I'd hoped they would.

K2K: Are you a fan of Pink Floyd and Genesis too?
SS: I love Pink Floyd! Oh my God. Genesis is alright, but Pink Floyd I was hugely into. When I was a kid, it was Led Zeppelin.

K2K: Yeah, yeah. Like everybody. I chose to hate them because everyone else liked them.
SS: I loved them. "Stairway To Heaven" - what a great make-out song. (chuckles to herself)

K2K: Well I've never heard anyone describe it quite like that before...
SS: Oh yeah! I also really like Clapton - Derek & The Dominoes. He's a great guitarist.

K2K: I never thought so. I always thought he was rather bland.
SS: I like it. I think he has hardcore soul in his playing. You know who is a great live performer, but his record hasn't caught on yet? Sandra Bullocks boyfriend... what's his name? He's from Austin.

K2K: I just saw Sandra Bullock at a recent Christina Aguilera concert.
SS: Christina Aguilera. I can't stand these singers... how many ways can you go all over "that note?" It's just excessive. It's a lack of self-control. It has nothing to do with music anymore. It has all to do with showing off. There's a time and place for that, but not on every single note of every single song.

K2K: I think that Christina is too young to know that she's doing it.
SS: When Whitney [Houston] did it, it came out of the song. She also wasn't doing it on every single note. Then the next generation, like Mariah Carey and Christina, they go all over it. On Mariah's very first album, I thought, "Wow! She's got a set of pipes. When she settles down a little bit and gets some maturity, it's going to be great." But, she went the opposite direction. It's so funny when you think of somebody like Joni Mitchell and then you take someone like Christina Aguilera and you think, "What happened between those two artists?" It's weird. It's gone so far in the extremes.

K2K: What about Britney Spears?
SS: I just don't find her interesting.

K2K: I think she is the new Madonna. She knows how to maintain and change an image.
SS: Right.

K2K: Since you are a string player... Are you a fan of Frank Zappa?
SS: No. He sort of passed me by. He was a little before my time and then I sort of missed him. He wasn't on my radar screen.

K2K: Were you aware of his classical compositions?
SS: I've heard about them, but never heard them.

K2K: Are you a fan of Kurt Weil?
SS: Yeah, I am.

K2K: The reason I asked about Frank Zappa is to see what you thought of his associated string players such as Jean Luc Ponty.
SS: I really enjoyed him when I was a kid - and Stephan Grappelli. I saw Jean Luc Ponty when I was 15. I was visiting New York. My cousin took me to Madison Square Garden to see him. It was great.

K2K: What a performer!
SS: Oh yeah! Fantastic. That was really fun to do that kind of stuff.

K2K: What about Eddie Jobson?
SS: Don't know him.

K2K: He used to play in U.K. with John Wetton and Terry Bozzio as well as in Jethro Tull.
SS: Oh wow! Jethro Tull. That's a blast from the past.

K2K: He played on the "A" album and tour. He had a sort of New Wave look about him.
SS: I love the Talking Heads by the way, speaking of New Wave. I just loved it right off the bat. I still find David Byrne fascinating as an artist. I think that he's gone another direction that doesn't happen to be a direction that other people wanted him to go into. You know, Sting is to be greatly admired, since he's gone on to as much mainstream success as he has after the Police broke up. People never want to go away from what you became known for. That is the death of every artist.

K2K: Do you feel that classical music needs "spicing up?"
SS: In the business or something else?

K2K: When you think of classical music - the layperson - the vision of classical music is...
SS: I think that the stereotype of classical music is very staid.

K2K: Stodgy almost.
SS: Yeah. The reality of classical music is that the great artists are extraordinarily passionate and extraordinarily virtuostic and incredibly physical. In many ways, these are the geniuses of our day. Frankly there is nothing harder to do than play a classical instrument at a really high level. There is nothing more difficult. And, unlike rock ballads which require you to do one emotion, one time signature, one key, one chord - basically five chords in a key - Classical requires you to go through the entire gamut, the entire range of emotions, and the entire range of time signatures of keys and so... I think that the music is much more complexly emotional, but I think that the stereotype is that it's these old fogies. Once we became successful within our business, we drew a much wider audience than most classical artists because we are a lot more accessible to the general layman.

K2K: Would you say that you're sort of on a pop pedestal?
SS: I don't really know how to answer that. Certainly we're not getting paid at the level that we would if we were this successful in pop music. We're certainly not selling albums at the same success level as pop music.

K2K: So to go back to the classical question... Does classical need a kick in the ass?
SS: Everybody always needs a kick in the ass. I think. I do. I just think that whenever anybody gets to places where things get boring and dull and stale, it's always good to give yourself a kick in the ass, and give everyone else a kick in the ass as well. (laughs)

K2K: What do you think could help expand it to a wider audience?
SS: Well, I don't think that classical music is for everyone.

K2K: Really? I think that country isn't either. (laughs)
SS: I think that there is no music that is for everyone. But, I do think that most people can really raise the quality of their lives by including classical music in their range of different pleasurable pursuits. I think that there are a lot of things that we are doing that we feel will help break down the barriers between the audience and the musicians. We talk about the pieces that we feel might benefit with a little explanation. We try to do as many shows as possible for kids shows and schools and universities. We try to bring the music out there and try to present it in different ways - like doing music videos. We're going to be making a video in a couple of months. There is a film that is being made about us. We have educational videos to be put out in public schools. We're bringing in composers from every walk of life and every genre. We're just trying to expand in every way that we feel is appropriate to us as artists. We also bring music to people who absolutely cannot come to us... like going into homeless shelters and going into prisons.

K2K: You perform in prisons as well?
SS: Not as a trio. I have. The trio has played at homeless shelters. We play at old age homes as well. They can't come to us. We never forget that it is a privilege for us to be on stage. It is only because the audience buys tickets to shows that we are able to do that. It is a big deal for them to do that, because people are very busy these days. There is no down time. To come to a concert of hours, because of the timing of our concerts, you've got to race home from work, stuff something down your face, fix the kids to bed or get the babysitter, get to the hall, and then give us your full attention for two hours. We are very appreciative of that. We want to make sure that when they leave, they felt it was worth it.

K2K: Speaking of audiences, do you feel that anything classical should remain in a clique-y sort of manner where you dress a certain way when you go out, etc.
SS: I think that every venue demands a certain kind of response. When you're at a small jazz club, and someone starts talking, it's really destructive to everyone else. I think that absolutely you should wear what is comfortable for you to sit in for an hour and a half. If you're not comfortable in a suit, then you shouldn't wear it.

K2K: In talking about schools - Do you do volunteer work?
SS: Whenever we can, we do these residency activities where if we're playing in a city that has an organization like a school system and we've got a day on either side that's free, we'll go in and do three 45 minute shows that are geared towards the age group of the kids. We really try to turn them on to classical music. We give them a little information and try to jazz them up.

K2K: Does it work?
SS: It really does. It's amazing. It's usually their first experience with classical music. They are amazed by how emotional it is and how physical it is and how exciting it is.

K2K: Do you think that our country should put more emphasis on music and the arts in our school systems?
SS: I really do. I think that we are really pathetic. It has been so demonstrated by scientists how beneficial it is to the development of the brain and certain types of learning skills it is to study music. Left and right, we are getting the funding for arts education but the school district thinks it is more important to get new football jerseys for the high school team than to offer an orchestral class. Frankly, those kids at the high school football game - none of them, I mean, 1/1,000,000th of them will actually go on to a career in footbal. But by learning instruments, you are actually developing unbelievable skills for everything else in life.

K2K: Like memory-retention.
SS: Right. And problem-solving. They have demonstrated that children who learn classic instruments test at a higher level than children who don't. They have longer attention spans. It will help you in every area of your life for the rest of your life. Also, it will give you something that you will be able to enjoy the rest of your life. It's just insane. Every couple of years, we tour Hawaii and do the public school system there. Four years ago we did it. I was really shocked by the level of apathy and incredible lack of attention that the kids had there. In the public school system, it's pretty much a welfare state there. I have never - I've been in the inner cities in Cleveland, Detroit and Watts - seen such apathy. I was shocked. Two years later we went back and we did the same school that we did last time. The kids were so focused, so bright, so aware, so full of attention and curiosity. I asked the teacher, "What the hell happened?" She told me the governor decided that they got some money and made it so that the first period of school, over the P.A. system, they played classical music for one full hour. I was thinking, "Boy, did that make a difference."

K2K: Do you recommend that you start off a child with classical or any music?
SS: Any music. Yeah. Any music at all. When you're learning as a young child, everything is difficult but it's easy afterwards. So many of these rockers start on classical.

K2K: As a touring ensemble, is it the same as rock groups where tensions mount after a while?
SS: Sometimes you're so exhausted that your tempers are short. But, for us, every night we'll walk out on stage, no matter how angry we might be at one another, we are in love when we are on stage. Pretty much, we've been there and done that so at this point we know the allowance of each point in each individual. When somebody is under a bit more pressure, then we give them a break.

K2K: Favorite places that you've played?
SS: Russia was unbelievable. It was like I was the Beatles. They are crazy for classical music. It was so cultured that it's unbelievable. They live and breathe culture. Israel was great. Japan was fantastic. Vietnam was a fascinating experience.

K2K: I wouldn't think of Vietnam as such.
SS: I know! But it was really shocking for them and really blew their minds. They really responded to Gershwin, which was fabulous since he's American. We were forbade to play it, but then we played it anyway.

K2K: Why was it forbidden?
SS: Because it's American.

K2K: Really? I thought they would like Americans.
SS: Not in Hanoi. In Saigon, not in Hanoi. It's still communist.

K2K: So we won nothing being over there.
SS: Oh, we won nothing. We lost. We totally lost.

K2K: And we screwed the French while we were out there.
SS: Yeah, well. The French were out anyway. All we did was try to save South Vietnam, and we didn't.

K2K: All we were really doing was trying to save our rubber plant industry.
SS: Right. And we didn't even save that. It created a lot of ill will.

K2K: From the rocker angle, I hear it's a great place to go surfing.
SS: Yes! I know. My brother is there right now. I told him, "Don't drink the water." I got a really bad parasite when I was there. I didn't drink the water, I rinsed my toothbrush in the water.

K2K: So, to wrap it up here and get one last question in... let's try a Teen Beat type question for the guys out there. Who's married and who's not?
SS: (laughs) Both Adela and Erika are married and I am not. Erika just had a baby boy in April and Adela is about to have one any second. "Thar she blows."

K2K: How did they find time to get married with the amount of work that you guys do?
SS: Actually, I'm not married because I have a different type of personality than they do. (laughs) I'm just having way too much fun being single.

K2K: It's the Gemini in you.
SS: I'm just not quite yet ready. And again, they have a lot more time than I do. When they're not playing the trio, they aren't playing. When I'm not playing the trio, I'm off doing jazz or acting or writing or whatever. Right now I'm just having a blast. When I meet somebody who will add to my life, then that will be great. Unfortunately, right now my life is so rich that most of the time it would detract.

K2K: And you would be only adding to their life.
SS: That's totally what it is! And you know what? I don't need to do that. (laughs)

K2K: "What have you done for me lately?" I fully understand where you are coming from, but unfortunately that thought totally pisses people off.
SS: I know. Exactly. I don't feel that I'm missing anything. I think that most people feel like they are missing something if they don't have a partner. I just don't feel that way. I'm having a blast. And I have a gorgeous dog and a gorgeous cello and I've got a huge group of friends and a family, so I don't have any hole. Somebody's going to have to be really cool for me to make some room in my life, and make me feel like I'm not giving up something.

And with that, Sara had to get going to her next appointment. Ah, the joys of a busy life. Give the latest Eroica Trio CD, "Pasión" a listen when you get a chance and experience the fire with which this trio performs. Look for the following release sometime towards the end of 2001.

You can find more information about Sara at: http://www.sarasantambrogio.com

Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

All rights reserved © KAOS2000™. No portion contained herein, either text or graphics, may be reproduced anywhere or reposted on any other website for any purpose without the expressed permission of the publisher. All violations shall be punished as the law allows.

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