Fast Talk: The Eroica Trio
Published: June 2009
By Mario R. Mercado
The all-female Eroica Trio is one of the busiest classical chamber-music ensembles in the world. Since winning the prestigious Naumburg Award, which recognizes promising young talent, in 1991 and making their Lincoln Center debut shortly thereafter, the members of the trio—pianist Erika Nickrenz, violinist Adela Peña, and cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio—have barely paused to take a breath. They've released six albums; toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, and Asia; and performed in concert, and music festivals, and as soloists with leading orchestras, playing everything from Bach to music by Argentinean and Brazilian composers. Travel + Leisure caught up with the trio on their latest American tour to find out how they balance touring and keeping in touch with family and friends, as well as how they handle the challenges of traveling with a plus-size instrument.
1. Where are you now? Where would you rather be?
ADELA: We are in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on an 18-city tour with the Prague Chamber Orchestra, playing the Beethoven Triple Concerto (for violin, cello, and piano), which we recently recorded for Angel/EMI. It's absolutely gorgeous here, and I have my son with me so I can't think of anyplace else I'd rather be.
ERIKA: I'd rather be just outside of town at the 10,000 Waves Spa, instead of preparing for a concert!
SARA: In Capri, one of my favorite places.
2. How much do you travel in a year?
ADELA: We play about 100 concerts annually, so we are on the road at least two-thirds of the year. It's rare for us to be home for more than a week at a time.
3. Where do you travel for pleasure?
ADELA: I like getaways by train or car rather than air. I'd be willing, though, to fly to a place like Montreal; it's gorgeous, and has got great food and neighborhoods. Urban vacations appeal to me more than beach or island scenarios.
ERIKA: It's amazing I still love to travel considering how much I'm on the road! My favorite trips include a visit to the Ladera Resort in St. Lucia; a cruise to Alaska; and a three-week Single-Malt Tour of Scotland.
SARA: When I'm not touring big cities, I like outdoorsy vacations. I captained a 36-foot sailboat in the British Virgin Islands in July, and I will be going on safari in South Africa in February.
4. When traveling, what accommodations do you make for your instruments?
ADELA (violinist): Luckily, the violin fits in most overhead compartments.
SARA (cellist): Mr. Cello Sant' Ambrogio always hogs the view from an airplane because he has to sit in a window seat. Since 9/11, Mr. Cello gets strip searched more often at security checkpoints.
ERIKA (pianist): The Trio splits the cost of an extra seat for the cello. It earns its own frequent flyer miles on some airlines (although it never eats the meal). Sometimes, on tiny aircraft, it's difficult to strap the cello into the seat which makes the flight attendants unhappy. On some of our flights, the planes have been so cramped we have even had to put the violin in the cockpit with the pilots!
5. What items do you consider a necessity to have with you?
ADELA: When I can't take my 2-1/2-year-old son on the road with me, I take one of his stuffed animals. On a professional note, I always pack a metronome.
ERIKA: I always travel with: a padded mask (I have one with magnets); several pairs of earplugs (just in case); and a Tempur-Pedic pillowhotels all have very different pillow thickness and I hate the thick ones! I couldn't sleep in hotels without the mask, plugs, and pillow. I also turn on the fans full throttle for white noise to counteract the slamming doors and snoring neighbors.
6. Do your spouses or children travel with you?If so, as mothers, how do you address your children's needs while on tour?
SARA: My fiance, Alan Miller (who directed the documentary Eroica! airing on PBS) often travels with me.
ADELA: I take my son Neal on tour as often as possible. He seems to thrive on travel—he loves airplanes and choo-choo trains—and the novelty of hotel rooms.
ERIKA: My husband, Karl Herman, joins me sometimes, but my two-year-old, Zachary comes along much more often. He has a tough time flying sometimes, but seems to enjoy hotel living and the excitement of new cities. I try to stay in hotels with great concierges since they can help find top-notch licensed and bonded baby sitters. Zach has eaten a shocking amount of room service for someone his age. I always order a refrigerator for the room to store milk and juice for him if there's no mini-bar.
7. What has been your favorite place to visit?
THE TRIO: Hanoi, Vietnam was probably the most fascinating place we've played. Ours was the only classical chamber music concert that year. Thousands of people, sitting on their bicycles or haunches, watched it on screens erected outside the concert hall. Their appreciation for the music, from Mozart to Gershwin, was so genuine; it was truly unforgettable.
ADELA: It's hard to name just one. I love the energy of Hong Kong. It's like a cranked-up New York and the skyline amidst the natural beauty of the harbor is spectacular. Prague and Sydney are also high on the list. In the United States, I would have to say Portland, Oregon is a favorite and seems very livable; with its great food, a beautiful city layout, and very pleasant inhabitants.
ERIKA: For purely gastronomic reasons, I'd say Spoleto, Italy—I'd kill for a strongozzi al tartufo [a dish of long, thick, pasta with truffle sauce] right now. But playing in my hometown of New York City in Carnegie Hall—as part of Steinway's 150th anniversary this year—was a huge thrill.
8. How do you stay healthy on the road?
SARA: I drink lots of water and take lots of vitamins. And I try not to sweat the small stuff.
ADELA: I make an effort to walk as much as possible. Also, on travel days I eat a little something whenever the opportunity arises, because you never know when you'll get your next "real" meal.
ERIKA: When I travel with Zachary, I get plenty of exercise!
9. Which performance(s) stand out as the most unusual or satisfying?
SARA: I once played a solo concert in a maximum security prison for male prisoners in a drug addiction program. For an hour we escaped those prison walls and took a journey together. At the end, they asked me if I would come back the next day.
ADELA: There is nothing more rewarding than when we go to a city for a return engagement, and a young woman or man comes backstage to tell us that they are majoring in music because they'd been inspired by an earlier performance you gave in their high school, or that our dedication has inspired them in their work in a different field. It makes you realize what a lasting effect music has, and that it is a privilege to share it.
ERIKA: I remember playing in a tiny church on the southernmost tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a series that was almost dead from lack of interest, yet we drew a huge crowd. Even though, there was only a tiny piano on a small stage, it was one of the most memorable concerts we'd ever played, and we saved the series. Playing in Ravinia with the Chicago Symphony for 11,000 people wasn't bad, either!
10. Anything you know today that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
SARA: Cello cases come with wheels. Have wheels, will travel!
ADELA: Things will always go more smoothly if you act the part of a cool-headed business traveler, no matter how much you want to scream. Although you shouldn't be surprised to see a few frazzled moments in the documentary, I'm glad to have left that disheveled, crazed traveler persona in the distant past.
ERIKA: I wish that I had splurged on better hotels and higher class air travel earlier in my careertreating yourself well makes all the difference when you are performing. I would also have started getting massages in my room much sooner if I had known how fabulous they are! (I'm getting one in 20 minutes.)