Monday, June 9, 2014

Ahn and Ahn - The AHN TRIO Interview! 6/9/14

The Ahn Trio are an incredibly talented trio of sisters who are internationally known for their interpretation of classical music.  Juilliard graduates, they are both musicians and teachers of the art.  I was fortunate enough to see them perform a few years ago.  The concert was inspiring.  The level of mastery of all three Ahn sisters was just amazing.  

All three sisters agreed to talk to me about their music, what inspires them, and what they would be doing if they weren't performing classical music.  - Interview by Mark

EA:  Greetings Angella, Lucia, and Maria! Thank you for doing the interview. What is the latest with the Ahn Trio?

Lucia:  Our latest concert was at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a great honor to have our very first concert in Argentina at this incredibly beautiful and famous hall!

Until the last moment, we were still discussing if we should change a Piazzolla piece we had on the program, since he is the great Argentinian composer.  We told the audience about this, afterwards people told us that they were crying when we played "Oblivion" and we were very touched. Our touring continues and we also see ourselves as doing more teaching in the future.

EA:  Your last album "Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac" came out in 2008. When will we see a new album?

Lucia:  Yes, we are working on the next album, we would like to record Pat Metheny's Yu Ryung, Kenji Bunch's Danceband and David Balakrishnan's Skylife.  We hope to make it this year so hopefully it will be available in the Fall.

EA:  Is there any particular rhyme or reason to your touring schedule? It seems the trio plays whenever the opportunity arises. Is that correct? I think it's great that you play so many shows.

Lucia:  Yes, in the world of Classical music, we go wherever there is a concert. It is not always logical geographically, we may fly to South America for 3 days, go to Shanghai for 48 hours, in June we go to California twice!

EA:  How do you balance touring with your personal lives? Do you ever grow tired of the road?
Lucia:  We love to perform our music and connect with the audience but the time spent on airplanes and airports are not fun, so yes, we do certainly get tired of that. That's why we would like to combine teaching with the touring life.  We will always play as long as we can but we also crave to sleep in our own beds! Personal life is always there with our professional lives, the touring life does not stop us from having a personal life. Yes, we do have a life other than music!

EA:  Being Korean American, has being Asian ever impacted your career, in a positive or negative way? How about on a personal level?

Lucia:  It has not ever been negative, when you look at the musicians out there, there are all different nationalities and ages. On a personal level, I really appreciate having grown up with two cultures. Korea has the strong family values and the best cuisine in the world, America has allowed us to be very independent persons and free spirited artists.

EA: When you look back on your earlier albums, what are your thoughts on them now?

Maria:  I love making albums, because, they reflect the different phases we went through as artists, it's a recording of our music, but, also a recording of that particular time-period for our group.

But, we hardly ever listen to our own albums, because, I hear things I would do differently, play differently, interpret differently...even the design of the CD packaging.

EA:  Do you ever see a time in the future where the Ahn Trio will cease to exist and each of you will pursue your own individual careers?

Maria:  We always said that we will just quit if we get bored with what we are doing. But, so far, we keep doing new interesting projects, keep facing new challenges, so, I don't see us getting bored anytime soon, but, we may also do more as individuals, too.  We never decide too much in advance.

EA:  I've read some criticism of you. The journalist was stating that the Ahn Trio has gained their success partially through their look (attractiveness).  What do you say to that?

Maria:  "Funny." Because, look around at all the incredibly beautiful singers and musicians out there..we don't exactly stand out.  I think even classical music world is changing, critics no longer speak so much about artists' looks and the opera singers are not always large-figured anymore.  Attractiveness is not a negativity anymore.

EA:  Eclectic Arts features musicians, actors, photographers, etc from all walks of life. What would you say to someone that has never heard of the Ahn Trio?  Why should they check out your music?

Maria:  Everyone should checkout every genre of music out there, not just ours. But, okay, ours. too.  People should checkout the Ahn Trio, because, we are not your average, traditional classical group.  We showcase a different side of classical music and play a lot of great music that are written specifically for our group.

EA:  With MP3's, social media networks like Facebook, etc - what are your thoughts on the current state of technology as it relates (or doesn't) to classical music?

Maria:  Everything in life influences music and every composer draws from all
that is surrounding his/her ears.  All the technology and networks, I think it just helps music spread more and more and further, I look at it in a positive way.  It makes live music performance that much more rare and desired.

EA:  What careers would each of you have now had it not been music?

Maria:  I know all three of us change our minds everyday, but, maybe today...I would like to be a shoe-designer

Lucia:  My dream job would be the food critic of the NY Times, OR even just work for the Zagat!  And a journalist who goes and reviews fancy spas/hotels all around the world!

Angella:  I would have had a career in the culinary world.  A chef, a food critic, or a restaurant owner.  I love everything about food.  Eating of course but also growing, harvesting, and cooking. Maybe I'll have a small cafe some day where I can cook some dishes using local produce and meat and invite some friends to play music with me.

EA:  Lucia -  I have a few questions for you if I may?

Lucia:  Sure.

EA:  Wow - the concert in Argentina sounds beautiful.  It must be incredibly rewarding to see how much of an affect your performance/music has on your fans.

Lucia:  It is a privilege to be able to connect with the audience at these moments and it adds so much to our lives. We really feel grateful to be able to share our music and it is a very rewarding and moving experience.

EA:  While piano is your main instrument with The Ahn Trio, are there other instruments that you play?  Have you ever thought about each of you switching instruments for one song - just for fun or to confuse your audience?

Lucia:  My sisters can both play the piano as badly as I can play the violin, sometimes during workshops for students, I would pick up the violin and play the twinkle twinkle little star for them for a good laugh. This teaches the students that learning an instrument takes lots of practice and dedication and that just because I can play the piano at a certain level that doesn't mean I can play another instrument without practicing it.  I really do sound squeaky and out of tune on the violin that all the students burst out laughing, it's great!

EA: You mentioned your dream job of being a food critic for the NY Times or writing reviews of luxurious spas/hotels around the world.  Having traveled around the world with the Ahn Trio - what spas/hotels stand out to you?

Lucia:  Touring as The Ahn Trio doesn't always mean we get put up in the fanciest hotels around the world at all, but sometimes we do get spoiled and one of those places we still remember is Halekulani in Honolulu.  Other times, it's not the fancy hotel, it's about the city.  We love Istanbul when we stayed at a hotel that has views of Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It's one of the most stunning views ever.

EA:  Thank you Lucia.  Maria - your turn.  What drew you to the cello all those years ago?

Maria:  I was drawn to the cello, initially (when I was very young) because, it was bigger than the violin, so, clearly I thought, it's gotta be better than the violin.  And I was right!, cello IS better!

Seriously, I love the cello, because, I find it more expressive, most like the human voice, and deep and bright at the same time, so versatile.

EA:  You mentioned a career in shoe design.  Dare I ask - how many pairs of shoes do you own?

Maria:  I do have many pairs of concert shoes, and I keep them all so it seems like a lot, but, mainly because, I ONLY wear them on stage, they don't get worn out fast enough and I am bad at throwing things away.  Being women, it IS nice that we have the perfect excuse to buy very beautiful and fancy shoes sometimes...we don't have to justify them.

EA: Are you very fashion conscious?  Who is the most fashion conscious of the group?

Maria:  I am not very fashion conscious, but, at the same time, does anyone wear something
they don't like? Or doesn't have a taste/style of their own? I won't care if something is out of fashion, if I like it, I will still wear it.            I think all women are a bit fashion conscious a certain degree.  We all try to care a little bit about how we want to look or present ourselves, but, we're not obsessed with it nor care too much. By not caring, by not following the 'rules', though, we get comments that we're 'different' or stylish, which is great for us.

EA:  What is one of your favorite pieces of music to play currently?

Maria:  Depends on which day of the week...yesterday may have been Nyman, today may be Kapustin, tomorrow might be Kenji Bunch and so on, it really depends on my mood on a specific day, kind of like what I wish to eat that day. Today it is Bach.

EA:  Thank you Maria.  And now Angella:  I agree that, while practice is important, it is not the only factor for a new musician to consider. When you work with other musicians and just plain experience life outside the practice room, it adds so much more to the growth of a musician.  Who do you site as influences and/or people that helped expand your growth as a musician? As a person?

Angella:  The person that influenced me the most as a musician is my violin teacher, the late Dorothy DeLay.  I studied with her from when I was 11 years old until I was 25. I learned so much from her. She gave me a great foundation for playing the violin, but I also learned about the American culture (our family had just moved from Korea), to being assertive and having confidence, and being a kind and thoughtful person.  She called all her students "sugar plum" and never raised her voice. Never even really criticized.  But all of us students wanted to do our best for her!

My growth as a person comes from so many different factors. I'm inspired by my mom. She in her 30's brought 3 young girls to a completely different world.  She is the strongest person I know. I think inspirations come in small and large doses every day. You could watch an brilliant play or hear a moving concert.  The sun could be hitting a particular tree in a magical way. You could be having a conversation with a friend and hear something that he/she is saying that is inspiring. It's hard to list them all.

EA:  Your answer about being involved with food (alternate career question) reminds me of another artist I interviewed, Vienna Teng. She's an amazing singer/songwriter (who is Chinese American) who has a distinct interest in sustainability issues as well as a love of all things culinary. What is it about the food world that you love so much?

Angella:  My sisters and I grew up in a household where we didn't even know what "fast food" was. Our mother, a phenomenal cook, made every single delicious meal for us. From scratch. I think food is a form of art.  From the subtle (or strong) flavors coming together to all the different colors and textures to the beautiful presentation.  I'm a big fan of "slow food".  It makes perfect sense to be involved in every step of the meal in a responsible way.

EA:    Who would you like to collaborate with in the future? Either by performing a piece of their music or perform with (studio/stage)?

Angella:  We have collaborated with the David Parsons Dance Company in the past. Right now, we're doing a collaboration with another wonderful dance company, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. I love working with dancers.  I find their movements so inspiring and  beautiful. I would love to keep collaborating with dance companies like Pilobolus, Alvin Ailey, or the American Ballet Theatre. I recently saw "War Horse" in NYC. It would be amazing to collaborate with a director of a play such as "War Horse" or with a director of a movie, like Pedro Almodovar.  The idea of mixing different art forms is very inspiring to me.

EA:  For those musicians starting out, what advice would you give them?

Angella:  To have perseverance.  A musical career is not always the easiest route to follow. For example, if you go to a school to be a doctor, your chances of being able to make a living as a doctor are quite good.  I think a career path in music is more difficult.  Know what you want to do (play in an orchestra, be a soloist, teach, be in a band etc...) and don't give up if you don't win the first audition or get the first gig.  Remember to have fun and experience life, rather than locking yourself up in a practice room for hours and hours.  These experiences will help you become a better artist.

EA:  What are some of the highlights of your career thus far?

Angella:  There are so many memorable experiences we have had. Just starting out our careers fresh out of Juilliard, and winning the ECHO award (highest musical award in Germany) was surprising and encouraging. Playing in halls with the most profound history, such as Musikverein or Gewandhaus are definite highlights.  Being invited to be guest
"speaker" (performer) at TED was a huge honor. But the highlights in my mind are not necessarily single events, but more where we have arrived at.  We are grateful that we are able to make music, especially with each other, and have so many people interested in what we have to say.

EA:  Thank you so much for doing the interview. The last words are for you.

Angella:  There are so many great musicians and artists out there with so many different voices. It's important to find your own voice that's unique.  We feel very lucky to be able to travel all over the country and to different parts of the world and tell stories that are our own and feel passionate about.

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