Cellist is open to all genres - even hip-hop

2012-09-30T00:00:00Z 2012-10-06T01:14:53Z Cellist is open to all genres - even hip-hopCathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio is starting to get the calls.

Session musicians from Nashville, her adopted hometown for the past year, are calling up with offers. This country star and that one have a perfect cello part that is screaming her name, they tell her.

Don't be surprised if one day soon she answers the call.

"You may hear me on a Faith Hill CD. … If I'm here and I have nothing else to do, it will be super fun," she said recently. "I've done almost every single possible thing you can do on a cello, from playing in a gypsy improv group to playing with Sting to playing with Rufus Wainwright to playing classical. If I do country, the only thing left is hip-hop."

She almost went there, as well. A few years ago in London, she attempted a hip-hop recording with a well-known London artist. Problem was he wasn't known outside the London club scene, and the project didn't work out as she had planned.

"I still think that Baroque music could be beautifully integrated with hip-hop because of the incredible architectural symmetry of Baroque music," said Sant'Ambrogio, who brings her celebrated Eroica Trio to Tucson for concerts this week with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. "I think it could be really beautiful to then lay down something on top of it. I can envision it; I just haven't found the right hip-hop artist that I have a connection with."

If you are sitting there scratching your head at how an accomplished cellist in one of the world's finest trios could contemplate life outside the classical music margins, you need only spend a few minutes talking to Sant'Ambrogio. She is passionate about music and music's possibilities.

"There's something that's just irreplaceable about the bond to the soul that classical music brings. So how do you keep giving that gift to the next generation so that they have that as one of their tools?" she said during a call from her Nashville home, where she lives with her husband of a year and her 8-year-old son.

Sant'Ambrogio is in the middle of recording a Latin album in Music City. Last year she released the second of her two CDs covering the Bach cello suites - one was recorded in New York, the other in Nashville - and this fall she's releasing a recording of Chopin that she made in Nashville.

For now, though, Sant'Ambrogio is focused on the Eroica, which is coming to Tucson for the first time since it played with the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music in 1999.

"I'm so excited to come back and play with the orchestra," she said.

She and pianist Erika Nickrenz also are excited to introduce Tucson to the trio's newest member and one of their oldest friends, violinist Sara Parkins. She replaces violinist Susie Park, who joined the trio while she was still in school in 2006.

"I think that she didn't have time to figure out what she wanted," Sant'Ambrogio said. "We thought she brought a lot to the trio, but the fit wasn't exactly what we had hoped for."

With Parkins, Sant'Ambrogio and Nickrenz regain a friend they have both known and played with since they were tweens attending music camp together. From that point on, the three maintained musical ties, playing together as their educational paths crisscrossed at Juilliard in New York City and Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. When founding violinist Adela Peña left the group in 2006, Parkins wasn't available.

"That brings an incredible richness of experience to every performance and also an ability to be incredibly spontaneous because we know each other so well," she said.

When one of them goes off on a musical tangent, the others are able to follow because they are so comfortable with each other musically.

"It keeps the performances unbelievably alive," Sant'Ambrogio said.

The trio is coming here for a rare two-fer. In addition to joining the TSO for its season-opening classics concert next weekend, the trio is playing a recital.

"That's one of my favorite things to do," Sant'Ambrogio said, then recounted how the trio about a year ago planted the seed with their management to offer a recital as part of their orchestra concerts.

"It's so wonderful when you have such a big repertoire to play a concerto with the orchestra and then do a recital," she said. "You feel like you really get to put a full picture of yourself out there as an artist."

As for her more popular music ambitions, Sant'Ambrogio said she is still mulling ideas in her head.

A hip-hop project would have to use a familiar work, like Bach's "Air on the G String," which is instantly recognizable from its use in movies.

"Something that has that beautiful arching symmetry and has that real emotional impact that is just subconscious and immediate," she said, thinking out loud. "With the right kind of hip-hop artist, I think it could be really stunning."

If you go

• What: Eroica Trio in concert.

• When and where: Recital, 8 p.m. Tuesday at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive; with Tucson Symphony Orchestra, 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. next Sunday at Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

• Tickets: $25 for the recital; $26 to $79 for the TSO performances through tucsonsymphony.org or the TSO box office, 882-8585.

• Program: Recital:

Beethoven's Piano Trio, Op. 11.

Godard's "Berceuse de Jocelyn."

Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" Fantasy.

Dvorák's Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65.

With the TSO:

Wagner's Overture to "The Flying Dutchman."

Beethoven's Triple Concerto.

Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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