At the ski-lodge-esque Stearns Building in the corner of North Campus, the fireplace and cozy auditorium sweetly contrasted the bitter cold last Wednesday. But the audience would have been all smiles with or without the decor. Time for Three, a string trio from the Curtis Institute of Music currently at the University in residence, could have put a California native stuck in Michigan weather in a good mood with their two-violin-one-bass setup. They will return to the University for shows this Friday and Sunday, with future performances coming in March.
In less than two hours, violinists Zachary DePue, Nicholas Kendall and double bassist Ranaan Meyer touched on classical, bluegrass, jazz and country-western fiddling, with moments of improvisation. Their first song incorporated seven different styles. At this masterclass, Time for Three performed for Music School students and talked extensively about the origins of the group’s style and ideas behind its music. Students came for get an inside-professional perspective. A general description of their music is this: If silent films had used Time for Three’s music, there would never have been a need to create talking pictures. The group’s music really says it all.
Passionate and in high spirits, Time for Three opened with a soft Irish melody. Eventually, Meyer abandoned his bow to play bass with his fingers. The violins ditched their previous melody and switched tempos and genres. DePue and Kendall played so fast their bows were barely touching the violins, and they began alternatively playing with their fingers and their bows every couple of notes. The performers looked at each other and smiled. They finished “Wyoming 307” laughing.
“Our pieces are forever changing,” Meyer said. “Sometimes if you make a mistake onstage the other two guys like it better that way and it becomes part of the music.”
Another song, “Bradford Commission,” was composed by the trio for the 125th anniversary of the oldest oil refinery in America. From waking to working, the song plays a refinery worker’s morning routine, right through the konks and bangs of the refinery itself, and ends “very visionary, with optimism for the future,” according to Meyer.
The trio met while attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
“Of everyone there, we stuck out. It’s rare to find classical musicians who improvise,” Kendall said. “That’s how we found each other.”
Although the two violinists claim Meyer has done a large part of the writing, he insisted that, “the three of us are all composers and arrangers.”
“We compose our material like a garage band, with a lot of trial and error to hear what works,” Meyer said.
Though they have been together for five years, this is their first residency as a group. During their residency, they hope to encourage students at the masterclass to branch out in their music.
“The paths that are paved are not necessarily the ones you have to walk down,” DePue told students.
The performers have a virtuosic, raw talent. From offering individual coaching throughout their time in Ann Arbor to sending an open invitation to jam with students, DePue, Kendall and Meyer earnestly wanted to help, compose, learn from, hang out with and encourage students.
“This group- – we’re all on the same train and perhaps we’re a few cars ahead because we’ve had more time to do it,” Kendall said. “We found a career by being creative and open minded and sharing each other’s experience. We’re only here to provide a perspective.”
A brief recap of Time for Three’s history:
At Philadelphia’s Curtis Institue of Music, violinists Zachary DePue and Nicolas Kendall realized they shared an affinity for country and bluegrass styles of violin.
In the late ’90s, the duo merged with bassist Ranaan Meyer, who brought with him a distinct jazz style.
The three developed a more contemporary approach to classical music, which included the urge to improvise.
Performed on NPR, FOX’s “Good Morning Philadelphia” and at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
Time for Three
Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.
Friday at the Stearns Building, Sunday at Rackham Auditorium