The Ahn Trio: Chamber Music in the 21st Century

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Sisters are a very unique breed of individuals. But even if you have a great appreciation for your sisters, you may not have considered working with them.

That’s what twins Lucia and Maria and their sister Angella Ahn, professionally known as the Ahn Trio, do. They have performed all across the globe, and will return to Michigan this month to perform their brand of chamber music for the 21st century. The Trio were born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to the U.S. with their mother to study. All three are graduates of Julliard. CAWLM talked with Angella Ahn to get the inside scoop.

CAWLM: Are you married or dating?

Ahn: I’m seeing Michael Moore, but he’s not related to the movie guy.

CAWLM: How do you balance that relationship with your career and everything else?

Ahn: When I have nothing to do for a few weeks, I find that I’m less productive. The more I have going on, the more that gets done. All of our lives have been about balancing things — school, music, moving here, learning English, juggling friends and job and sisters — it’s easier when it’s busy.

CAWLM: Are your parents musically inclined?

Ahn: No, they are not. We get asked that all the time. Our parents are very creative people and non-traditional Korean parents.

CAWLM: How did you become interested in playing your respective instruments?

Ahn: We started playing when we were still in Seoul. We listened to a lot of classical music. If Lucia hadn’t started playing the piano, we probably wouldn’t be a trio today.

In kindergarten, she decided that she was going to play the piano. There was a piano in her classroom and she would always play it. The teacher told my parents that they should consider lessons for her.

CAWLM: What about you and Maria? Did you start then too?

Ahn: No, it was about a year later. We realized that she was getting to do something special and we weren’t, so it was kind of that “Hey, why does she get to do that? We want to, too.” We each picked our instruments kind of randomly. I loved the violin section of the symphony and the lush melodies, so I decided to play the violin. And Maria decided to play the cello.

CAWLM: The three of you eventually studied at Julliard. When did you come to the States?

Ahn: We were quite young — 10 [Lucia and Maria] and 12 years old [Angella]. It was our parents’ idea. They had a lot of friends in the U.S.

CAWLM: Wow! I don’t know too many parents who would do that.

Ahn: We didn’t have your typical Korean parents. They were forward-thinking, adventurous types. I think they had a dream of us coming to a different country and with girls, education was important to them. It was a “let’s just try it” type of thing. I can’t imagine picking up and moving to another country.

CAWLM: Is all of your family here now?

Ahn: My father works in publishing in Korea, but my mother is still here. She lives in New Jersey. We see our father when he comes here on business or if we are performing in Seoul.

CAWLM: Where do the three of you live?

Ahn: Maria lives in the East Village [in New York] and Lucia lives in the West Village and I live in the Boerum Hill/Brooklyn area. We can walk to each other’s houses, but we are far enough apart to have our own time.

CAWLM: Do you think coming here and having the impact of a different culture influenced your life and music?

Ahn: Oh yes. You can take those two different cultures and see what you want to make your own from them. As for our music, it definitely influenced us. We want to try new things and music. We really enjoy collaborations and playing different styles of music.

CAWLM: Let’s talk about your music. I’ve seen it described as chamber music, but with new life. How would you describe your music?

Ahn: It’s still chamber music; classical music, but 21st century. We play music from living composers and collaborate with various groups. It’s beautiful, relevant, exciting — just not written 200 years ago. It’s more like 10 to 20 years ago.

Kenji Bunch has written so many incredible pieces for us. He wrote a piece for our Groovebox album that has six movements; it’s related to a night in New York City. One movement is a jazz club and another is a starry night at 3 a.m.

He also did a piece called “Dance Band” that has five movements. He was able to make the piano sound like a harpsichord for one piece and for another, Lucia would put a towel inside the piano on the strings to give it a banjo sound.

CAWLM: I’m guessing you have fans across the spectrum.

Ahn: Yes. We get everyone from little kids to older people to families to couples. It’s just good music. People enjoy listening to it, and it’s satisfying to play.

CAWLM: You mentioned doing some collaborating, and I understand you were recently in the Czech Republic.

Ahn: Yes, we were invited by a rock band for a festival with 10,000 people in attendance.

We like to create new elements with our music and someone else’s. The Czech band is the Tata Bojs (pronounced ‘boys’) and they aren’t your traditional rock group. It was started by three boys when they were 13. They’ve gone through several guitarists, but the drummer and bass player are from when the group started.

One of the members arranged a piece for the six of us that we performed at the Czech Grammys. With the two groups together it’s almost a sextet and almost this whole new sound.

We recorded an album with them that was released last fall called Smetana and we played with them in New York at the Highline Ballroom and are hoping to tour with them this fall or next spring.

CAWLM: I understand that you have been featured in Vogue, GQ and in People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” Do you feel like you and your sisters are fashionistas?

Ahn: We’re really flattered, but honestly we don’t understand that. If you look at the women in New York, they are beautiful and stylish and we’re just kind of normal. When we were first starting out, we’d almost have been offended by comments on our shoes or the glittery dress. It was like “Hey, you are supposed to be listening to our music, not looking at the clothes we’re wearing.” But then you realize that’s all part of it. You play music for people to listen to, but they also look at you when you perform.

CAWLM: What do you and your sisters like to do on a day off?

Ahn: We have similar interests, starting with food. It’s almost an obsession. We like checking out new restaurants, food from other countries and what the locals really enjoy eating. We also like literature and film and we have the travel bug! Friends think we’re crazy when we come back from being on tour and are home for two weeks and then get on a plane and take off. We just love different cultures.

We do have some things that are our own. I really like cooking. I could cook all day long. I got that from my mother. Maria is an artist and designer. She can draw and paint; I have one of her paintings at my house. Lucia is also a designer, but more an interior designer. Her place is so great!

CAWLM: You have done more than just record great music and perform. You also started your own record label.

Ahn: Yes. It’s called LAMP. Maria, who is always the visionary, came up with the name. It’s Lucia, Angella, Maria Productions. We started it several years ago wanting to have an umbrella under which to do all of the creative things we wanted. So far, it’s just us on the label, but someday that may change.


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Tags: ahn, ahn trio, east lansing, local arts, local entertainment, performance, Wharton