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AHN TRIO RETURNING TO SCHOOL OF THE ARTS

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Feb. 10, 2002 – Ask the Ahn Trio "What's new?" and the sisters will talk about their AhnPlugged music, or their plans to record an album in May. But there's something else that's different for Maria, Lucia and Angella Ahn as they travel to the Virgin Islands for their performance Thursday night at the St. John School of the Arts.
They're carrying U.S. passports.
After living in New York for two decades, all three became U.S. citizens two months ago — something their mother did years earlier. The move was unrelated to the World Trade Center attacks in September — the citizenship process takes about a year — and was as much a practical consideration as a patriotic one.
"I'm very proud to be a Korean-American," Maria says. Angela adds, "I'm proud of my Korean heritage. Your little blue passport doesn't mean you're not a Korean. It just makes traveling so much easier."
It's valid consideration in a time of heightened security for the three women, who recently performed in Montreal and have world-wide dates on their touring schedule, including appearances in Turkey and Portugal later this year.
Their maternal grandmother was born in North Korea, then emigrated as a teenager to Seoul, where their mother was born. The sisters lived there until moving to New York in 1981 to begin music studies at the Juilliard School. They have been back to South Korea to perform and remain in touch with family there.
"Our mom is a journalist and she has American citizenship and she was able to go to North Korea about five years ago," Maria relates. She found it to be a place of great poverty and suffering, yet "the people would look at her and say how sorry they were for her" that she lived in a society that they were sure was much worse.
The discussion about Korea comes about because of a question about whether the Ahns had a response to President Bush's characterization of North Korea, Iraq and Iran as "an axis of evil" (they didn't). The citizenship issue emerges when they're asked whether they have felt singled out in security screenings at airports (for the most part they haven't).
Such weighty topics, however, do not dominate an interview over coffee with the Ahns. Indeed, the most serious concerns of the interviewer are (1) to keep track in notes of which person said what — the sisters readily interrupt one another, as sisters will — and (2) to connect names with faces correctly.
Who's who, and what they do
Angella, who plays violin, is the youngest by two years but also the tallest. She is further distinguished by a short haircut. Then there are the twins — Maria, who plays cello and is the first born, by 10 minutes, and Lucia, who plays piano. In a casual encounter, it's a challenge to remember who's who, even though Maria has blond highlights in her long hair and is the one wearing shades and having cigarettes with her coffee.
Angella identifies herself as a morning person. Lucia — called Lu en famille — is a night person. And Maria is "more of a night person, but very flexible" — and claims on that particularly morning to have been the first one up.
All three, it turns out, wear the same size shoes, and they do share. Maria is the serious collector — owning about 40 pairs. But many of them are strictly on-stage wardrobe wear, with heels that you wouldn't normally walk across the room in, let alone up and down stairs. "Do they still have those benches you step up and down on at the stage in Tillett Gardens?" Maria asks, pondering which pairs to pack for their Virgin Islands tour.
The trio will be appearing for the fourth time in the 15-year history of Classics in the Garden on St. Thomas. It will be at least their sixth performance at the St. John School of the Arts, where they've done additional semi-impromptu recitals while enjoying R&R on St. John, a preferred vacation spot.
St. John is "one of our favorite places," Lucia says. "And the audiences are incredibly enthusiastic," Maria adds, with Lucia finishing, "Yeah, it's such a small place that the whole island gets excited."
Their program for both appearances will combine traditional and contemporary classical works. It opens with the Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Hob. XV:29, by Haydn. Next is the Trio for Violin, Violoncello and Piano by Leonard Bernstein — written when Bernstein was a 19-year-old student at Harvard University.
The second half of the recital will be an "AhnPlugged" performance of works by Bernstein, David Bowie, Kenji Bunch, Eric Ewazen, John Musto, Michael Nyman and Astor Piazzola. "AhnPlugged," the title of their most recent CD, is the title the sisters have applied to their presenting of classical music in a modern, alternative, sometimes amplified format. It's a matter of "exploring not only new music, but new ways to hear music," the Ahn Trio web site states.
A full-time trio
The sisters' tastes in classical music are eclectic, and no one admits to a favorite composer or style. As students of music, "You read the classic literature and contemporary authors," Maria notes. While they love the traditional masters, "it's so exciting to play new music," Lucia says.
They have commissioned a number of works and are looking forward to receiving a piece being written for them by Maurice Jarre, the legendary film composer who did the music for "Lawrence of Arabia," "Dr. Zhivago" and dozens of films. Lucia says, "Somehow, in France, he found us and he told our mentor in Europe, 'Hey, I want to write a trio for these girls.'"
They'll be going into the studio in May to record a new CD, but they're keeping quiet about the music, except to say it will be on their EMI Classics label and will be recorded in Vienna. "It's very special. It's going to be very emotional for us," Maria says. "Very different from what we've done," Angella adds.
They readily admit that they "disagree a lot" when they sit down to work on a piece of music. "But that's not necessarily bad," Angella says. "It makes everything we do more fresh."
Maria adds, "We're constantly evolving. We support each other and let each other come out — you have to do that in a trio much more than in a string quartet." Further, "We love each other and want each other to be happy. It really makes it a lot easier that we're sisters."
While performing in the Virgin Islands in the middle of winter is a treat personally for the trio, continual changes in temperature and humidity can be tough on the "other performers" that travel with Angella and Maria, even though their musical instruments travel in the passenger compartment of airplanes — the cello with its own ticketed seat. Within a month, they are traveling to Pennsylvania, Montreal, Florida, Atlanta, Florida again, New York and Pennsylvania, St. Thomas and St. John, California, Michigan and Oklahoma.
"I use a damper and humidifier for the cello," Maria says. "Still, it won't speak as well, but you have to work with it."
The instrument "has its own frequent-flyer miles," she notes — and, yes, it has been bumped from flights on occasion because of inadvertent booking on aircraft that do not allow such instruments to be taken into the passenger cabin. And when the cello doesn't go, the trio doesn't go.
That kind of travel schedule has to take a toll on the humans, too. All three sisters say that somewhere down the road they envision cutting back on touring and spending more time in one place — teaching and performing in other ensembles. But for now, Maria says, "You get used to being tired and just living your life. For people our age, it's very normal.&quo
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Ticket information
Tickets are $30 for general admission and $25 for students. They're being sold at Connections; space permitting, they also will be available at the door. Reservations are not taken by telephone. Call 779-4322 or 776-6777 for additional information.
The Ahn Trio also will perform Wednesday night at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas. For ticket information on that concert, call 775-1929.

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