Ahn Guard

A lively sister act shakes up chamber music.

VIOLINIST ANGELLA AHN can't find a decent restaurant in Iowa. On the phone from a Best Western in Burlington, where she and her older twin sisters, Lucia (piano) and Maria (cello), are staying as part of a series of outreach concerts throughout the state, she looks forward to heading west. "We like the coasts," she says, "because the food is always so good."

Ahn Trio

Meany Hall, February 16

It's hard to imagine these Korean-born, Juilliard-trained sisters heading back to the Best Western after a concert; they are all head-turning beauties with a predilection for couture that's already brought them to the pages of Vogue. But the Ahns have emerged as pioneers in a world where classical music audiences are more likely to fork over to hear Beethoven than Bunch. The three travel wherever it takes to spread their excitement for chamber music. And people are listening.

"It's just as thrilling as other forms of art, like going to the movies and other things people do all the time," Angella says. "The three of us are in music because we grew up going to concerts and hearing it at home. We hope to somehow make a difference."

With two CDs on the EMI Classics label (1995's Paris Rio, featuring trios by Ravel and Villa-Lobos, and a 1998 recording featuring Dvor᫬ Suk, and Shostakovich), the Ahns won't allow themselves to be defined by their Comme des Garcon outfits and cover-girl smiles. When they play a favorite composer like Dvor᫬ as on their most recent CD, they aren't afraid of being brazen or digging into the melodies. And just as quickly they'll retreat into the softest tones with a feather-light sensuality. Call it a sibling bond or just plain musicianship— it comes across like magic.

The Ahns take their popularity seriously. They've worked to blur the lines between formal classical performance and an MTV-type sensationalism. Maria, the "artistic, creative" sister, conceived the format "Ahn-plugged," which incorporates the otherwise stark realm of chamber music with different genres of music, contemporary art, video, and stage design.

"Going into the 21st century, different forms of art seem like they're merging," Angella says. "I think they have to. There's really such a fine line between jazz and classical and rock. All art forms are so beautiful when they come together."

The trio has commissioned works by such diverse musicians as their Juilliard classmate Kenji Bunch and film composer Michael Nyman (The Piano). Composer Paul Schoenfield, in response to the sisters' request that he write something they could play on MTV, delivered Four Music Videos (with movements titled "Rock Song," "Bossa Nova," "Film Score," and "Samba"). The piece will be on the program at Meany Hall when the Ahns appear this week as guests of the UW's International Chamber Music Series.

Angella's already thinking ahead to where they'll eat when they're here, asking, "Do you know a good place for Korean food?"

 
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