Eroica Trio

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Eroica Trio

Classical trio

The Eroica Trio comprises cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio, pianist Erika Nickrenz and violinist Adela Peña. All three are talented and attractive musicians with a natural stage presence. With their combination of looks and talent, they have found it somewhat difficult to be taken seriously in the world of classical music. But after several years of performing together, the trio has been able to develop an excellent reputation as well as an impressive musical repetoire.

The three have played together most of their lives and are so close they call each other sisters. Adela Peña, born in New York City, was a classical music fan from an early age. As she grew up, she shared her parents' love of music and eventually asked to take violin lessons. She was a dedicated student and immediately showed a flair for the material assigned. She studied chamber music at the famed Greenwich House, and then attended Juilliard School of Music, where she won the school's Mendelssohn Violin Competition, giving her the opportunity to represent the United States in an international competition. The result was a solid stint of independent performances in Venezuela.

It was probably inevitable that Erika Nickrenz would love classical music as well. Her father was a respected violist who helped found the Orpheus Trio. Her mother, a busy career concert pianist, also had an ear for music that had brought her three Grammy Awards as a producer. Nickrenz showed such talent early on that she appeared at New York's Town Hall at the age of eleven. She met Peña at the age of nine and Sara Sant'Ambrogio at the age of 12, and the three would not only become friends but would share a similar level of musical talent.

Sara Sant'Ambrogio was set to play classical music from the moment she was born. Sant'Ambrogio is part of a 600-year-old family line that traces its roots to Saint Ambrose, a patron saint of the arts. Her father was a cellist with the esteemed Boston Symphony before he moved on to be principal cellist with the St. Louis Symphony. After studying under her father for years, she won the Bronze Medal at the International Tchaikovsky Cello competition in 1986. The award led to an invitation from world-famous Carnegie Hall to perform at its grand re-opening after extensive repairs and upgrades had kept the famous musical venue closed for years.

With impressive resumes already under their belts, the three attended Juilliard School together, where they decided to start a trio. All were fans of Beethoven's "Eroica," and the idea of three young women being heroic inspired the name. The "a" at the end of the word added a special feminine touch that the women also liked.

With such stellar individual talents and careers, it should not have taken long for the three friends to develop a successful trio. But there were high expectations and prejudice to overcome in order to be taken seriously as an all-female group in a man's world. But with hard work and practice, the Eroica Trio won the esteemed Naumburg Award in 1991. The award allowed them to perform at Lincoln Center to a sold-out audience. The program allowed the trio to perform a variety of musical works, and the final program impressed critics and audience alike. The Eroica Trio had made its first mark in the music world.

The group members were able to depend on each other for the strength and support they needed in order to persevere and succeed. The three artists knew each other well and were able to begin the tough process of working with their individual strengths and weaknesses. They characterize themselves as three very different women with different styles, who come together to make beautiful music. "I wouldn't say competition, but there was certainly a sense of fiercely different approaches to this, and that's kind of what's given us our fire," Peña told Fanfare. "We've had our differences, and we've learned to use them to our greatest advantage."

The trio eventually found opportunities to showcase their talents. When EMI signed them on, the three artists decided to develop a five-album strategy that would allow the classical world to get to know them and their array of musical styles and talents. Sant'Ambrogio's love of pop and rock sometimes steered the band toward Mozart, big band music or Piazolla, while Nickrenz's love of the classics led to some of the group's more traditional performances. The group also brought Nickrenz's mother on board as producer. Hiring Joanna Nickrenz, one of the premier producers for classical albums, proved to be a successful strategy for the trio.

Their first album, Eroica Trio, included works by Benjamin Godard, George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, and Paul Schoenfield. National Public Radio (NPR) named Eroica Trio as its Performance Today Debut Recording of the Year, and the album secured a spot on the Time Out New York Top Ten Recordings of 1997. The attractive and talented young women got as much exposure in New York Magazine as they did in Strings. At first, many in the classical world paid them little mind. But their self-titled debut CD was received so well by the mainstream press that serious classical fans began to take notice.

With the combination of their developing talent, looks, and energy on stage, the trio became a hit with both traditional fans and many new, younger admirers. All three women are committed to education, and in addition to their hectic tour schedule they have given much of their time to traveling to schools in order to perform and answer questions.

Their second album was a slightly more traditional album for the trio, and included pieces by Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, and Dvorák. Positive reviews of the group's second album prompted many in the classical world to take notice. And with all of the attention from the mainstream press, the three have found their way onto television as well as into fashion magazines. However, they have been able to stay focused on their musical careers and on the dynamic they have established as a team.

Their third CD was a Baroque mix, aptly called Baroque, and it further enhanced their growing reputation as serious classical musicians. The fourth album, Pasión, featured music of Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, and Turina, all virtuoso pieces in a Latin vein.

Even as the three have expanded their musical focus, they have begun cementing their reputations in the classical world as an active trio in the orchestral performances arena, and have earned a reputation for premiering new and innovative work. At the same time they are becoming known for performing more traditional fare, such as Beethoven Triple Concerto concerts.

In the midst of releasing their fifth album, Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Op. 56; Piano Trio, Op. 11, two of the Eroica Trio became mothers. Both women have been able to strike a balance between touring and motherhood and are confident they can continue to stay active in the musical world.

What keeps them going? One favorite moment for the band came after a performance in Japan when a young woman approached them. Peña told Strings that she said, "You've really inspired me as a woman, to pursue my own goals with passion and determination." When the band asked the woman what instrument she played she responded, "I'm a graphic artist! But this concert tonight has changed me, it's changed how I think of myself and it's changed the way I intend to approach my career!" Seeing someone so moved by their music has proved to the group that they are making a difference with their music.

For the Record . . .

Members include Erika Nickrenz (daughter of Joanna Nickrenz, a concert pianist and record producer, and Scott Nickrenz, a violist; children: Zachary), piano; Adela Peña (born in New York, NY), violin; Sara Sant'Ambrogio (born in Boston, MA; daughter of John Sant'Ambrogio, a cellist), cello.

Group formed in New York City, c. 1991; released debut album, Eroica Trio, 1997; released LP Dvorak: Trio No. 4; Shostakovich: Trio No. 2, Op. 67, 1998; released albums Baroque, 1999; Pasión, 2000; Brahms: Piano Trios Nos.1&2, 2002; appeared in documentary Eroica! for PBS, 2003; released album, Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Op. 56; Piano Trio, Op. 11, on EMI, 2003.

Awards: Naumburg Award, 1991; National Public Radio (NPR), Best Debut Album of the Year for Eroica Trio, 1998.

Addresses: Record company EMI, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Website Eroica Trio Official Website:

Selected discography

Eroica Trio, EMI, 1997.

Dvorák: Trio No. 4; Shostakovich: Trio No. 2, Op. 67, EMI, 1998.

Baroque, EMI, 1999.

Pasión, EMI, 2000.

Brahms: Piano Trios Nos.1&2, EMI, 2002.

Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Op. 56; Piano Trio, Op. 11, EMI, 2003.



American Music Teacher, February/March 2003.

Fanfare, April 2002.

Strings, January 6, 2004.


"Eroica," Angel Records, (February 9, 2004).

"Eroica!," Independent Lens, (February 9, 2004).

"Eroica Trio," All Music Guide, (February 9, 2004).

"Eroica Trio," Kaos2000 Magazine, (February 9, 2004).

Eroica Trio Official Website, (February 9, 2004).

Ben Zackheim