Korean-American classical trio crosses genres, art forms

Ahn+Trio

Emily Fornof | Senior Staff Photographer

The Ahn Trio performs at the Jazz Museum.

Psychedelic spotlights of blue and red illuminated the stage walls as three sisters dressed in white entered the stage.  The Ahn Trio introduced themselves not with words, but with their instruments: Angela on the violin, Maria on the cello and, finally, Lucia on the piano.

The trio is comprised of three Juilliard-trained, Korean-American sisters who have toured every U.S. state and 29 countries. They performed last Friday at The Jazz and Heritage Museum at the Old United States Mint.

The Ahn Trio started the show with “Skylife,” one of their most notable songs, which they played for President Barack Obama at the state dinner for South Korea in 2011. This piece, written by David Balakrishnan, demonstrated how each instrument plays off the others.

During their concert, most of the songs featured came from the trio’s most recent album, “BLUE.”  The album, which took four years to write, was made for and dedicated to Lucia’s son, Blue.  It features a compilation of music across genres and styles.  

“While people often give children picture albums, we wanted to give Lucia’s son, Blue, a musical album,” Maria Ahn said.  “BLUE is a musical diary of our past and present. We celebrate being a family of music lovers and pay respect to artists and musical pioneers who have inspired us.”

While the violin established the backbeat, the cello added melody, and the piano filled out the space with a jazzy sound. Maria and Angela would tilt their heads and look toward each other during strong parts of the song, playing their parts to each other throughout the performance.

The concert continued on as a conversation. Between each set, the group told stories and joked about their music and their lives.  The sisters created an intimate space, as if it were just the trio speaking with a close friend.  

Their next song, “Yuryung,” was written for the sisters by Pat Metheny.  It started somber and soft, meant to represent the Korean word “Han,” meaning sorrow or ache.  The song was created to mimic a reflective night walk through the city of Seoul, South Korea.

After the intermission, they performed classical versions of rock songs, which were added to the album as songs Blue should grow up knowing. The trio covered “Purple Rain” by Prince, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie and “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix.

“Purple Rain,” arranged by their Julliard classmate, Kenji Bunch, was added for the group’s memories of jamming and playing the song with Prince in Paisley Park.

“Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing,’ arranged by D.D. Jackson, fit perfectly into our vision for the CD. She’s walking through the clouds, with a circus mind that’s running wild … fly on little wing,” the trio wrote on its website.  “Not only does it sum up how we feel about Blue, but how we feel about our art. May we all fly on.”

After ending on “Little Wing,” the Ahn sisters returned for an encore performance of “Lina’s Waltz.”

Not only does the trio cross genres, they cross art forms.  In the past, they have performed with dancers, visual artists and live bands.  Even in their solo performance in New Orleans, they featured artful experimentation through the lighting design.

“It is the most natural thing in the world for an artist to collaborate with different kinds of art forms, and we always felt that it makes our audiences listen to the same music differently,” Maria Ahn said.  “… But, it’s also that we are three sisters and collaborating with different kinds of art forms keep us on the edge and not bored with one another.”

The sisters have been playing for more than two decades and have always managed to find something else to explore with their music.

“I think one of the best thing about doing music is that you never have to grow up,” Maria said.  “Although, I am not so young anymore. The eagerness, the yearning for searching for the next cool new things, cool new music, art, that never dies down … all three of us feel that.”