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String trio Time for Three twists classical roots into genre-smashing concerts of discovery

Submitted by on Jul 3, 2014 – 4:16 pm

Time for Three includes, from left, violinists Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall and bassist Ranaan Meyer. (Universal Music Classics)Preview: With new CD just released featuring guests Alisa Weilerstein, Branford Marsalis and Joshua Radin, the world-traveling threesome comes to Chicago and a stop at City Winery.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

The term “crossover” just doesn’t seem adequate for the super-eclectic, albeit classically rooted, string trio Time for Three, which makes its debut at Chicago’s City Winery on July 7.

A different word is needed for the creative adventures and mash-ups that fire the collective imagination of violinists Nicolas Kendall and Zachary De Pue, and bassist Ranaan Meyer. If there’s any road these youthful musical wanderers have not yet taken, it’s only a matter of time. They are stylistically peripatetic — with a vengeance. 

Cover shot of Time for Three's new album on Universal Music Classics “We’re just three guys who like to have a great time,” says Meyer, who met his two mates while all three were students at the famed Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. “We feel our music with a fabulous amount of passion. We take a rock band mentality. We empower each other.”

That combination of free-wheeling enthusiasm and seriousness resonates through Time for Three’s debut album for Universal Music Classics, a self-titled excursion with assorted friends like cellist Alisa Weilerstein, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pop vocalists Joshua Radin.

The CD also offers a typically far-flung mix of genres and riffs on genres. Weilerstein’s mellifluous turn through Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” for instance, is couched in elaborate embroidery by the three string players. And “Chaconne for Winter” takes Bach’s monumental Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin as the starting point for a plush, intricate tapestry of sound.

Violinist Nicolas KendallFour tracks on the disc features songs written and sung by Radin, all cradled in a surprisingly ample string sonority that might be characterized as romantic jazz. Indeed, that tag seems perfectly suited to “Queen of Voodoo,” composed by Meyer and violinist Kendell and spotlighting Marsalis on saxophone. Some selections, like “Banjo Love,” a joint creation of Time for Three, and the Lennon-McCartney “Norwegian Wood,” revert to the threesome alone.

You could say it’s something for everyone, but more to the point it’s everything that Time for Three – which the group shortens to Tf3 – embodies musically.

Violinist Zachary De Pue“Ultimately, I’d love to see a world where categories are shattered, eliminated,” says Meyer. “We like to have fun with all kinds of pieces and make them into something that’s uniquely Tf3. The cool thing is that we’re not cutting off the leg of a sculpture. We’re just changing it up for our purpose.”

The guys got their start more than a decade ago when Zach De Pue was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra first violins and Meyer was a frequent sub with the orchestra. Nick Kendall was their conservatory classmate.

They’d gained something of a reputation around Curtis for late-night improvs in practice rooms, and through a connection they were invited to play a corporate gig, a one-off lark. They thought up the name Time for Three en route to the gig. (“We knew we’d have to be introduced by some name,” recalls Meyer.) The audience loved them, word got around and more invitations started to roll in.

“We never expected it,” says Meyer. “But in this business, one thing really does lead to another. Our good fortune might be a lesson to younger musicians: Respect every gig you do. Always give it your best because word travels fast. For us, a few gigs became 10, then 50. So we decided to invest some time and money, and make the jump.”

Bassist Ranaan MeyerEmblematic of Tf3’s steady ascent has been the commissioning of two major works from Pulitzer Prize-winning composers: Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4-3, which the trio performed at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christoph Eschenbach in 2009, and William Bolcom’s “Games and Challenges,” premiered by Tf3 with the Indianapolis Symphony under Krystof Urbanski in 2013.

The three musicians are now artists in residence with the Indianapolis Symphony, where De Pue is the orchestra’s concertmaster. The trio’s Happy Hour concert series aimed at expanding audiences earned an Indiana Innovation Award last year.

What once exploded to 50 gigs for Tf3 has become a decade-long, open-ended international schedule of concerts. Meyer calls their performances “an incredible reward for all the work we put in.

“We’re out there fist-bumping each other. Any little disagreements we might have had are left behind. I get a big smile on my face. We let loose.”

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