About Trio Accanto1994, it was a brave step to consider forming an ensemble made up of saxophone, percussion, and piano. Because no repertoire worth mentioning existed, it was a real breakthrough into uncharted territory. The idea came from Marcus Weiss and Yukiko Sugawara. As Marcus Weiss reports, “It happened on the way home from the Witten Days for New Chamber Music in 1992. I talked a lot with Yukiko during the trip, and we came up with the idea for this combination of instruments. Shortly afterwards, Christian [Dierstein] joined in. I was especially interested in having a fixed ensemble in order to play pieces a number of times, because at that time I was playing in larger ensembles where only a few pieces with saxophone occurred in the concerts and these programs were often just played once.”4
The trio made its first appearance on 15 October 1994 at the Donaueschingen Festival. There quickly followed concerts in festivals all over the world, always connected with premieres of pieces written for the group. After innumerable concerts and almost 100 new works, Yukiko Sugawara withdrew from the ensemble after the final concert of the Donaueschingen Festival on 21 October 2012.
Nicolas Hodges then took over the piano part. His first appearance with the trio took place on 1 November 2013 in Prague. As Nicolas Hodges reports, “I’ve known Christian and Marcus since the year 2000 when we first met in Darmstadt. We stayed in steady contact after that and met regularly at festivals and other occasions. When they asked if I’d like to become a member of the trio, there wasn’t much to think about: I said yes! Apparently, it was the right moment – for me and for the other two as well.”
All three are very aware of the possibilities this ensemble offers. All three also have solo engagements, play recitals, have solo roles with orchestras and other ensembles, and are sought-after guests for special projects with formations brought together only for those occasions; they are also members of other fixed ensembles. The work in Trio Accanto is unique, however. Marcus Weiss – who is also a member of the saxophone ensemble Xasax – notes, “It is very different to play with Accanto than with three saxophone colleagues. It’s a bigger challenge; but I’m also freer, because as far as my instrument is concerned, I’m the only one. To evolve rhythmic precision together, to master a complex situation, to learn to breathe together, to maintain a pulse, to master sounds with such disparate instruments – all that makes for great fun. A well-balanced sound, precision, and all that I just described can only be achieved with a fixed group of individuals. Temporary formations are like temporary relationships: they can be refreshing, but are also often not much more.”
The percussionist Christian Dierstein, who is also a member of Ensemble Recherche, says, “The smaller the group, the more it has to do with every single sound. Especially with such a heterogeneous formation, it’s important to find common ground: to blend the instruments into a single sound entity. I think the reason the trio is so interesting for us is that although we’re all soloists and are also busy with other groups, it is very enriching whenever we meet – not only to make music, but also just to spend time with each other. This creates a wonderful foundation for the situation on stage. The work with ad hoc groups is interesting in a different way, but it seldom manages to go deeper into the music; mostly it remains fleeting. Solo work, on the other hand, is a more contemplative, almost lonely occupation that requires enormous discipline. I enjoy that a lot, but after a few weeks of working alone, I’m glad to have the inspiration that comes from an exchange of ideas with colleagues.”
The situation for pianist Nicolas Hodges is somewhat different, since although he has played a great deal of chamber music, he had never before been a fixed member of an ensemble – even though for years he has played together regularly with many musicians. As he puts it, “With solo projects you are responsible for everything; with chamber music you can share the responsibility with others. On the other hand, as a soloist it’s relatively easy to make decisions, while in a trio the three participants must find a balance in making decisions. Both spheres have their charms. In ensemble playing, you learn a lot about your colleagues – and about yourself. I have in any case grown to love the collaboration with Marcus and Christian, and the Trio Accanto is now an important part of my musical life.”
It is not difficult to recognize: an ensemble is an ensemble is an ensemble. (Or else it is not.) Marcus Weiss has noted an interesting aspect of this formation: “Naturally, it’s a kind of jazz trio: the instruments are compatible dynamically, and follow the classic divisions of melody, harmony, and rhythm. Of course, it is important to question and reinterpret these roles – though many composers have found this difficult.”