Time for Three – violinist Nikki Chooi, violinist Nicolas (Nick) Kendall and double-bassist Ranaan Meyer – is a group that defies any traditional genre classification, happily and infectiously. With an uncommon mix of virtuosity and showmanship, the American trio performs music from Bach to Brahms and beyond, giving world-premieres by Pulitzer Prize-winners William Bolcom and Jennifer Higdon as well as playing originals and their own arrangements of everything from bluegrass and folk tunes to ingenious mash-ups of hits by the Beatles, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and more. Time for Three, or Tf3 for short, has performed from Carnegie Hall and the famed jazz club Yoshi’s in San Francisco to European festivals, the BBC Proms, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, NFL games, the Indy 500, and most recently on the ABC prime time hit show “Dancing with the Stars.” The group’s hit YouTube bullying-prevention video, “Stronger,” has inspired students across the globe, eliciting features on CNN and the Huffington Post. Since 2009, Tf3 has held a hugely successful residency with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, helping to expand the orchestra’s audience with innovative outreach. The latest milestone for Tf3 was the June 24, 2014, release of their debut on UMC, Time for Three. The new album, with tracks co-produced by Bon Iver’s Rob Moose, showcases not only the trio’s melody-rich string weave but also its uncommon flair for collaboration, with the group teaming with pop singer-songwriter Joshua Radin, jazz saxophone icon Branford Marsalis, Decca cello star Alisa Weilerstein and ukulele ace Jake Shimabukuro, among others.
Since Tf3 were fellow students at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music they have wowed media and fellow artists alike with their charismatic musicianship. National Public Radio said: “In person, the members of Time for Three come off as just three dudes in a band. But with their staggering technique and freewheeling genre-crossing, it’s hard not to be swept up in the force of their contagious energy.” The Wall Street Journal praised the trio’s rare blend of “spontaneity and precision,” while the Indianapolis Examiner raved, “Demonstrating their ability to deeply connect with their audience in a most interactive way, they electrified a full-house crowd.” But perhaps no one has offered a more enthusiastic appraisal than the great Sir Simon Rattle, chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, who said: “Simply put, they’re a knockout! Three benevolent monsters – monsters of ability and technique surely. But also conveyers of an infectious joy that I find both touching and moving. I would recommend them not only for entertainment value, but also for anyone looking to see how all types of American music can develop, when life and passion such as this are breathed into it.”
Time for Three, the trio’s UMC debut, sees the group explore the interactive possibilities of string instruments, projecting their onstage magnetism into pure aural allure. The album also presents the collaborative essence of the group in the most organic fashion. As Tf3’s Nick Kendall points out, they have a personal connection to each of the guest artists which include singer/songwriter Joshua Radin, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Branford Marsalis – a member of the first family of New Orleans jazz, Indianapolis folk-pop sister duo Lily & Madeleine, and Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. The centrepiece of Time for Three is a concert favorite of the trio’s, “Chaconne in Winter.” It’s perhaps the ultimate Tf3 mash-up, with Bach’s totemic “Chaconne” melded with Bon Iver’s “Calgary” in an arrangement by Steve Hackman, a friend and collaborator of the group’s from the Curtis Institute.
”The album represents an eclectic, but natural, mix. Kendall explains: “Like most young people in America now, the three of us grew up listening to all kinds of music – ’90s hip-hop, grunge, bluegrass – and we’ve always played a wide variety of music. We’re part of a new generation of classically trained musicians who approach diverse styles from the same heartfelt place. We hear and feel it all in a similar way, as just music.”
De Pue, Kendall and Meyer started playing together while at the Curtis Institute, with the two violinists discovering a mutual love for fiddling in the bluegrass and country & western traditions. Then Meyer introduced them to his roots in jazz and improvised music. After experiments and jam sessions, the musical friendships evolved into Time for Three. The key was chemistry, as De Pue explains: “The instruments we play are almost incidental – it’s the musical personalities and the unique synergy we have together that make Tf3 what it is. Nick and I have different approaches on the violin, but after 14 years of playing together, our styles and energies complement one another in a way that’s magical, really. I think Ranaan is reinventing the double bass, paying particular attention to quality of sound. But we have great chemistry with or without our instruments, onstage or off – it’s always fun to be a part of this.”
Tf3 gained instant attention in 2003, when there was a lightning-induced power failure during a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra. While technicians worked to restore the lights, Meyer and De Prue, who were both performing as members of the orchestra, obliged with an impromptu jam session that included such folk-inflected works as “Jerusalem’s Ridge,” “Ragtime Annie” and “The Orange Blossom Special.” It was very different music from the scheduled symphony, but the crowd went wild. The trio has since performed more than a thousand engagements as diverse as the music it plays: from featured soloists on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s subscription series and residencies at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to former Philly maestro Christoph Eschenbach’s birthday concert at Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein Festival and a private concert on the aircraft carrier Intrepid off Manhattan.
Tf3 independently released its first album, Three Fervent Travelers (E1), in 2010, which debuted in the top 10 on the charts of Billboard, Amazon and iTunes, remaining in the top 10 of the Billboard Crossover Chart for more than 10 months. That release followed two self-produced CDs, which sold more than 20,000 copies. In 2011, Tf3 raised more than $20,000 from its fans in one week through a Kickstarter campaign to finance the production of their first professionally shot music video. The result was “Stronger,” a potent bullying-prevention video, which became a YouTube sensation, establishing the trio as leaders in the fight against bullying. The group partnered with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to bring their message to schools across the country through residencies, workshops and the media.
Tf3 has embarked on a major commissioning program to expand its unique repertoire for symphony orchestras. The first fruit of the program was Concerto 4-3 by Jennifer Higdon. In 2008, the trio premiered the work in six performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach. The group has since been played it dozens of times across the country to acclaim, including with the Fort Worth Symphony (documented on a 2012 recording released by the orchestra) and a 2013 performance with the Baltimore Symphony at Carnegie Hall. In 2010, Tf3 premiered Travels in Time for Three by Chris Brubeck, co-commissioned by the Boston Pops, Colorado Music Festival and eight other organizations. The next work in the series was Games and Challenges by William Bolcom, commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Grand Rapids Symphony; the trio premiered the piece in 2013. Tf3 is currently working on a commission by the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in which they will write and perform a 55-minute piece with orchestra to premiere August, 2015 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
In 2009, Tf3 inaugurated an ambitious three-year residency with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, a groundbreaking project in which the trio not only got involved at the community level but also curated a wildly successful “Happy Hour” series of concerts with the orchestra. The project generated media attention and heightened the orchestra’s profile, especially among the younger demographic, making the three musicians household names in Indianapolis. Thrilled with the residency’s success, the Indianapolis Symphony decided in 2012 to extend and expand the trio’s contract. The group now spends 14 weeks per season with the orchestra doing everything from programming, arranging and performing concerts to conducting education, fundraising and community outreach. In 2013, Tf3’s residency with the ISO received an Indiana Innovation Award.
Tf3 has been seen and heard via various TV and radio broadcasts throughout the country, including numerous times on Public Television, NPR and CNN. The trio was featured in a documentary film about Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square directed by Robert Downey Sr., and the group recorded the soundtrack to the History Channel production The Spanish-American War. Even with an ever-increasing performance and media schedule, Tf3 remains committed to reaching younger audiences by participating in educational residencies and outreach concerts, including annual visits to Paul Newman’s Hole In The Wall Gang Camp for children with terminal illnesses; weeklong residencies at the Kennedy Center; Carnegie Hall’s series of Family Concerts; and countless jam sessions and instances of impromptu music-making with students, from university classes to coffee houses.
No less than the late Paul Newman summed up Time for Three’s cross-generational appeal: “To hear these three young guys is to be thankful that music was invented… If I had been able to create a sound like these kids a few years back, I might have thought twice about going into acting!”
Time For Three last for performed for La Jolla Music Society at SummerFest 2015.