No ifs, Ahns, or buts, these sisters rock

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No ifs, Ahns, or buts, these sisters rock

Maria, Angella and Lucia Ahn walk on stage in dangerously high heels. Maria is in a dark suit, Angella in green leather pants, Lucia in a crocheted skirt and fringed cowboy boots. "Click, click, click" echoes through Ho-Am Art Hall, and then they sit by their instruments -- a piano, a violin, a cello.

The Ahn sisters may be the poster girls of classical music, but they are more than a glamorous image. When the Juilliard-trained sisters play -- Angella, 31, on violin, Lucia, 33, on piano and Lucia's twin, Maria, on cello -- the sounds they evoke are jarring, haunting and technically superb. They are in Korea for a concert on Friday at Ho-Am Art Hall. This is their first appearance in Korea since a performance two years ago at the Seoul Arts Center.

The sisters are adamant that their music is classical, not jazz, not pop and never cross-over. During a press conference on Monday, they brought up Vanessa Mae, perhaps the best-known 20th century musician for making classical music sexy, as an example of what they are not. "In addition to the track for her instrument, creating her album sound requires more than 100 tracks, drums and other sound effects," Maria Ahn says.

But the music the sisters play is not classical in the, er, classical sense. They prefer to work with living composers and arrangers, such as Maurice Jarre, on their latest album, "Groovebox." EMI released "Groovebox" early in Korea for the concert. The album will be available Oct. 22 internationally.

When asked about the first song on the album, "The Doors" -- a classical transcription of "Riders on the Storm" from "L.A. Woman" (1971) -- they pause. Maria Ahn says, "Mozart and Hayden were avant garde for their times. In the same way, the composers we work with are classical. They are avant garde for their time, so sometimes the harmony, the melodic structure, everything about their music is hard to understand."

Other composers they have interpreted include the Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, rocker David Bowie and modern composer Kenji Bunch.

On another album, "Dvorak," their recording philosophy was quite different. But even with "Dvorak," they took liberties with tempo and phrasings, creating a vibrant sound. So in the end, "Dvorak," like the Ahn sisters, is a mixture of old and new, whether image, sound or culture. And because of their ability to reach 21st century audiences, critics have called them "the piano trio for the MTV generation."

The sisters first came to the public's attention in 1987 when Time magazine ran a cover story on "Asian-American Whiz Kids." They have been in the New York Times, GQ and Vogue. Lucia Ahn defended their decision to appear in pop culture media. "It's great that even classical musicians can be in magazine spreads," she says.

The sisters were born in Seoul. They said their first performance as a trio was in 1979 in the capital city. In 1981, they moved to the United States with their mother, a writer and teacher. There they established their reputation as an ensemble with complementary but individual sounds. Playing as sisters, Maria said, is vastly different from playing with unrelated colleagues. "We don't mince words with each other."

"We have a lonely job since we're on a plane a lot," Angella Ahn adds. "One benefit of being sisters is that we draw strength from each other."

When the Ahn Trio first gained attention, they were the adorable prodigy sisters. The sisters are now more than 30 years old. "I don't know what will come of us as we get older," Angella says. "But I hope to keep playing."

For concert information, visit the Web site at, or call (02) 751-9999.

by Joe Yong-hee

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