Zach DePue wants to break down walls.
Not everyone can accomplish that with a violin, but DePue is a member of Time for Three. Known as a “classically trained garage band,” the trio of two violins and bass (DePue, Nicolas Kendall and Ranaan Meyer) has already earned a reputation for breaking barriers. So when DePue says he wants to “break down that wall that has existed so many years” between strict classical performance and the freedom of improvisation, and the wall between pop and classical music, he should be taken seriously.
Time for Three (tf3) made a splash last year at the Colorado Music Festival (CMF), premiering Chris Brubeck’s jazzy Travels in Time for Three with the orchestra and playing a deliciously raucous Brahms “Hungarian Dance” as an encore. Michael Christie, CMF’s music director, found tf3 so much fun that he invited them back this year for a full week’s residency and two concert programs: an ensemble-only concert on Tuesday, Aug. 2, and the Festival Finale concert with the orchestra Thursday, Aug. 4, and Friday, Aug. 5. (See event details at www.coloradomusicfest.org.)
In addition to the two concert programs, tf3 will present educational programs for young musicians and two other public events on Monday, Aug. 1.
A major focus of the education programs is what DePue describes as “a musician finding their connection to a piece of music and freeing themselves from the written page, not out of disrespect for the composer, but out of respect for themselves being as expressive and communicative with an audience as possible.”
DePue notes that improvisation was once a significant part of the classical tradition. “We got away from that in classical music, mainly because of having to be ‘perfect’ in performance,” he says.
Now, tf3 has taken improvisation from folk, bluegrass and jazz traditions and added it to their classical training.
Another striking part of the tf3 formula is the ease with which the group incorporates pop, folk and other non-classical styles into their repertoire. Since their appearance at CMF last year, the group has been honing this part of their message through a residency at the Indianapolis Symphony, where DePue is concertmaster.
“The concert with the CMF orchestra is really an expansion of what we’ve been doing with the Indianapolis Symphony,” DePue says, “a series called Happy Hour. The ideals of Happy Hour are to engage the listeners of our generation with repertoire that they’re more familiar with. So we make arrangements of more current pop tunes, but put in the context of the symphony orchestra. And we bridge that with some of the classical material that we love.
“This has been a major, major breakthrough for us. We’ve really taken what we’re trying to accomplish to another level, to bring as high an artistic level as possible to this ideal of pop music connecting with classical music.”
For example, tf3 has an arrangement of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” that incorporates music from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Since they play a complete Stravinsky excerpt first, the audience recognizes the classical music within the pop arrangement.
“We’re conscious of relating the material, so that the listeners’ ears are getting hooked onto things that are unfamiliar and that then become familiar,” he says. “We want them to love Stravinsky.”
Also on the orchestral program is another jazzy premiere for the group, a work commissioned from tf3 bass player Ranaan Meyer.
“Ranaan and Steve Hackman, our conductor and arranger for Happy Hour, have teamed up in writing a piece that celebrates the palette of jazz,” DePue says.
To complete the program, Christie will lead the CMF orchestra in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, an orchestral showpiece that he hopes will stand up next to tf3’s vibrancy.
“The energy level these guys bring to the stage is just kind of ecstatic, so I was trying to find something that would measure up to them, frankly,” he says.
Tuesday’s ensemble-only concert will draw on the entire history of the group, including classical arrangements, gypsy and bluegrass. “We’ll share everything we did from the beginning,” DuPue says, listing “Brahms’ ‘Hungarian Dance,’ ‘Czardas,’ the Bach Double Violin Concerto, Katy Perry and U2, something a little less familiar, including ‘Stillness is the Move’ by an indie band called the Dirty Projectors, ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen, ‘Hide and Seek’ by Imogen Heap, ‘Orange Blossom Special’ and some originals by Ranaan.
“We’ve never played our solo set there at CMF, so I think it will be cool to share with everybody just a breath of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.”
So just where is the group going? Stay tuned.