If they were superheroes, they might be called the Tremendous Three. Bassist Edgar Meyer, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and mandolinist Chris Thile are all premier virtuosos on their instruments, and all three have a love of breaking down musical boundaries. While they regularly perform classical music (Meyer and Thile are both composers as well) in a variety of settings, they also branch into other styles. Meyer and Thile are major exponents of folk and bluegrass, and Ma serves as the artistic director of the world music ensemble the Silk Road Project.
Amid their busy schedules and diverse collaborations, they have managed to carve out time to perform together in varying combinations, including a current tour, which stops April 24 at Orchestra Hall for an SCP Chamber Music Series concert. “It is a joy to work with both,” Meyer said of Ma and Thile. “Each of them has redefined for me what is possible.”
Ma and Edgar Meyer’s first recording together was “Appalachia Waltz” (1996), which also featured fiddler Mark O’Connor. Meyer and Thile began working together nearly two decades ago, first performing live as a duo in 2003. The latter pair have made two duo albums, “Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile” (2008) and the Grammy Award-winning “Bass and Mandolin” (2014).
Meyer, Ma and Thile also have performed as a trio. In 2011, the threesome joined Stuart Duncan on album titled “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” which received two Grammy Awards. Writing for the Los Angeles Times music blog Pop & Hiss, Randy Lewis described the release as a “haunting, invigorating, often breathtaking clash of classical, bluegrass, folk, jazz and free-form music traditions.” It debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 1 on the classical and classical crossover charts, as well as No. 1 on the bluegrass chart, where it stayed for 11 weeks.
More recently, the three reunited for an album on the Nonesuch label, which was released on April 7. Titled “Bach Trios,” it includes an arrangement of the Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major, BWV 530, as well as other works by Johann Sebastian Bach. “Bach has been at the center of all of our musical lives,” Meyer said via e-mail. “Playing a couple of movements of Bach as a trio together every concert on the ‘Goat Rodeo’ tour made that even clearer.”
In support of the album, the trio played Bach on the Thile-hosted radio program, “A Prairie Home Companion” in December. The trio’s nine-city tour, which began April 21 at Symphony Hall in Boston, concludes May 3 at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. At Orchestra Hall, all three are familiar figures. Ma has a particularly close association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, serving as the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant for its Negaunee Music Institute.
As busy as Meyer has been with the trio, he has not neglected other aspects of his musical life, including his first all-orchestral work, which conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony premiered in March. “It is inspired by late Classical and early Romantic orchestra music,” he said, “tending toward vigorous rhythms and robust bass lines but in my voice. Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony were wonderful performing it.” Future performances of the piece have been scheduled by the Colorado Symphony, Louisville Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival.
Other works by Meyer include three concertos for double bass, as well as the Violin Concerto (1999) and Triple Concerto for Bass, Banjo and Tabla (2006). Considering he is 56 years old, the bassist-composer said, it is unlikely that he will be able to match Beethoven’s output of nine symphonies, 16 string quartets and 32 piano sonatas. “The primary motivations [for composing], are the pursuit of beauty and the attempt to satisfy my curiosity, tempered by all things practical,” he said. “Fair to say there is a lot of overlap between the two driving forces. There will always be a gigantic imbalance of music centered around the bass.”
Meyer describes his lifelong musical evolution as gradual and steady. “There are some constants,” he said, “like the love of Bach. Over all, there is a desire to reach toward what seems to be the essence of musical communication. If I had to summarize, I am only increasingly interested in understanding composition and the creation of music.”
Although he didn’t mention it, it seems to safe to say that another constant is his ongoing friendship and collaboration with Ma and Thile. After all, who can stop the Tremendous Three?
Kyle MacMillan, former classical music critic of the Denver Post, is a Chicago-based arts journalist.
TOP: Edgar Meyer (from left), Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile have embarked on a recital tour featuring Bach works. | Photo: Danny Clinch/Nonesuch