Friday, August 1, 2014
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Bakken the saddle for a new season

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The Bakken Trio rehearses in preparation for the group's first concert of the season. (MPR photo/Karl Gehrke)
Of the dozen or so classical music chamber ensembles working in the Twin Cities, the Bakken Trio is among the oldest. The dedication and commitment it takes to keep chamber groups going means they come and go rather steadily. The Bakken Trio, however, has survived for more than 15 seasons with only a few personnel changes.

St. Paul, Minn. — The members of the Bakken Trio prepare for each concert on their own time with hours of rehearsals. They each have other jobs in music, but they're committed to the trio.

"I'd die if I couldn't have this outlet. Musically it's very important for me," Mina Fisher says.

Fisher is a cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra. Pianist Judy Lin is on the faculty of the MacPhail Center for Music. Violinist Stephanie Arado is Assistant Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Arado says she loves playing in the orchestra, but a chamber group gives her freedom of expression she wouldn't otherwise have.

"In the orchestra, as a section player, your job is to blend," Arado says. "You have to mix with a lot of other players playing the same notes. That is another challenge and skill, but the trio allows you to have your own voice, to expand your sound in ways that if you did that in the orchestra you'd get in trouble."

For Stephanie Arado and Mina Fisher, playing in the Bakken Trio puts them up front and on the spot. They're not buried anonymously among the other members of the Minnesota Orchestra. Pianist Judy Lin's experience playing in the trio is a bit different.

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"Before chamber music I was only playing solo," Lin says. "I think playing in a group like the Bakken Trio has made me a better musician. You get ideas from colleagues which you don't get when you're sitting in a room by yourself. You don't get a lot of feedback and that's been wonderful for me."

Judy Lin is the founding member of the Bakken Trio. The name of the group comes from its first sponsor, the Bakken Library and Museum in Minneapolis. Although the museum no longer funds the group, they've kept the name.

The Bakken Trio plays a mix of the standard repertoire, little-known works and modern compositions. For this Sunday afternoon's concert the group will premiere a new work by Twin Cities composer Jeffrey Brooks called "What Bird am I Thinking Of?" Brooks says the trio gives his music more attention than another ensemble might.

"You often have a new piece and it's rehearsed twice, it's played and then it's put away," Brooks says. "The Bakken Trio rehearses a lot and that makes a big difference. When they take a piece on they make a real commitment to it and that's unusual."

Composer Jeffrey Brooks describes the Bakken Trio as rhythmic and energetic. StarTribune classical music critic Michael Anthony says the group's playing is clear, clean and passionate with a balance among the three instruments.

"I think they have stature within the local chamber music scene and they've found an audience," Anthony says. "The trio plays with enthusiasm and their audience obviously likes what they're doing. The audience isn't at concerts for social reasons, but because they really love the music."

For the past eight years the Bakken Trio's loyal audience has heard the group play at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. The Southern is an unadorned, intimate venue that cellist Mina Fisher says is very personal.

"It's a very comfortable place for people to be and the sight lines are very good," she explains. "For me chamber music is a very intimate form of music. It's about how you hear line, how you see the musicians sweat and how you're a part of the process. You're living through the musicians and you're experiencing the music the way the composer felt and thought it."

The Bakken Trio opens a new season at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis Sunday afternoon. The group's season will also include a trip to Mexico and a new CD.

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