Ranaan Meyer is a Philly kind of guy. Having grown up in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, he is a big baseball fan. Naturally he was thrilled when the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series last month.
"Hey, don't get me wrong, you guys have a great team, but I'm obsessed with the Phillies,'' Meyer said over the phone from Philadelphia. "This was my baseball fantasy year.''
Meyer, 30, is a member of Time for Three, a string trio that consists of him on double bass and a pair of violinists, Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall. It's an unorthodox combination of instruments for an ensemble, to say the least.
"I've never heard of people stupid enough to put together a group with two violins and bass,'' said Meyer, who resorts to a Philadelphia icon to explain it. "In Rocky, there's one scene where he's hanging out with Adrian on their first date at a skating rink, and she asks him why he wants to be a boxer. He says you gotta be a moron to be a boxer. Well, you gotta be a moron to put together two violins and bass for a group.''
Maybe so, but in just a few years, Time for Three has become one of classical music's most popular crossover groups, performing a funky mix of styles that ranges from bluegrass and jazz to Renaissance chorales. They play with the Florida Orchestra on its pops series next weekend.
No less an eminence than Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic's chief conductor, describes the trio as "three benevolent monsters, monsters of ability and technique surely . . . but also conveyors of an infectious joy that I find both touching and moving.''
Meyer, Kendall and De Pue met when they were students at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, a leading conservatory for classical musicians. "We were part of a few oddballs there,'' Meyer said. "We were drawn together as friends. We liked to hang together and jam. We'd get together after long Mahler rehearsals to blow off steam, just for fun.''
Those jam sessions led to gigs in which the trio played arrangements of everything from a Brahms Hungarian Dance to Orange Blossom Special to Yankee Doodle Dandy, and word of their inventiveness started to get around classical circles. The group's first engagement with an orchestra was with the Wheeling Symphony in West Virginia in 2004. Since then they've played with about 50 orchestras.
They have no trouble fitting in with symphony orchestras because of their own classical experience. De Pue is concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony, and Kendall is in the Dryden String Quartet. Meyer has played with the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Minnesota orchestras.
Time for Three has an improvisational, jazzy approach to music making that reflects those early jam sessions. "I consider us a classically trained garage band,'' Meyer said. "It was never about two violins and a bass. It was always about the music, the sound we imagine and how we emotionally connect to the audience.''
Meyer is the composer of the group, but everyone influences how a new piece might go. "Nic and Zach can change anything they want,'' he says. "The three of us democratically come up with what we want to say with our music. I generally tell people that we don't rehearse, we create. It's very rare that Nic and Zach and I are trying to work out things like intonation or rhythm. That comes naturally to us. The thing we argue about in rehearsal is what we want to say. Do we want to make people cry here? Do we want to make people laugh?''
Next weekend's program will include a pair of Time for Three works with orchestra, American Suite and Foxdown. The group will also perform as a trio. The orchestra, conducted by Richard Kaufman, will extend the strings theme with Leroy Anderson's Fiddle Faddle and Henry Mancini's Strings on Fire.
One of Meyer's earliest works for the group is called Mohawk. "When I was composing it, and I played the lowest note on the double bass, C, it was a really mean note, and it made me think of Mr. T from The A-Team,'' he said of the mercenary with a Mohawk. "That's why it's called Mohawk.''
Any classical music group that can find inspiration in The A-Team is worth checking out.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.