Letters for the Future

June 10, 2022

Time for Three's latest album titled “Letters for the Future” features world premiere recordings of Kevin Puts’s newly written Contact and Jennifer Higdon’s 2007 Concerto 4-3 — both recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Xian Zhang.

Included Works

About the Album

Innovative string trio Time For Three release their new album Letters for Future with the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Xian Zhang on DG.

The album comprises world premiere recordings of two technically demanding and musically virtuosic concerti for trio and orchestra by two Pulitzer Prize-winning composers, written fifteen years apart but both commissioned for the group: Jennifer Higdon’s 2007 Concerto 4–3 and Kevin Puts’s brand-new Contact.

Artist Statements:


Time for Three

This album comprises two technically demanding and musically virtuosic concerti that explore the breadth and the depth of Time for Three’s artistic voice, played in tandem with one of the most inimitable orchestras in America, The Philadelphia Orchestra.

When the opportunity to record Kevin Puts'  Contact and Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4-3 arose, it seemed like collaborating with The Philadelphia Orchestra was the best and truest natural fit.  Before we founded Time for Three, we met in Philadelphia as students at The Curtis Institute. Curtis reinforced our strong roots in classical tradition, which were nurtured by The Philadelphia Orchestra and by conductor Christoph Eschenbach, who inspired us to develop as an ensemble.  To this day, working with the Orchestra feels like coming home to family and friends, thanks to countless former classmates, teachers, and even family members who still play in the Orchestra, and it has been an honor to collaborate with them on this project.

Maestro Eschenbach is such a champion of young, unique talent, and he encouraged us to pursue our own musical voice.  It was under his guidance that we were able to conceive of the first concerto ever written for Time for Three, Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4-3.  At the time that Higdon was commissioned for this project by a stellar orchestral consortium, we had been experimenting with various musical languages that were outside the realm of traditionally classical canonical narratives, including Americana folk traditions.  As more and more of the elements of that language began seeping into our musical style, we looked to weave bluegrass into the fabric of a classical concerto. Higdon’s own upbringing in Tennessee and her understanding of the musical traditions of the region truly brought this idea to reality. What has come from this collaboration is a fusion between classical tradition and American musical culture, and we are thrilled to breathe life into that union. 

As Time for Three, we have grown into ourselves in the last decade.  For one, violinist Charles Yang joined the group, and he has brought his own voice and harmonic language with him. By joining us, Charles has helped to fuel our growth as an ensemble and to reframe what we want our contribution to the music world to be. We have looked towards returning to our classical roots, and, thanks to the encouragement of conductor Alasdair Neale at Sun Valley Music Festival, the collaboration between Time for Three and Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, Kevin Puts, was born.

Our relationship with Kevin was “love at first listen.” In 2019, we set out to have Kevin compose a concerto, one that embraced our love for the craft and our classical training, while exploring all of the possibilities of the future. Kevin Puts’ idea for the work was to write something that was “of the unknown,” and he experimented with the ideas of unexplored frontiers and the greater beyond.  Working with Kevin was a beautiful and holistic experience that touched not just our sound as Time for Three, but the very heart of our individual artistic personalities.

When the world was plunged into the fragility of the pandemic, our collaboration with Kevin felt even more relevant.  Everyone was struck with the intangibility of the unknown, and it was very hard to gain perspective on the world as a whole.  One good thing about the pandemic, however, was that it allowed us to rediscover the story that we, as Time for Three, could tell with Kevin Puts.  During this difficult time, we were really inspired by the incredible work and international cooperation that was happening on the International Space Station - how humans from all over the world were quite literally rising above us all, working together for a future that transcended the pandemic.  The idea that there were people able to look at the world from a perspective we lacked instilled a sense of hope for the future in us, and that hope has been woven into the very fabric of this concerto.

This album is “us.” It gives voice to our roots in the Western classical tradition; it embraces our innovation through various Americana musical languages; and it looks with us towards the future as we reach to the stars.  It is our timeless time-capsule donation to the music world that we hope anyone can open and, in it, hear our voice as Time for Three. 

-Time for three, March 2022

Kevin Puts, program note

In April, 2017, I first heard a live performance by the prodigiously gifted string trio Time for Three at Joe’s Pub in New York City. The group—Nick Kendall and Charles Yang, violinists and Ranaan Meyer, bassist— had contacted me about the possibility of my writing them a concerto, and after hearing them play, sing, improvise and perform their own arrangements and compositions that evening I felt both elated—by the infectious energy and joy they exude as performers—and also rather daunted by the thought. It seemed our musical tastes were so similar that I suggested to them, not at all facetiously, “Maybe you ought to write your own concerto!” I simply couldn’t imagine conceiving any music they couldn’t improvise themselves.             

One of the tunes the trio performed that night at Joe’s Pub was an original, called “Vertigo”, which the guys later told me they wrote in a hotel room on the road. In the song, all three members both play their instruments and sing. I wondered about the possibility of beginning the concerto with the trio singing a wordless refrain, acappella. I wrote a chord progression which unfolds from a single note and progresses through simple, suspended harmonies. Orchestral winds respond with the same music while the trio adds decorative, improvisatory gestures. This idea, first heard in a reflective manner, grows considerably until the orchestral brass deliver a most emphatic version of it. This first movement (“The Call”) ends with the same sense of questioning with which it began.                                      

Threatening unisons, played by the entire orchestra, break the mood startlingly and impel the soloists who drive forward with syncopated rhythms and virtuoso flurries of arpeggios. The energy in this second movement (“Codes”) is unrelenting, often drawing its harmonic flavor from the ladder of notes which forms the overtone series and by combining triads from disparate keys.                                                      

By yet another contrast, the orchestral music that opens the third movement (“Contact”) is cold and stark. I had the image of an abandoned vessel floating inert in the recesses of space. The soloists interrupt this with a quiet, gently rolling meditation, eventually inviting a solo oboe and a solo clarinet to join in lyrical counterpoint high above. Eventually, the soloists recall the stark opening of the movement, rendering its rhythms into an unaccompanied phrase of tenderness and longing.                                                     

To put it mildly, the search for a silver lining amid the Covid-19 pandemic has been a unique challenge. But the cancellation of the initial performances of Contact scheduled for the summer of 2020 allowed us to continue working together on the concerto long after I finished it. Though my original title was simply Triple Concerto, we all agreed there was something more than abstract musical expression going on, that there was a story being told. Could the refrain at the opening of the concerto be a message sent into space, a call to intelligent life across the vast distances containing clues to our DNA, to our very nature as Earth people? Could the Morse code-like rhythms of the scherzo suggest radio transmissions, wave signals, etc.? And might the third movement (originally called simply “Ballad”) represent the moment of contact itself? (Admittedly, the climax of the film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contact, at which point Ellie, played by the wonderful Jodie Foster, en route via a wormhole to an alien civilization, witnesses a radiant cosmic event to which she tearfully breathes, “No words...they should have sent a poet...no words...” was in my mind during these discussions.)                                     

Still in search of a finale to the concerto, I was serendipitously introduced to the wonderful gankino horo (Ganka’s Dance), a traditional Bulgarian melody, blazingly performed by at least twelve young cellists in unison at my (then) ten-year-old son Ben’s studio cello recital. At home, I began playing it on the piano and gradually my own compositional voice crept in. I was reminded of Bartok’s haunting Romanian Folk Dances and the composer’s fusion of his own musical sensibilities with age-old folk melodies. And so I set about composing a sort of fantasy on this tune, its asymmetric rhythmic qualities a fitting counterbalance to the previous three movements.                                                  

The word contact has gained new resonance during these years of isolation. It is my hope that this concerto might be heard as an expression of yearning for this fundamental human need. I am deeply grateful to Time for Three for their belief in my work and for the tireless collaborative spirit which allowed us to develop this showcase for their immense talents.                                    

Kevin Puts January 27, 2022

Jennifer Higdon, program note

I knew the Time for Three guys a few years before we had the chance to work together; we crossed paths in the hallways at Curtis, where I taught, and I often heard them jamming in Rittenhouse Square.  When I got the call from the Philadelphia Orchestra to write them a concerto, I was thrilled and knew exactly what to compose: a work that would show off the joy that they express in their music.  “Concerto 4-3” is a three-movement concerto, featuring 2 violins and a bass, which uses the language of Classical music, with dashes of bluegrass technique. This work was commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the Wheeling Symphony. 

The work is divided into three movements, with the option to perform a cadenza between the first and second movements.  The movement titles refer to rivers that run through the Smoky Mountains (where growing up, I heard quite a bit of bluegrass):  “The Shallows”, “Little River”, and “Roaring Smokies”.  I wanted to reference the Smokies, because East Tennessee was the first place that I really experienced bluegrass. 

The first movement, “The Shallows”, incorporates unique extended techniques (a manner of playing beyond the normal way of playing these instruments). These techniques show off the dynamic energy of Time for Three, and these sounds resemble parts of the mountain rivers that move in shallow areas, where small rocks and pebbles make for a rapid ride that moves a rafter quickly from one side of the river to the other. 

The second movement, “Little River”, is slow-moving and lyrical, very much in hymn-like fashion.  This movement reflects the beauty of Little River as it flows through Townsend and Walland, Tennessee.  At times there is real serenity and a majestic look to the water, with no movement obvious on the pure, glassy surface.

The third movement, “Roaring Smokies”, is a rapid-fire virtuosic movement that shifts and moves very much like a raging river (like those wild mountain waters that pour out of the mountains).

The concerto embraces a traditionally classical approach with certain bluegrass techniques being incorporated into the fabric of the piece, all occurring within a tonal, 21st Century American style. It was written over a three month period after a session with Time for Three where they showed me their unique musical voices. This provided immense inspiration in tailoring a concerto befitting them, one that would highlight their playing, make sure they had the chance to do some improvisatory solos, and musically sing and dance in a way that reflects the fun they elicit in their performances. For this composer, that was pure joy.  

 -Jennifer Higdon

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