Albers sisters thought everybody played instruments

The Albers trio of sisters Laura, Julie and Rebecca will perform Sunday at Union College.

SCHENECTADY — There was never a guarantee that the Albers sisters would grow up and choose to become professional musicians. But their parents made sure the girls took playing an instrument seriously.

“They insisted on daily practice except for Christmas and birthdays,” said Julie Albers, one of the three sisters who will perform on Sunday at Union College’s Memorial Chapel with pianist Pei-Yao Wang. “It was the consistency that was important.”

Their mother, Ellie LeRoux, was, and still is, a violin instructor in the Suzuki method, which allows a pupil to learn an instrument by ear before learning to read music. Their father was a high school choral director.

LeRoux started the first child, Laura, at 2 on violin and piano. About a year later, Julie was born. By the time she was 18 months, Julie was pestering Laura so much while she practiced that her mother gave her a violin. She also started her on piano.

“She didn’t want any competition between us,” Julie said.

The Albers sisters

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady

HOW MUCH: $20; students, half-price

MORE INFO: 388-6080

Her mother, however, had other instrumental visions and began taking her to cello concerts and had her listen to cello recordings. When Julie was 4, she switched to cello. By then, Rebecca had arrived and at about 2, she began violin and piano lessons.

“We didn’t know that most people didn’t play instruments,” Julie said.

Firm schedules

Although the girls were very young, their practicing schedules were firmly kept.

“We’d get up before school to do about 15 to 30 minutes,” Julie said. “Then we could do anything else at school or after.”

Their parents never held the girls back from participating in any sport or made them fearful about injuries.

“You can’t not live for fear of hurting your hands,” she said, adding that she’s even tried skydiving.

By their teens, Laura knew she wanted to be a violinist and Rebecca had tried harp but eventually would discover viola. Julie, however, wasn’t convinced.

“I knew music would always be an important part of my life but I wasn’t sure it would be a career,” she said.

So at 16, she enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s high school program, which is part high school and part conservatory. The atmosphere was intense but it was just what she needed.

“I fell in love with music,” Julie said, adding she made her orchestral debut the next year with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Since then, the sisters have carved out separate musical careers. Laura, 31, is the associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera, a six-month job that allows her time to perform in various chamber music ensembles in California and New York City and volunteer for California Pacific Medical Center’s Soothing Sounds program, which brings music to patients and employees at the center. She also trains as a triathlete.

Rebecca, 24, is the violist with the Phoenix Quartet, tours with Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz Trio, performs regularly at the Marlboro Music Festival and teaches at the Juilliard School’s pre-college division.

Julie, 27, has an international solo career and performed with numerous orchestras worldwide, won prizes in a few competitions and currently is in the second year of a three-year residency with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two. Two years ago, she released her first solo recording on the Artek label.

Although family concerts were a huge part of their lives, this is the first year the sisters have toured together as a trio. The idea to form the trio began Christmas 2006 when the women were looking for something to do, and Julie went to the library and borrowed a bunch of trios for them to read through.

“It was so much fun and we discovered repertoire. It was shocking the amount there was,” she said. “The idea was very appealing. We could see each other more often and travel together.”

They got a press kit and a demo CD together. Last year, they sent out 100 kits to vendors and made the follow-up phone calls.

“The amount of work . . . I have a lot of respect for managers now,” Julie said with a laugh.

They got 15 commitments and blocked the concerts by locale to make them easier to drive to. They scheduled a weeklong session of rehearsals at Christmas on about six pieces, including the Beethoven Trio in G and Martinu’s Trio No. 2 that they’ll play at Union. The venture has been successful enough that for the 2008-2009 season, Julie’s manager will handle the bookings.

Individual approaches

Working together has its challenges, Julie said, as each sister has a different approach to learning the material, and their goals are different. Rebecca learns easily by ear; so she already has a concept of the piece in her mind.

“She has the big picture,” Julie said.

Laura is very detailed oriented, but she wants the experience to be fun and the piece to sing. Julie loves working on the details and prefers to work by sections, she said.

“How to combine these is the challenge,” Julie said. “The only conflicts are when you don’t say something right. You need to show respect for someone’s ideas and that anything is worth trying.”

Rebecca brought Wang, an acquaintance from Marlboro who has played on the Union College series four times before, to perform Brahms’ second Piano Quartet.

“Playing together is very easy,” Julie said. “We’re like extensions of each other on stage.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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