The Library's Friday Evening Coffee House presents:
The International String Trio
Friday evening, April 20, 2012 at 7 p.m.

True to its name, the International String Trio has honed an expansive repertoire embracing nearly a dozen styles from far-flung lands. Employing their instruments as passports, the adventurous triumvirate unlocks the doors to a global array of tunes drawn from folk, popular, classical, film and other sources. Rather than flaunting their eclecticism, the Boston combo seamlessly renders a treasure trove of melodies with buoyant energy, intimate acoustic dynamics, stylistically informed phrasing, and loving attention to detail.

Featuring Russian-born guitarist Slava Tolstoy, British violinist Ben Powell and Japanese acoustic bassist Ippei Ichimaru, the IST’s players embody its cosmopolitan aesthetic. The trio’s riveting performances encompass a breathtaking range of styles, including Gypsy swing, old-time Appalachian laments, traditional Irish reels, celebratory klezmer, passionate tango, graceful French musette, and burning bluegrass. While steeped in jazz, they play intricately arranged music that leaves room for improvisation without focusing on it.

“We’re jazz musicians, but it’s not a jazz project,” says Tolstoy, the IST’s music director. “We really work on developing tight arrangements that leave maybe 25 percent for improvisation, with moments for everyone to shine. But we have some tunes that are all arranged, from the first note to last. On a piece like ‘Ashokan Farewell’ we just want to concentrate on the beauty of the melody. There’s no soloing because it’s unnecessary.”

The IST has earned an avid following by developing several tremendously engaging, thematic programs, each thoughtfully designed to explore an enticing array of moods, grooves and textures. The group’s signature show is “Around the World in 80 Ways,” which showcases the trio’s stylistic breadth and musical depth. “American Tune” celebrates the diversity and richness of American musical traditions, from rural roots to urban innovations. The highly evocative “At The Movies” focuses on the trio’s original arrangements of beloved movie themes. And in December the trio breaks out “Holiday Music,” a program featuring enduring holidays tunes representing Christmas, Hanukah and other festivities.

“We’ve noticed that there are some tunes that people will always come to us to say that’s such a great piece,” Tolstoy says. “Gig after gig, certain tunes really move people and seize their imagination. That’s when we know we’ve got a keeper.”

The group’s latest CD, “Appalachia,” is a ravishing acoustic session featuring the trio’s exquisite musicianship and articulate arrangements. From “Por Una Cabeza,” the sensuous theme from “Scent Of a Woman,” and the Gypsy swing treatment of “Sweet Georgia Brown” to the haunting Hebrew melody “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” the trio transforms every piece it plays into an enthralling string adventure.

The IST traces its origins back to 2002, when Tolstoy and Ichimaru started performing together, playing trio gigs around Boston. They worked with various violinists, and quickly realized that the uncommon instrumentation struck a chord with many different audiences. But it wasn’t until Powell joined the group in 2008 that that IST’s singular sound crystallized. What started as a side project evolved into a bustling sonic laboratory, as the trio steadily honed its repertoire and expanded its stylistic reach.

“As soon as we played with him, we knew it was the guy for us,” Tolstoy says. “There are classical violinists, violinists who play jazz and fiddlers. It’s so rare to find a violinist who can really cross over and do everything at such a high level. We were looking for someone like him, with classical tone, but fully comfortable improvising or playing a bluegrass break.”

Born and raised in England, Powell moved to the United States at 19 to study at the Berklee College of music. He’s performed under internationally renowned classical conductors such as Sir Roger Norrington, Marin Alsop, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Keith Lockhart, and has accompanied pop and jazz icons like Gary Burton, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Gloria Estefan, Stevie Winwood, and Rosa Passos. Devoted to the irrepressibly swinging style created by Stephane Grappelli, he has forged close ties with contemporary Gypsy jazz masters Biréli Lagréne, Tchavalo Schmitt, Stochelo Rosenberg and Florin Niculescu.

As the creative force behind the IST, Tolstoy brings all his musical training to bear in the ensemble. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, he studied composition and guitar performance at St. Petersburg Jazz School. He moved to the US in 1998 after receiving a scholarship to study at Berklee, where he received a Bachelor Degree in Contemporary Writing and Production. A gifted songwriter and producer, he has worked with major music industry figures such as Kenny Aronoff, Eric Marienthal, Billy Mann and Larry Dvoskin.

As the IST’s anchor and rhythmic engine, Ichimaru brings his supple bass and subtle percussion work to the trio. With two decades as a gigging musician under his belt, he is one of the busiest bassists in Boston and New York City. His extensive credits including playing with or arranging for artists such as Gil Askey, Danilo Perez, Phil Wilson and George Garzone.

While the IST owes its success largely to its superlative musicianship, enthralling performances and original concept, there’s a practical side too. As a compact trio the group is economical and highly portable. Comfortable in intimate chamber settings, concert halls or large auditoriums, the IST performs about 120 shows a year at festivals, jazz clubs, schools and universities.

As accomplished educators, the trio often offers outreach programs as part of their engagements, from master classes to music introduction workshops. Adept at taking listeners on a far-flung journey, the trio offers insight into more than a dozen cultures around the world. Recent performances include an appearance on the popular NPR show “Says You,” the Arts Northwest Conference in Eugene, Ore., the Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven, Conn., and the Regattabar’s Courtyard Festival in Cambridge, Mass.

The trio’s rising visibility is no fluke. Grabbing the attention of audiences with its encompassing concept and unusual instrumentation, the IST leaves audiences delighted, thrilled and eager to hear more. Recently signed by Robert Baird’s powerful BAM! Agency for Concert Halls bookings, the group is poised to exponentially expand its reach. With two new albums in the works slated for release in 2012 and a rapidly filling 2012-13 calendar, the International String Trio is going international.

Visit their website at