Zebra Trio is the meeting of three musicians - Ernst Kovacic, Steven Dann and Anssi Karttunen - each bringing a vast experience in chamber music, in different styles and in working with living composers to the world of String Trio. The Zebra Trio has always wanted to unite known masterpieces with new works and transcriptions, combining all of these in creative ways in their concerts.

Kaija Saariaho, Friedrich Cerha, Rolf Wallin, Miroslav Srnka and Pablo Ortiz are composers who have been inspired by the Zebra Trio. "Cloud Trio", "Zebra Trio", "Sway", "The Tree of Heaven", and "...and all the phonies go mad with joy" are among their titles.

Many classic masterpieces have now become string trios in the hands of the Zebra Trio: Schumann's "Album für die Jugend", Brahms's "Händel Variations", Kurt Weill's "Tango Ballade", Angel Villoldo's "El Choclo" and Thelonius Monk's "Criss Cross".

Zebra Trio has performed on the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, around the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, by the Great Lakes and along some important river systems: the Danube, the Rhein and the Seine.

In 2017 the Zebra Trio premiered a trio by the Norwegian Asbjørn Schaathun, entitled "Schönberg...est mort". The World Premiere was at the Arnold Schönberg Institute in Vienna, where else!

On July 15 and 16, 2018 the Zebra Trio gave the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg's "Maguey de tlalcoyote" at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, not far from the Rio Grande.

Why Zebra?

The Zebra is the perfect animal to represent a chamber ensemble. To survive, each animal must be a powerful individual. It must be versatile, creative and highly adaptable. It lives in a harsh environment.  But despite the fact that even visually no two Zebras are alike, each bearing a completely unique set of stripes, when one puts several zebras together they become a single entity. Their whole becomes much more than the sum of their parts. Their differences combine to create the impression of a single organism. This highly organic amalgamation gives them the ability to make a powerful collective impression on those who are watching their every move such as lions, leopards, hyenas, .........audiences. A pretty good model for a group of musicians coming together to form a common bond, we think?

Further to this it is clear that what musicians strive to do all their lives is to remove all the little black dots from their prisons on those parallel black lines they are glued to and twist and bend and liberate them in such a way that no two phrases seem to come from the same set of stripes. Each performance ideally should feel like it was written on a different zebra. 

And even further, playing the repertoire that we often play, the qualities of versatility, creativity and adaptability are certainly essentials. But perhaps the quality Zebras possess which is even more crucial (besides the fact that they have an exquisite sense of hearing) is their sense of purpose and their refusal to be swayed by public opinion. Zebras are the only horse which has never been domesticated. They are far too stubborn. Would we be bringing all this new music into the world if we were not all inclined to be more than a little inclined in this direction?


Trios written for Zebra Trio:

  1. Michael Spassov:  HEX,  Ottawa 2008

  2. Pablo Ortiz:  Trois tangos en marge, Madrid 2009                 

  3. Friedrich Cerha:  9 Bagatellen, Stryriarte, Austria 2010   

  4. Rolf Wallin: Sway, Musica, Strasbourg 2010                

  5. Miroslav Srnka:  The Tree of Heaven, Arcana Festival, Austria 2010

  6. Kaija Saariaho: Cloud Trio, Båstad 2010

  7. Pablo Ortiz: ...and all the phonies go mad with joy,  Banff, Canada 2011

  8. Friedrich Cerha: Zebra Trio, Salzburg, 2012

  9. Asbjørn Schaathun: Schönberg est ... mort, Vienna 2017

  10. Magnus Lindberg: Maguey de tlalcoyote, Santa Fe, July 15th 2018

  11. Vasco Mendonça: Zebra Crossing, Chateau de Brissac, August 26th 2021

Samples from Zebra trio's repertoire:

  1. W.A. Mozart: Divertimento K.563

  2. Ludvig van Beethoven: Spring Trio (transcr. Karttunen), String Trios op.9

  3. Franz Schubert: String Trios

  4. Robert Schumann: Album für die Jugend (transcr. Karttunen)

  5. Johannes Brahms: Händel Variations (transcr. Karttunen)

  6. Antonin Dvorak: Drobnosti (Miniatures)

  7. Josef Koffler: String Trio

  8. Eugene Ysaye: String Trio No.2

  9. Anton Webern: String Trios

  10. Ernst Krenek: Parvula Corona Musicalis and String Trio in 12 stations Op. 247

  11. Arnold Schönberg: String Trio op. 45

  12. Iannis Xenakis:  Ikhoor

  13. Piano Quartets by Mozart, Brahms, Enescu etc.

Photos: © Fundacion Juan March, Kaija Saariaho, Muriel von Braun, Boguslaw Beszlej

Zebra Trio

Zebra trio with Friedrich Cerha, the composer of Zebra Trio