Archive for August, 2012

PostHeaderIcon A Trio On the Verge

Lincoln Trio

Lincoln Trio

I first encountered The Lincoln Trio slightly more than three years ago. They were about to embark on a months-long concert tour of Illinois towns, presented by the Ravinia Music Festival, marking the Bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Their playing made a positive first impression which was strengthened a few months later at a Music in the Loft concert. They matched flawless ensemble playing with impressive, unified sound and  an intensity of attack that was palpable. Their obvious talent, combined with youth and photogenic appeal, made for a winning combination.

David Cunliffe

The trio (Desiree Ruhstrat, violin, David Cunliffe, cello and Marta Aznavoorian, piano), formed in 2003, was at the time still in a formative stage of their musical life. I wondered would they be able to assemble all the many elements involved in rising above the crowded musical pack to fashion a successful career. Today, at the end of their 10th season performing together, they appear poised to reap the reward for their critical accolades and break through to wider public acclaim.

Most music fans have no idea of the labyrinth aspiring musicians must navigate to enjoy a top-flight career.  Talent is merely the first requirement. To that base must be added rock-solid dedication, strong training pedigree, professional management, recordings, touring, impressive reviews, helpful sponsors, usually a connection with a music conservatory and lots of luck! Lack several of those critical elements and your ensemble will remain stuck on the middle rungs of the career ladder. Let’s look at the road The Lincoln Trio has followed in pursuit of its dream.

One year after coming together, the trio was invited to become the resident ensemble at the Music Institute of Chicago, replacing the Pacifica Quartet, who have gone on to greater success. Their first big break was a debut at Fredda Hyman’s Music in the Loft series in 2006. Fredda became one of their important champions. The trio also met Jim Ginsburg, head of Cedille Records, at the loft which led to the first of four recordings for the label.

Marta Aznavoorian

Marta Aznavoorian

In 2008, a casual dinner party conversation Desiree had with Welz Kauffman, head of the Ravinia Festival, resulted in their Lincoln Bicentennial tour which kicked off in Springfield on the day Barack Obama officially announced his candidacy for President. Ravinia also helped them find  professional management. That same year, the trio were winners at the Masterplayers International Competition in Venice, Italy.

Having management raised their concert appearances and led to recitals on many chamber music series in Texas, Vermont, California, Indianapolis and overseas in Germany and Colombia, South America.

Each month of 2011 seemed filled with important musical milestones. They performed in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall in January, followed by a Music in the Loft concert. In March, they toured Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam on behalf of Ravinia. June brought an important breakthrough, their Ravinia recital debut.

In the Fall, they performed locally at the Arts Club and at Le Poussin Rouge, an arts cabaret in New York’s Greenwich Village, toured California and played again at MITL. They also released their new Cedille recording, “Notable Women,” the first in which they were the sole headliners. The release featured six works-four world premieres-by noted contemporary women composers such as Stacy Garrop, Augusta Read Thomas and Joan Tower. It received a Grammy Award nomination.

It also helps to have the local classical radio station as a supporter.  The trio has appeared numerous times on WFMT including its Impromptu program, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series and last December’s “Day of Music” marking the station’s 60th anniversary.

Such a record of relentless activity, personal drive and critical acclaim is what gives an ensemble its necessary momentum and wider recognition. You can see them in recital next Friday evening, August 24th, at Ravinia’s Bennett-Gordon Hall.  The program includes Brahms’ Trio No. 2 and two premieres–the world premiere of Chicago composer Mischa Zupko’s Piano Quartet and the Chicago premiere of Anton Arensky’s Piano Quintet. Tickets are only $10 and can be ordered online at I urge you to go and judge for yourself.


Desiree Ruhstrat

The trio is known for adventurous programming, mixing contemporary repertoire with classic selections. “We feel the ideal program is to combine something new with traditional composers, thereby giving it a new twist,” says trio member Desiree Ruhstrat. The ensemble has just been awarded a $15,000 grant by Chamber Music America to commission a new work.

On the horizon for 2013 are release in January of “Annelies,” a score for chorus, soprano and chamber ensemble, based on the literary classic, “Diary of Anne Frank.” The Naxos recording features The Lincoln Trio along with soprano, Arianna Zukerman (daughter of violinist Pinchas Zukerman) and the Westminster Williamson Voices. That will be followed by an appearance with Chicago Chamber Musicians that also features the Chicago Children’s Choir and a new, yet unannounced, recording project for Cedille.

This five-year whirlwind of activity and accomplishment makes me confident that the trio is close to climbing more musical rungs toward new heights. If so, I will feel a sense of vicarious pleasure and be able to claim, “I knew them when.”

PostHeaderIcon A Too Short “American Century”

At a time when the media, opinion leaders and the public are bemoaning America’s decline, it is appropriate that a book, “The Short American Century,” (Harvard University Press) should appear. Subtitled “A Postmortem,” it is a series of well-argued, provocative essays (or autopsies) by academic experts, edited by historian Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University.

The nine contributors’ analyses explain why the term, coined by Time and Life founder, Henry Luce, in February, 1941, meant to provoke America’s entry into World War II, had, by the end of the 1990s, run its abbreviated course.

To Luce’s way of thinking, as the son of missionaries raised in China, power implied obligation. And, Bacevich writes, “by 1941, one cause took precedence over all others: supporting Great Britain in its lonely struggle against Nazi Germany.” While many Americans favored assisting Britain, a large segment of Americans wanted no part of going to war in Europe again.

Luce’s essay, titled “The American Century” argued that it was time for America to assume the mantle of global leadership. While an implicit argument for the worldwide expansion of American business, Luce said that he hoped the United States might become “the Good Samaritan of the entire world.”

Luce’s phrase is an updated version of the earlier doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.”  Luce’s vision is captured by the current expression, “American exceptionalism”.  All three terms carry the connotation of a God-given mission to carry our way of life out to the entire world.

The United States, at the end of the so-called Good War, dominated the world’s landscape economically and politically. Europe and the Soviet Union lay in economic ruin, having sustained huge losses of life, while American had escaped any damage to its homeland. Yet, the fruits of American political, economic and military supremacy had run their course a short 60 years later.

The essays take stock of American achievements and failures over six crucial decades. They are more critical than celebratory in their assessment, making readers aware of our political myopia and missed opportunities. Bacevich calls it “a sort of dissenter’s guide to the American Century.” As a guide for future American policy, Luce’s vision is irrelevant for a new century.  Just don’t tell that to Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party.

Beginning with the Korean War, America was soon engaged in a protracted, all-out struggle with the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. As a result of that competition, we became the world’s policeman and found ourselves engaged–mostly unilaterally–in the Vietnam War along with CIA- assisted coups and military adventures in Iran, Cuba, Chile, Granada.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, we were the world’s only superpower once again. But, rather than enjoying the fruits of a “peace dividend,” we came under attack from new enemies with the 9/11 attacks.  For the past decade, we have expended precious economic resources and human treasure fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those two unfunded wars added $5 trillion to our national debt while the depression of 2008 erased $14 trillion of Americans’ wealth.  Our nation’s appetite for foreign interventions is spent. On the economic front, the advantage we enjoyed for 40 years following the war has vanished. At the end of World War II, we had the world as a huge market for our goods. The Marshall Plan and creation of the World Bank helped Europe and Japan’s devastated economies recover. By the 1980s, those vanquished nations had become our suppliers. With the advent of outsourcing for much of our manufacturing and service supply, our long-time trade surplus has become a troubling deficit.

The authors convincingly present post-war 20th Century events and historical trends in a different light. Rather than the emotional, jingoistic slogans that normally sway public debate, they put defining postwar forces under a critical microscope and reveal why Luce’s “American Century” has run its course well short of the mark.

One contributor, historian Walter LaFeber of Cornell University, goes so far as to argue that the American Century was “stillborn.” It neither united Europe under its democratic banner nor prevented China (and its Southeast Asia neighbors) from falling under communism.

Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich

Readers should pick up this highly readable, contrarian analysis of recent history. Bacevich says its intent has not been to cast blame on America for the world’s wars and persecutions but rather to fight against “old illusions of the United States presiding over and directing the course of history.”

No longer does it make sense to “pretend that the United States is promoting a special message in support of a special mission….the United States is merely attempting to cope. Prudence and common sense should oblige Americans to admit as much.” One closes this book tempted to utter a loud “Amen”.

To learn more about this and other Harvard University Press books, go to