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.
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.
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 www.ravinia.org. I urge you to go and judge for yourself.
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.”