october 2011

Lincoln Trio: (from left, violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe and pianist Marta Aznavoorian): No compromise when it comes to compositions whose creators are devoid of a Y-chromosome.

Classical Perspectives

‘No Gender, Just Pure Music’

The Lincoln Trio’s Notable Women

Earlier this year, when the New York Philharmonic announced its 2011-12 season, an outcry surfaced from the classical Twitterati and bloggers: Of the manifold and tempting programs enveloped in the season, not one represented a single female composer.

Understandable though the protest was, another touchier discussion topic emerged among the discourse about tokenism: Would affirmative action be a blessing or a burden for companies? Is it progressive or pandering? Or would it be possible to move into a realm in which programming is gender-blind? (Was that, perhaps, even the case with the Phil's current season?)

notableChicago-based Lincoln Trio doesn't necessarily attempt to answer any of those questions with Notable Women, but it does assert that there's no compromise when it comes to compositions whose creators are devoid of a Y-chromosome. Moreover, the six works contained herein, each penned by a living female composer, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, though it's a tantalizing tip at that.

Four world premiere recordings are focal points of the disc, kicking off with the bewitching Lera Auerbach's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, whose brief first movement (with strings echoing the cries of seagulls) is emotionally detached to a purpose, opening into a cathartic duet between violin and cello full of placid torment. The third movement, written four years later, brings together the previous movements themes with a crashing finale with a Rite of Spring-y determination.

It's a standard-setter for sure, displaying the technical polish and emotional depth of the Lincolns (Desirée Ruhstrat is a fast-fingered violinist, Marta Aznavoorian a soulful pianist and David Cunliffe a cellist whose polish gives way to moments of artful recklessness). Stacy Garrop's Seven for piano trio breathes an otherworldly life into its players, a nod to the composer's love Star Trek Voyager. Perhaps, though, the work that sticks out most is Jennifer Higdon's Piano Trio. While the three other tracks (Laura Elise Schwendinger's atmospheric “C'è la Luna Questa Sera?,” Augusta Read Thomas's fleet “Moon Jig” and Joan Tower's virtuosic “Trio Cavany”) are no slouches either, Higdon's two-movement work is not only indicative of the composer's uncanny, borderline synesthete ability to coax out a rainbow of yellow and red tones from her instrumentalists, but also the Lincolns's flair for the same. It's a work that has been recorded before with equally sharp players, but this particular blend is one of those moments in which you cannot imagine any other musicians take on this work and have it sound so complete. Here there's no gender, just pure music.

Album of the Week, WQXR.org, October 17, 2011


Lincoln Trio performs composer Jennifer Higdon's Piano Trio piece 'Fiery Red,' from the group's Notable Women album


'...impressive command and unrelenting energy throughout...

By Christian Carey at www.sequenza21.com

One of my favorite recent CD acquisitions is Notable Women, the new Cedille recording by the Lincoln Trio. It's a portrait disc featuring some of today's most important female composers: some well established and others rising stars. The program includes works by Lera Auerbach, Stacy Garrop, Jennifer Higdon, Augusta Read Thomas, Laura Elise Schwendinger, and Joan Tower.

While a diversity of styles is represented, a unifying thread is the intensity of the disc's program. Many of the works feature gritty harmonies, intricate counterpoint, and compositional narratives filled with tension and conflicts. The old (and ludicrous) saw about "feminine" music somehow being inherently gentler or less determined than music written by the men is thoroughly refuted by the compelling works shared here.

It also helps to break down preconceptions that one might have about some of the included composers based on their more famous works. Thomas' Moon Jig, while just as thoroughly intricate in terms of construction as her orchestral music, adopts a lilting, at times playful, demeanor, that revels in the title's idiosyncratic dance. Think Jennifer Higdon's music is lush through and through? Check out "Fiery Red," the second  movement of her Piano Trio, which adds some modernist angularity and Bartókian syncopation to the mix!

The trio are formidable advocates, playing with impressive command and unrelenting energy throughout. Recommended.


Lincoln Trio performs Laura Elise Schwendinger's atmospheric C'è la Luna Questa Sera?, from the group's new Notable Women album


Looking Back: The Live Lincoln Trio previews Notable Women

Excerpts from concert review by Wynne Delacoma, Nov. 15, 2010, published in Chicago Classical Review

Even David Cunliffe, cellist with the Lincoln Trio, had to admit that it was lady's day at the ensemble's concert in the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Hall in Evanston.

The Institute's ensemble-in-residence, the Lincoln Trio offered a program devoted to pieces by contemporary women composers--Lera Auerbach, Stacy Garrop, Augusta Read Thomas, Laura Elise Schwendinger and Jennifer Higdon. In engaging remarks before the concert, Cunliffe noted that his Lincoln Trio colleagues, violinist Desiree Ruhstrat and pianist Marta Aznavoorian, completed the day's female lineup.

Lincoln Trio: ‘…a cohesive, intensely driven ensemble.’

Women composers have integrated themselves thoroughly into the classical music scene in recent decades. But it was still exciting to hear an afternoon of bracing, highly varied music written by some of contemporary music's most talented composers-male or female.

Founded in 2003, the Lincoln Trio is a cohesive, intensely driven ensemble. The players seemed entirely at home in repertoire that ranged from the often unsettled, hallucinatory universe of Auerbach's Piano Trio, composed between 1992 and 1996, to the softer-edged, more serene lyricism of Higdon's Trio from 2003.

The Lincoln Trio is especially devoted to new music, and the composers on Sunday's program offered a window to what's happening on the contemporary music scene locally as well as nationally.

Three of the composers have strong Chicago connections. Thomas was composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2006 and will begin teaching at the University of Chicago in July. Garrop is on the faculty of Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts, and Schwendinger is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Higdon, who is based on the East Coast, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto. Born in Russia, Auerbach settled in New York City in 1991.

Each has a distinctive voice. Though it was barely five minutes long, Thomas' “Moon Jig,” commissioned for the Lincoln Trio in 2005, crackled with her typically angular phrases and sudden shifts in rhythm. Garrop's “Seven,” inspired by an unlikely combination of Anne Sexton poetry and the alien borgs of the Star Trek Voyager TV series, marched to the ominously mechanical pulse of Aznavoorian's growling, raspy piano.

There was dissonance aplenty, even in the dreamy, meditative sections of Schwendinger's “C'e la Luna Questa Sera?” and the movement titled “Pale Yellow “of Higdon's Piano Trio. But none of the composers seemed interested in dissonance for its own sake. In the opening movement of Auerbach's Trio, violin, cello and piano nestled up against each other in a kind of elegant tango, their occasionally spiky harmonies just one more deftly chosen ingredient in a high-spirited musical brew.

Lincoln Trio’s Notable Women is available at www.amazon.com

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