Lincoln Trio serves up bracing music by women composers

Mon Nov 15, 2010 at 11:29 am

By Wynne Delacoma

The Lincoln Trio performed a program of music by women composers Sunday afternoon in Evanston.

Even David Cunliffe, cellist with the Lincoln Trio, had to admit that it was lady’s day at the ensemble’s concert Sunday afternoon 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.

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.

The concert was a preview of a recording the Lincoln Trio plans to release in the spring on the Chicago-based Cedille label.

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