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Highland Park Strings Announces 40th Anniversary Season

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CHICAGO ( September 21, 2018 ) — Highland Park Strings, under the direction of Principal Conductor Dr. Robert G. Hasty, is pleased to announce its 40th anniversary season titled "Highland Park's Got Talent," featuring three free community concerts at Highland Park High School, plus a benefit concert at Ravinia's Bennett-Gordon Hall.

For its 2018-19 season, the Strings proudly joins HP150, Highland Park's year-long sesquicentennial ( 150th anniversary ) celebration. In honor of the City's milestone, all of the soloists featured in the Strings' 40th anniversary concerts are Highland Park residents.

The Highland Park Strings opening concert on October 21, 2018 will feature acclaimed pianist Susan Merdinger. Making her second appearance with the Strings, Merdinger will perform the great Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky — a first for the Strings. The holiday concert in December 2, 2018 will feature husband and wife soloists David Cunliffe and Desiree Ruhstrat. Comprising two-thirds of the Grammy-nominated Lincoln Trio ( which this summer made its 11th appearance at Ravinia ), David and Desiree will perform The Muse and the Poet by Saint-Saens for violin and cello. Additionally, Strings Founder and General Manager Lawrence Block and Lucy Colman ( his stand partner for 40 years ) will perform the Concerto for Two Cellos by Vivaldi — a reprise of their first performance 28 years ago.

For the Strings Gala Benefit Concert at the intimate and acoustically perfect Bennett-Gordon Hall at Ravinia in February 10, 2019, world-class pianist Jorge Federico Osorio returns for his second appearance with the Strings. In this celebratory all Beethoven concert, Osorio will perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 and the Strings will add the Coriolanus Overture and the famed Fifth Symphony. The final concert in May 19, 2019 features Highland Park High School graduate cellist Ben Fried, who will perform the extraordinarily difficult Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich. The Strings will close the season with the New World Symphony by Dvorak.

The HIGHLAND PARK STRINGS full 40th Anniversary Line-Up includes:

Sunday, October 21, 2018 at 3 pm


Featuring soloist Susan Merdinger

Highland Park High School, 433 Vine Ave., Highland Park

Free Admission


Polonaise from Eugene Onegin


Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major ( "Spring" )


Concerto for Piano No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23

Susan Merdinger, Piano

Sponsored by YEA! Highland Park and First Bank of Highland Park

Sunday, December 2, 2018 at 3 pm


Featuring husband and wife soloists David Cunliffe and Desiree Ruhstrat

Highland Park High School, 433 Vine Ave., Highland Park

Free Admission


Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major ( BWV 1048 )


Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor, RV 531 Lucy Colman, Larry Block, Cellos


La Muse et le Poete for Violin and Cello.Op. 132 Desiree Ruhstrat, Violin, David Cunliffe, Cello


Symphony No. 3 in D Major, D. 200

Sponsored by YEA! Highland Park

Sunday, February 10 at 3 pm

BEETHOVEN SPECTACULAR — Annual Benefit Concert

Featuring soloist Jorge Federico Osorio

Ravinia, Bennett-Gordon Hall

$40 general admission. For tickets, call ( 847 ) 831-3622.


Coriolanus Overture, Op. 62 Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op.58

Jorge Federico Osorio, Piano

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

Sponsored by The Negaunee Foundation

Sunday, May 19, 2019 at 3 pm


Featuring soloist Ben Fried

Highland Park High School, 433 Vine Ave., Highland Park

Free Admission


Concerto for Cello No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op.107


Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ( "From the New World" )

Sponsored by The Rotary Club of Highland Park/Highwood

For additional information, visit or call ( 847 ) 831-3622.

About the Artists

Dr. Robert G. Hasty ( Principal Conductor ) begins his second full year as Principal Conductor of the Strings, having quickly become beloved by the orchestra and the audience. Dr. Hasty is the conductor of the Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia of the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University where he also serves as the Associate Director of Orchestras. He is also the Music Director of the Kenosha and the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestras and Artistic Director of the International Schools Choral Music Society. Dr. Hasty began his career teaching music in the public schools in Southern California. A noted researcher in music cognition, Dr. Hasty is the author of two publications delivered at the 7th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in Sydney, Australia. As a conductor, Dr. Hasty has appeared with the All-American College Orchestra at Walt Disney World, Beijing Youth Orchestra and the Elmhurst and Grant Park Symphonies, among many others. He also continues to perform as a freelance violinist and violist. These days, you will find him fiddling in several Chicagoland clubs and venues with various local bands, most notably performing and recording with his wife, singer-songwriter Christina Trullio.

Susan Merdinger ( Soloist, Piano ) A resident of Highland Park since 2003, Steinway Artist Susan Merdinger has been acclaimed for her stunning performances. Among her many honors, Merdinger is a two-time First Prize winner of the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition, Gold Medalist of the Global Music Awards and winner of the Dewar's Young Artists Award, the Artist's International Young Musicians Competition and the Artist's International Distinguished Alumni Winners Prize. Having made her debut at Carnegie Recital Hall, her live performances and recordings have been broadcast on radio and television throughout the USA, Canada and Europe. She has been a Guest Artist on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Series, Live from WFMT and the Chicago Latino Music Festival, and has soloed with the Chicago Philharmonic, Lake County and Tahoe Symphonies and the Orchestra Sinfonica del Estado de Mexico. Merdinger studied at Yale University, the Yale School of Music, and the Manhattan School of Music. She is an Artist Faculty of the Summit Music Festival in New York and Artistic Director and Founder of Sheridan Music Studio.

Desiree Ruhstart ( Soloist, Violin ) made her professional debut at age 12 with Lukas Foss and the Milwaukee Symphony and at age 16, she was invited by Sir Georg Solti to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. Ruhstrat has appeared as soloist with orchestras throughout the world, including the Berlin Radio Symphony, Radio Suisse Romande, Gottingen Symphony and the Colorado, Oregon and Utah Symphonies, among many others. A highly regarded teacher, Ruhstrat is currently on the faculty at Northwestern University.

David Cunliffe ( Soloist, Cello ) has performed with the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish and Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestras and the Balancscu Quartet, with whom he toured extensively in Australia, Europe and the United States. Cunliffe is currently on the faculty of the Music Institute of Chicago. As founding members of the Grammy nominated Lincoln Trio ( which this past summer performed for the 11th time at Ravinia ), Cunliffe and his wife Desiree Ruhstart have performed throughout the United States including appearances at Carnegie's Weill Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Bryant Park Festival, Barge Music, Poisson Rouge and in Springfield, Illinois, where the Trio was chosen to celebrate the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial with President Barack Obama.

Jorge Federico Osorio ( Soloist, Piano ) Highly revered in his native Mexico, Osorio, who has lived in Highland Park for twenty years, has been lauded throughout the world for his superb musicianship, powerful technique, vibrant imagination and deep passion. He is the recipient of several international prizes and awards, including the prestigious Medal Bellas Artes, the highest honor granted by Mexico's National Institute of Fine Arts. Osorio has performed with the world's leading ensembles, including the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico and the Israel, Warsaw and Royal Philharmonics. He has collaborated with such distinguished conductors as Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, James Conlon, Bernard Haitink, Manfred Honeck, Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel and Jaap van Zweden, among many others. An avid chamber music performer, he has performed with Yo-Yo Ma, Ani Kavafian, Elmar Oliveira, Henryk Szerying and the the Moscow Quartet. He began studying the piano at age five with his mother and later attended the conservatories of Mexico, Paris and Moscow. He currently serves on the faculty of Roosevelt University's College of Performing Arts.

Ben Fried ( Soloist, Cello ) Born in Highland Park, Fried is carving out a versatile career as a soloist, chamber musician and composer. He has performed several times on WFMT, and twice on National Public Radio. While a student at Eastman School of Music, he was chosen to receive the prestigious Performer's Certificate, and went on to win the school's concerto competition. He is a prize winner of the Grand Prize Virtuoso Competition, the Eastman Honor's Music Competition and the St. Paul String Quartet Competition. He performs regularly on tour for the Heifetz International Music Institute and is a 2018 "artist in residence" at the Festival. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in cello performance at the University of Southern California under the tutelage of Andrew Shulman. Previous cello teachers include Timothy Eddy, Steven Doane and Hans Jensen. Also a dedicated composer, he studies composition under Morten Lauridsen at USC and frequently performs his own works internationally.

About Highland Park Strings

Founded by co-principal cellist Lawrence Block in 1979, the Highland Park Strings is an ensemble composed primarily of accomplished amateur chamber musicians ( now supplemented by young professionals ) who relish the joy of making music together. From its inception, the mission of the Strings was and remains to provide concerts FREE of charge for the community, a unique arrangement made possible through the sponsorship of the Park District of Highland Park, YEA! Highland Park, the Negaunee Foundation and the generous philanthropy of individual donors and businesses. This "little miracle" in Highland Park, so aptly described by the Chicago Tribune, has become core to the cultural fabric of the community, playing to capacity audiences for each performance.

—From a press release

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