About Us

Praised for their “insightful, committed and masterful performances 10/10 ” (July 2019, Classics Today) and their “fierce eloquence

(September 2019, The Times), the Black Oak Ensemble is establishing itself as one of the premier chamber ensembles in the United States.

The Black Oak Ensemble comprises of Grammy-nominated violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe of the acclaimed Lincoln Trio, and violist Aurélien Fort Pederzoli, a founding member of the groundbreaking Grammy-nominated Spektral Quartet.

This season, the ensemble’s debut album, Silenced Voices―a deeply personal program dedicated to mid-20th Century Jewish composers, most of whom lost their lives during the Holocaust―was released on Cedille Records; it went on to be featured by Gramophone Magazine, Strings Magazine, and BBC Radio 3. The ensemble was recently featured live from New York by The Violin Channel, and had an appearance on Sirius XM.

The project-based Black Oak Ensemble presents exciting programs from Bach to the music of today and has collaborated with musicians such as bandoneon player Evan Orman, guitarists Goran Ivanovic and José Ferreira, harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, members of Eighth Blackbird, and the Cavatina Duo. As passionate advocate of new works, they have commissioned and premiered string trios from renowned composers such as Michael Nyman, David Ludwig, Misha Zupko, and Conrad Tao, and discovered works by Dick Kattenburg and Geza Fríd.

Black Oak performs regularly in recitals and festivals throughout the world. Their recent tour throughout Europe included performances in Amsterdam, Athens, Geneva, Grenoble, Lyon, Paris,  Prague , Rennes, and Yverdon, and many of their performances were to standing-room-only audiences. Other appearances include Ravinia Festival, the Chicago Cultural Center, Art Institute of Chicago, Latino Music Festival, Mayne Stage, WFMT, Grand Rapids Museum of Art, Communauté Juive de Nancy, Le Festival du film Juif de Paris, Everlasting Hope festival in Theresienstadt, L’Alhambra in Vittel, and a special performance in Corsica.

The Black Oak Ensemble put down roots in the south of France, creating Musique Dans Le Gers, a music festival that provides an opportunity to work with young artists and share their experiences and music with the community.

As dedicated educators, Black Oak has held residencies at Eau Claire University, St. John's School for the Arts (USVI), Arizona State University, the New Music School, and Safford Arizona. Currently they serve as Ensemble-in-Residence at the New Music School in Chicago.

The ensemble is named for the black oak, a beautiful tree native to its home state of Illinois. One stands in the front yard of Desirée Ruhstrat and David Cunliffe’s house.

The violin artistry of Desirée Ruhstrat has captivated audiences throughout Europe and the Americas. The Berlin Taggespiegel wrote, "...she played with such an intensive fire and sleepwalking assuredness that she was stormily celebrated by the audience." Ms. Ruhstrat is renown for her versatility  as a soloist, Chamber musician and teacher.


Since her debut at age 12 with Lukas Foss and the Milwaukee Symphony, Ms. Ruhstrat has appeared as a soloist with orchestras throughout the world, including the Berlin Radio Symphony, Radio Suisse Romande, Gottingen Symphony, Philharmonia Da Camera, Orchestra Symphonica Auguescalientes, Colorado Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Concerto Soloists Of Philadelphia, Utah Symphony, Chicago Civic Orchestra, Debut Orchestra of Los Angeles, and National Repertory Orchestra and by special invitation of Sir George Solti in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall.

She has worked with such renowned conductors as Eric Kunzel, Max Rudolph, William Smith, Rico Saccani, Brian Priestman, JoAnn Falletta,Carl Topilow, Mats Liljefors among others. Ms. Ruhstrat has won numerous awards including first prize at the National Young Musicians Debut Competition in Los Angeles, where she was also lauded a special award for a young performer with extraordinary talent. She became the youngest prizewinner at Switzerland's Tibor Varga International Competition and also won the award for best interpretation of the commissioned contemporary composition. She went on to earn top prizes at the Carl Flesch, Julius Stulberg, and the Mozart Festival Violin Competitions.

Ms. Ruhstrat's distinguished career as a chamber musician includes performances throughout the US as a member of the Lincoln Trio, including Carnegie Weil Hall, Lincoln Center, Ravinia Festival, Indianapolis Symphony Beethoven Series, Poisson Rouge and Music In the Loft. She has also appeared as guest artist of the Chamber Music Series of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, Apollo Chamber Ensemble, the Colorado Chambers Players, Pacifica Quartet, the University of Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Northwestern University Midwinter Series with Jorge Federico Osorio and Ani Kavafian, as well as collaborations with Shmuel Ashkenasi, Ilya Kaler and Roberto Diaz. Festival appearances include the Aspen Music Festival, Peninsula Music Festival, Laurel Festival of the Arts, the Breckenridge Music Festival and the Green Lake, University Of Wisconsin, Utah Music Festival, and ARIA International Summer Academy, Curtis Institute of Music Young Artist Program, where she has also served as faculty.

In addition to the Lincoln Trio in 2014 Ms. Ruhstrat founded the Black Oak Ensemble with cellist David Cunliffe and violist Aurélien Fort Pederzoli. Their debut album Silenced Voices, which included a world Premiere String Trio by Géza Frid  on the Cedille label , garnered numerous accolades including Chicago Tribune's TOP 100 Recordings of 2019, FANFARE Magazine "want list"  and New York's WQXR Top 100 Best Classical Recordings of 2019. In addition the Black Oak Ensemble has had  several works written for them by Composers  Michael Nyman, David Serkin Ludwig,  Conrad Tao, Larry Alexrod as well as a rescoring of Mischa Zupko's Harpsichord Concerto with Jory Vinikour and collaborations with guitarists José Ferreira and Mak Grgic. 


A champion of new music Ms. Ruhstrat has worked with some of the worlds leading composers, George Crumb, Jennifer Higdon, Shulamit Ran, Augusta Read Thomas, Chen Yi, Zhou Long and most recently had a work written for her by Laura Elise Schwendinger "Violinists In My Life."


Ms. Ruhstrat is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music. Her teachers have included Aaron Rosand, Joseph Gingold, Harold Wippler and Dorothy Delay. Her discography includes the Stamitz Duo for Violin and Viola for Centaur Records, the Ravel Duo for Violin and Cello for Albany Records, a 2013 GRAMMY nominated NAXOS release Annelies, based on the Diary of Anne Frank and multiple recordings with the Lincoln Trio on the Cedille Label and a 2017 GRAMMY Nomination for Trio’s From Our Homeland’s.


A passionate teacher, Ms. Ruhstrat's students are prizewinners of national and international competitions and members of professional orchestras worldwide. Ms. Ruhstrat has been on Faculty at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and currently is on faculty and serves as the Strings Chamber Music Coordinator at Northwestern University Bienen School of Music. In 2014 Ms. Ruhstrat was awarded the American String Teachers Association Illinois Outstanding Studio Teacher Award

Aurelién Fort Pederzoli

French-born violist Aurelién Fort Pederzoli has quickly risen to be known as one of Chicago’s most creative and sought-after collaborators.

Aurelién is a graduate of the Paris Conservatory, where he studied with world-renowned teacher Jean Lenert. He then attended the Bern Hochschule, Switzerland, where he was in the master class of Professor Monika Urbaniak and received guidance from Professor Igor Ozim. His primary teacher was Veda Reynolds, professor at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

In 2008, Aurelién founded the Anaphora Ensemble, a chamber music ensemble, which appeared frequently on national radio and performed in eclectic places, from the Green Mill to Symphony Hall. From 2008 to 2012, Mr. Pederzoli was first violinist of the Corky Siegel Chamber Blues band and toured nationally and internationally with them. Other collaborations include Rachel kolly, Christian Chamorel, Daniel Baremboim, Kent Nagano, the Ysaye quartet, H.J Lim, members of Eighth Blackbird, Shmuel Ashkenasi, the Lincoln Trio, and Mathieu Dufour, to name a few.

From 2009 until 2014, Aurelién was one of the violinists and founding member of the Grammy-nominated Spektral Quartet, ensemble-in-residence at the University of Chicago. In 2015, Mr. Pederzoli founded (alongside Desirée Ruhstrat and David Cunliffe) the Black Oak Ensemble, a string trio at its core, and has been performing with them ever since. 2018 marks the release of their debut album Silenced Voices on the Cedille Label.

In the 2018/19 season, Mr. Pederzoli became a one-year member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Aurelién is one of the founders of the music festival Musique Dans Le Gers, based in the southwest of France. 

David Cunliffe

Cellist David Cunliffe has performed with the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish and Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestras and the Balanescu Quartet with whom he toured extensively to Australia, Europe and the United States appearing frequently on radio and TV including NPR and BBC.

As a founding member of the Grammy nominated Lincoln Trio, David has performed throughout the United States including appearances at Carnegie's Weil Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Bryant Park Festival, Ravinia Festival, Green Center, Barge Music, Poisson Rouge, the Indianapolis Symphony Beethoven Chamber Music Series, University of Chicago, Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series and in Springfield, Illinois, where the trio was chosen to celebrate the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration with President Barack Obama. He has also performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room in London. International engagements include performances throughout Europe, Asia and South America where this year they toured with the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in five cities across Colombia. The Lincoln Trio are frequent guests on Chicago’s WFMT and Sirius XM Radio Stations. 

David has collaborated in various chamber music performances with Shmuel Ashkenasi, Alberto Lysy, Roger Chase, Simon Keenlyside, Arianna Zukerman, Ilya Kaler, Roberto Diaz, Paul Colletti, Mathieu Dufour and Ricardo Morales and has been invited to perform with the Rembrandt Chamber Players, Chicago Chamber Musicians and relishes playing continuo for the Bach Week Festival. He has also made a guest appearance with Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues.

An enthusiast of new music, David has performed numerous compositions written especially for him and the Trio, including premieres of seven Trio’s by members of the Chicago Composers Consortium, an award winning work dedicated to the trio by young ASCAP winner Conrad Tao, a Chamber Music America Award commission with composer Laura Elise Schwendinger and works by Stacy Garrop, Mischa Zupko, Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Ravinia commissioned works for the Lincoln Bicentennial by James Crowley, Eric Sawyer and Lawrence Dillon. In 2015 the Trio commissioned a work from Colombian composer, Juan Antonio Cuellar which they recorded in Bogota, Colombia. He has also worked with George Crumb, Augusta Read Thomas, Terry Reilly, Michael Nyman, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Pierre Jalbert, Shulamit Ran, and Joan Tower. He has served on the board of Music in the Loft, an organization that was dedicated to pairing up and coming young composers and performers. He is currently the vice president of the Society of American Musicians a non for profit Competition based in Chicago.

Valuing the importance of cultural diversity in music, David is a passionate supporter of the Chicago based Chinese Fine Arts Society and the Korean Sejong Cultural Society which in 2015 commissioned three works based on Korean themes to be premiered at the University of Chicago and recorded by the Lincoln Trio.

While performing with the Balanescu Quartet David was involved in numerous projects including recording the CD, “Arabian Waltz” with the renowned Oud player Rabih Abou Khalil and recording the sound track for the movie “Angels and Insects”.

As part of the Lincoln Trio, David has recorded numerous albums for the Cedille label including the entire works for Strings and Piano by Joaquin Turina and their debut album "Notable Women”, which features Grammy and Pulitzer prize winning composers Jennifer Higdon, Joan Tower, Lera Auerbach, Stacy Garrop, Augusta Read Thomas and Laura Schwendinger. Their CD's have received numerous accolades including NAXOS CD of the Month, Baker and Taylor CD Hotlist, Byzantion Recording of the month, TPR Classical Spotlighted album, WQXR/Q2 Music Album of the week, UK Observer Hidden Gems and was listed on Alex Ross of the New Yorker Magazine “Nightafternight playlist for summer's end” and Fanfare magazine “Want List”. Other releases on the Cedille label include "Composers In the Loft", "In Eleanors Words: Music of Stacy Garrop" and "The Billy Collins Suite”. In August of this year they released their latest CD “Trio’s From Our Homelands” featuring the works of Rebecca Clarke, Arno Babajanian and Frank Martin which was nominated for a 2017 Grammy. He has also recorded the Ravel Duo for Violin and Cello with his wife, Desirée Ruhstrat for Albany Records.

His teachers included Margaret Moncreiff, Moray Welsh and Antonio Lysy at the Royal Northern College of Music where he founded the Argyll String Quartet and was the recipient of the Terrance Weill and Leonard Hirsch Quartet prizes and the Lady Barbirolli Chamber Music Award. He also studied with William Pleeth, Ralph Kirshbaum and Christopher Bunting. He completed his studies at the International Yehudi Menuhin Music Academy in Switzerland where he studied with Radu Aldulescu and toured throughout Europe with Yehudi Menuhin and the Camerata Lysy.

He is currently on the faculty of the Music Institute of Chicago.

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