The Million Dollar Trio


They were three of the world’s most formidable musicians, and in 1949 they were invited to perform together during a series of four concerts in Chicago’s Ravinia Park. Their togetherness would be short-lived.

Pianist Arthur Rubinstein, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and violinist Jascha Heifetz drew huge admiring crowds at Ravinia, and the newly-formed threesome was so successful that one critic referred to them as “The Million Dollar Trio.” Rubinstein disliked the nickname so much that he couldn’t wait to drop out of the ensemble, but when RCA invited the trio to make a recording of their concert repertory, he agreed to participate.

The rehearsals took place in 1950, mostly at the home of clarinetist Max Epstein, and apparently they became opportunities for Rubinstein and Heifetz to engage in personality clashes. Phrasing, tempo, and any other aspect of music interpretation became grist for their growing feud, and their quarrels became so rancorous that the rehearsals sometimes ground to a halt while the two artists cooled off.

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Rubinstein reported later that Heifetz was particularly perturbed by the billing in the concert programs because Rubinstein’s name always came first, followed by Heifetz and then Piatigorsky. Heifetz wondered why the billing couldn’t rotate so that each of them would be mentioned first at one time or another.

“I don’t mind,” Rubinstein supposedly replied, “but as far as I know, all trios are written for piano, violin, and cello, and traditionally one advertises the names of the players in exactly that Heifetz argued that he had seen some trios for violin and cello with piano accompaniment.”

Rubinstein doubted it, Heifetz insisted. Rubinstein lost his temper, “Jascha,” he shouted, “even if God were playing the violin, it would be printed Rubinstein, God, and Piatigorsky, in that order!” When RCA printed the record jackets, the names of Rubinstein and Heifetz appeared side by side on the top line, but the two never performed together again.