1335 South Michigan Ave
Recognized as one of Chicago’s finest chamber music groups, the ORION ENSEMBLE has been performing since 1992. John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune calls Orion “one of Chicago’s most vibrant, versatile and distinctive ensembles.” With the possibilities inherent in its unique combination of instruments—piano, string trio and clarinet—Orion offers exciting interpretations of standard repertoire, introduces audiences to rarely performed masterpieces and inspires composers with commissions for new works. Orion’s innovative programs feature diverse works by composers ranging from Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms to William Bolcom, Chick Corea, Paul Schoenfield and Augusta Read Thomas.
The Orion Ensemble boasts a roster of superb musicians who have performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia, as an ensemble and individually in solo, orchestral and other chamber music roles. In Chicago, Orion presents a four-concert series in three venues, is heard regularly on the broadcast series “Live from WFMT” and appears frequently on the Chicago Cultural Center’s Lunchbreak Series “Classical Mondays.”
KLEINES KONZERT for Viola, Clarinet, and Piano (1938)
OVERTURE ON HEBREW THEMES for Clarinet, String Quartet and Piano, Op. 34
PIANO QUINTET in F Minor, Op. 34
Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, referred to as the “crown of his chamber music,” features surprising shifts of tonality, daring use of harmony and sudden emotional contrasts, which make this innovative chamber piece a singularly profound concert experience. This timeless masterpiece showcases the composer’s most well-known elements-richness of texture, unexpected episodes of darkened mystique, unsurpassed lyricism of the slow movements, undisputed mastery of chromaticism and artistry in writing for every instrument.
Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes, composed as a sextet for clarinet, string quartet and piano, highlights a combination of instruments rarely experienced in chamber music repertoire. Commissioned by a Russian sextet called the Zimro Ensemble shortly after Prokofiev arrived in New York in 1918, this work features melodies inspired by Jewish folk songs. The true mystery of this work comes from the uncertainty of whether Prokofiev composed the songs’ themes or if the sextet’s clarinetist Simeon Bellison (1881-1953) composed the basic melodic ideas. Whatever the case, this overture is a work of great exotic beauty.
Also on this program is the highly dramatic and original music of Alfred Uhl (1909-92), an Austrian composer, conductor, violist and music instructor. From commanding a French prison camp during WWII to serving as a distinguished faculty member at the Vienna Music Academy, Uhl created music that is harmonically daring, rhythmically dynamic and melodiously innovative. The Kleines Konzert (Little Concert) for viola, clarinet and piano is grand in scope yet intimate in presentation. Featuring Uhl’s chosen instrument, the viola, this trio ingeniously combines expansive orchestral textures with stunning chamber music virtuosity to simulate the sound of a concerto.