The stately and ornate décor of Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall served as a backdrop for Chicago chamber group Orion Ensemble’s penultimate concert of its 2011 – 2012 season. The concert, titled All That Jazz, was actually a marriage of several styles, with something old, something new, something borrowed, and even something blue.
In regards to the old, Orion performed Quartet in C Minor for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano. Op 16 by famed 19th century French composer Gabriel Fauré. One of his later works, the somber and sweeping Pavane, is my personal favorite, and I was equally pleased with the expressive grandiose character of his early works. Faure’s compositional style is very expressive and virtuosic, playful at times, but more often completely serious and stately. Pianist Diana Schmück was particularly busy running up and down the keyboard as she traded themes with the strings. Violinist Florentina Ramniceanu, violinist Stephen Boe (playing viola), and cellist Judy Stone had great chemistry and are all incredibly talented to deliver on the challenge Faure laid out.
The ‘borrowed’ portion of the evening refers to a stripped down version of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue for clarinet and piano, arranged by Timofei Dokshitser. Though the piece heavily features piano and clarinet, I was skeptical a duo could pull off the bombastic and quintessentially American masterpiece. It wasn’t until clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle confidently hit the iconic scoop at the beginning of the piece that my worries were assuaged. The true essence of Gershwin’s work lies in the piano and clarinet parts, and with the exception of one or two bare-ish spots, the composition was robust and was just as amazing as the fully orchestrated piece, and it helped that it appeared Schmück and Pirtle were having so much fun performing.
The finale of the evening was both new and blue. Esteemed composer/conductor/music director Miguel de la Cerna premieres Livingston 8 – A Fantasy, a work specially commissioned for the Orion Ensemble. Described as a “jazz, blues, gospel, funk improvisation fantasy written for a traditional chamber ensemble”, the composition featured special guest de la Cerna on piano with Ramniceanu, Stone, and Pirtle returning to the stage. The piece is a patchwork of styles from contemporary classical to jazz, blues, funk and soul, even at times invoking the essence of anthemic rock bands. Sometimes the transitions were a little abrupt, and the latin groove felt a little stiff, but I also have to give credit where credit is due. The ensemble was performing a little outside of their wheelhouse, and Pirtle’s bright and swanky playing felt right at home. Ramniceanu handled the sharp and punky accents requisite to most modern genres. Stone dominated the bass lines through each style, and my favorite was the walking bass of the more traditional jazz groove. I liked that de la Cerna didn’t over-compose the piano parts, seemingly preferring to ‘lay in the groove’ and showcase the unique voices of the ensemble, which is almost audacious in itself considering this is not your typical chamber music. Overall it was a faithful representation of the modern landscape of American music performed by a very talented group of artists.
Orion Ensemble is performing All That Jazz a final time at the Fox Presbyterian Church in Geneva this Sunday, so pack up your mothers and head out for some excellent chamber music. Also look out for Orion Ensemble’s 2012 -2013 season, to be announced shortly.
For ticket and further information on Orion Ensemble, visit orionensemble.org, or call 630-628-9591.
All photos by Cornelia Babbitt.