The Orion Ensemble, Chicago's nationally recognized and critically acclaimed chamber music ensemble, continues its 20th Anniversary Season with "A Night at the Opera,' featuring works by two well-known composers of opera along with a piano transcription of an opera excerpt. Performances take place tonight, November 25 at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church in Geneva, December 2 at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston and December 5 at the PianoForte Salon at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago. Roger Chase on viola and Stephen Boe on violin join Orion for this program.
Carl Maria von Weber may have been best known as a composer of opera, but he also made important contributions to the German Romantic movement as a conductor, pianist and critic. He also composed more work for the standard repertoire of the clarinet than most any other composer. Like Mozart, whom he revered, Weber seems to have been drawn to the clarinet because of its expressive vocal qualities. No composer has used this to greater dramatic effect than Weber, emphasizing the clarinet's potential for navigating huge leaps, producing brilliant scales and arpeggios and expressing great warmth in legato passages. Orion performs the Quintet in B-flat Major for Clarinet and String Quartet, Op. 34, completed in August 1815, which is undeniably a virtuosic tour de force with the clarinet in the starring role.
Renowned as the most virtuosic pianist of his time, Franz Liszt used his incredible musical mind to disseminate the music, including operatic works, of other composers by writing piano transcriptions, paraphrases or arrangements of their works. It is not surprising he chose to transcribe "Am Stillen Herd," S. 448, an excerpt from Die Meistersinger by Richard Wagner that is on this program, since Liszt admired Wagner's approach to composition, and the basis for this comedic opera involves the aesthetic of music. While the piece has less extraneous virtuosity than some of Liszt's other arrangements, it uses the richness of the piano to full advantage to communicate the depth of the subject matter in a way that is true to the opera.
Written after Aida (1871) and before the Requiem (1874), Giuseppe Verdi's String Quartet in E Minor (1873), which Orion performs, was his only chamber music work. He wrote, "I've written a Quartet in my leisure moments in Naples. I had it performed one evening in my house, without attaching the least importance to it and without inviting anyone in particular. Only the seven or eight persons who usually come to visit me were present. I don't know whether the Quartet is beautiful or ugly, but I do know that it's a Quartet!" Given Verdi's early education and respect for the Viennese classicists, it is no wonder that the piece contains Haydnesque counterpoint and development combined with Verdi's own lyrical and dramatic gifts-a winning combination for a quartet from the pen of the composer of 29 operas.
Orion's 20th Anniversary Season
Orion's 2012–13 season continues in March with "A Voice from Heaven," featuring guest soprano Patrice Michaels and works by Schubert, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich; and in May with "Folk Inspirations with a Mexican Flair," featuring special guest pianist Miguel de la Cerna contributing his second work commissioned for Orion on a program also including Márquez, Ponce and Brahms and welcomes back Stephen Boe on viola.
In addition to its annual four-concert series in three areas, the Orion Ensemble will appear on the broadcast series "Live from WFMT" November 26, 2012 and May 6, 2013 and in the Chicago Cultural Center's Lunchbreak Series "Classical Mondays" October 15 and November 19, 2012. Orion also tours, performing in chamber music series across the country. Its most recent CD is Twilight of the Romantics.