Orion Opens Season with World Premiere by Jackson Berkey

July 16, 2015

A world premiere by Jackson Berkey opens the 23rd season of The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming. “French and German Tapestries” features guest violist Stephen Boe, a highly respected Chicago chamber musician, on a program that also includes works by Mozart and Fauré. Performances take place at First Baptist Church of Geneva September 20; the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston October 4; and the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago October 7.

The program
Jackson Berkey has composed more than 400 titles encompassing choral, solo vocal and instrumental, chamber ensemble, band and orchestral works, as well as concerti and works for chorus and orchestra. Nationally known as a pianist and recording artist, he has performed as featured keyboardist with Mannheim Steamroller for nearly 40 years. Berkey’s “Homage to Percy Bysshe Shelley,” for violin, viola, cello, piano and clarinet, is a brief, expressive musical poem written for Orion.

Three works by Mozart appear on this program. Divertimento in E-flat Major for String Trio, K. 563 illustrates Mozart’s love of composing and performing ensemble music (he was reputed to have been an expert string player and enjoyed the viola). Unlike string quartets and quintets, string trios provide only one instrument in each range; thus the sheer creativity and technique necessary to produce a full, rich tapestry, and at the same time have each instrument display its own particular beauty, is immense—a task Mozart was more than equipped to handle.

Fantasy in C Minor for Piano, K. 396 is an example of a form that has been an invaluable tool for composer-pianists to combine their imaginative compositional visions with their skill and prowess as keyboard artists. Mozart not only innately understood the touch sensitivity of this new instrument (the fortepiano in his time), he created upon it some of his most emotionally stirring works.

Trio (Kegelstatt) in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, K. 498 has a nickname that refers to Mozart’s boast of having composed several works while playing skittles, a form of bowling (Kegelstatt refers to a place where people played skittles). Though considered traditional today, Mozart was viewed during his time as “cutting edge,” experimenting with newer forms as well as new instruments, such as the piano and clarinet. Combining these instruments with the more traditional viola in this work allowed him to explore tonal combinations that are charming, haunting and expressive.

Gabriel Fauré’s Quartet in C Minor for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano No. 1, Op. 15 is actually a string trio with piano, in which the strings can become a microcosmic orchestra against the coloristic shadings of solo piano. The piece opens with a sonata-allegro movement with a yearning theme and rhythmic outbursts; the energetic second movement is a scherzo, with a slower third movement providing the work’s emotional core; the piece concludes with a triumphant fast-paced finale.

Orion’s 2015–16 season
Orion’s 2015­-16 season, Fantasies and Enchantments, continues with “Harp Fantasy” in November and December, featuring the Orion debut of guest harp virtuoso Ben Melsky and works by Ibert, Saint-Saëns, Vaughan Williams, Ireland and Bridge; “American Landscape” in March, with music by Berkey, Sowash and Dvorák; and “Musical Enchantments” in May and June, with guest violinist Mathias Tacke and guest violist Stephen Boe performing works by Dvorák, Beach and Brahms. Also during the season, Orion hosts a fall benefit October 3 at 12 noon at Dunham Woods Riding Club in Wayne, Illinois and appears on the broadcast series “Live from WFMT” October 5, 2015 and March 28, 2016 at 8 p.m.

The Orion Ensemble
Founded in 1992, The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming for its critically acclaimed millennium celebration “An Inside Look at Contemporary Music,” features a roster of four superb musicians—Kathryne Pirtle (clarinet), Florentina Ramniceanu (violin), Diana Schmück (piano) and Judy Stone (cello)—who have performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia, as an ensemble and individually in solo, orchestral and other chamber music roles. The Chicago Tribune called Orion “one of Chicago’s most vibrant, versatile and distinctive ensembles,” and the Chicago Sun-Times said Orion is “what chamber music should be all about: Individual virtuosity melded into a group personality.” The Orion Ensemble is supported in part by grants from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council and generous donations from its patrons. For a brief history, click here.

Performance and ticket information
The Orion Ensemble’s concert program “French and German Tapestries” takes place Sunday, September 20 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva, 2300 South Street in Geneva; Sunday, October 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston; and Wednesday, October 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pianforte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit orionensemble.org.


The Orion Ensemble is supported in part by grants from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation,
the John R. Halligan Charitable Fund, the Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation Fund,
and generous donations from our dedicated patrons.
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