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Neighbors of Kane County

Orion concludes season with "Wit and Passion" of Francaix and Brahms

Mar 29, 2017 12:01PM ● By Neighbors Magazines

(L-R): Violinist Florentina Ramniceanu, pianist Diana Schmück, cellist Judy Stone and clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle. Photo by Cornelia Babbit. 

The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, welcomes back guest violist Stephen Boe for a program of "Wit and Passion" to conclude its 24th season. Performances take place May 21 at First Baptist Church of Geneva; May 24 at the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago--joined by a quintet from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras; and May 28 at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

The program

Jean Francaix (1912-97) was a highly prolific composer of more than 200 works, often stating that his primary aim in creating music was to give others pleasure. In his Trio for violin, viola and cello (1933), the first movement is irresistibly sunny, the second movement a scherzo of great dynamic drive, and the heartfelt third movement is undoubtedly the emotional core of the work. The piece concludes with a rondo finale comprising a main theme and contrasting episodes that are an inspired tribute to the great Classical Era works of the same genre.

Francaix's Trio for clarinet, viola and piano opens with the mystical dialogue of the viola and clarinet. As the piano enters, this haunting texture expands in mesmerizing proportions. The ensuing second movement, vigorous and dance-like, explores the sonorities of the three instruments in kaleidoscopic enthusiasm. A lighthearted and lyrical third movement features the clarinet and viola in a charming duet of sweet expressions. The final two movements, a largo of poetic dimensions and a presto of equally humorous presence, round out this wonderfully expressive chamber work.

Johannes Brahms' Piano Quartet in G minor premiered in Hamburg in 1861 with his close friend Clara Schumann at the piano. Brahms premiered the work in Vienna one year later, performing in one of his chamber works for the first time. Composed following the death of Robert Schumann, Brahms' friend and great mentor, the first movement poignantly displays a scope of emotions ranging from sweet remembrances to tearful passions. The second movement, a scherzo in all but name, is an energetic perpetual motion with a slightly quicker--yet more tranquil--trio section. The ensuing andante con moto features a reference to the restless nature of the preceding movement, contrasted by highly lyrical musings. The exotic rondo finale, which Brahms labeled "in the Gypsy Style," brings the work to an ominous conclusion. True to this inscription, the music resounds in folk-like brilliance.

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras Quintet

Joining Orion at the Chicago performance May 24 is Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras wind quintet Zephyrus Winds, playing American Trilogy for Woodwind Quintet by Stuart Balcomb (b. 1951). The musicians include flutist Jennifer Wang (Chicago, junior at University of Chicago Laboratory School), oboist Ann Pinkerton (Wilmette, senior at New Trier High School), clarinetist Katia Waxman (Chicago, senior at Walter Payton College Prep), bassoonist Allen Jiang (Chicago, junior graduating a year early from University of Chicago Laboratory School) and horn player Ryan Williamson (Wilmette, junior at New Trier High School).

Zephyrus Winds has competed in several chamber music competitions since its members began playing together three years ago. The quintet took first prize in the open division for winds, brass, percussion and voice of the 2015 Discover Chamber Music Competition. In 2016, they received an Honorable Mention at the Rembrandt Chamber Players Annual High School Chamber Music Competition. Later that year, they competed as quarter-finalists at the 2016 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in South Bend, Indiana. They will compete at the 2017 MPrize Competition in Ann Arbor on May 3.

Performance and ticket information

The Orion Ensemble's concert program "Wit and Passion" takes place Sunday, May 21 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva, 2300 South Street in Geneva; Wednesday, May 24, with CYSO quintet Zephyrus, at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago; and Sunday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit