Concert Preview: Chicago Ensemble Offers a Feast of Modern and Contemporary, with a Taste of Bach

Chicago Ensemble LogoThe Chicago Ensemble serves up their latest menu of modern and contemporary fare at 3pm Sunday at the International House, University of Chicago, Hyde Park. This eclectic group has kept Chicagoans up with the latest trends in chamber music for the past 39 years. With a team of first-rate players, this troupe offers everything from straight up instrumental magic to song-cycle wonders. Sunday’s lineup includes Richard Castaneda on Oboe, Mathias Tacke on violin, Rose Armbrist Griffin on viola, Andrew Snow on cello, and Gerald Rizzer on piano. Although the first half of the menu features a work from the 20th century and two from the 21st, the appetizer is a gutsy programming move from an earlier age. Contrapunctus 1 is the first of 14 fugues on a similar theme that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote toward the end of his life in the 1740s. These pieces, along with four canons, comprise the larger work known as the Art of Fugue. Fast forward 200 years, the next work will be Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for oboe, violin, viola, and cello, from 1932. This packs a variety of sounds into a single movement, starting and ending with a march. The Chicago Ensemble has provided terrific support for up-and-coming American composers over the years, having sponsored eight contests where Americans could show off their latest compositional flavors. Sunday’s spread features two of the most recent winners. First will be the opening movement of Jonathan Russell’s Piano Trio from 2011, a wonderful, dirge-type piece that grows in intensity as it progresses. Second will be Roger Zare’s Irlandzki Polonez from 2012, a marvelous, up-tempo mélange of a Polish inspired march and an Irish gigue. After a break, the main entree will be Gabriel Faure’s second piano quartet in g-minor, Op. 45. Performed less frequently than the first quartet, this piece is surprisingly upbeat and playful for a minor-keyed work. I experienced a delightful rendition of this program on Tuesday and am sure the reprise on Sunday will be equally tasty. Tickets and programming information can be found at  
Picture of the author
Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world. Member of the Music Critics Association of North America.