Chicago Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chicago Ensemble 

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For a long while the Chicago Ensemble, the city's most durable independent chamber group, seemed to be in the doldrums. Though many of its subscribers were fierce loyalists who'd supported the ensemble from the start, it had trouble attracting the younger crowd. And the ensemble's performances, while elegant and skillful, often locked fire. On the other hand, the group's founder, Gerald Rizzer, has always maintained a healthily venturesome approach to programming; over the last 15 years he and his colleagues have given local debuts to more works than any other chamber bunch in town I can think of. What's more, when the chemistry among the players is right, the music making can be of the highest order. This season, to better the odds of presenting top-notch concerts and to broaden its appeal, the ensemble has expanded its roster to 11 instrumentalists of considerable repute, including violinist Sharon Polifrone, flutist Susan Levitin, and clarinetist Charlene Zimmerman, and it has added two much-needed sidebar series. Along with its core repertoire of "chamber classics," the ensemble will present three song recitals and a couple of concerts devoted to works by contemporary composers, most Americans. The program for the season opener, culled by pianist Rizzer from more than 170 submissions, features works for various combinations of violin, viola, cello, and piano by composers from the under-40 generation. Included are the neoclassical "March and Fuga/Quodlibet" from To Be Danced, by Chicagoan Lawrence Axelrod; the minimalistic They Who Hunger by Cambridge resident Jan Swofford; Jeffrey Stadelman's Friction Oracle; and the jazzy Manhattan Captive by Kevin Malone. All the aforementioned composers except Malone will be on hand to answer questions. Sunday, 5:30 PM, Three Arts Club, 1300 N. Dearborn; 907-2190.

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