Arts Preview: Chamber ensembles travel easily in classical world

Arts Preview: Chamber ensembles travel easily in classical world

Friday, April 16, 2004

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In these days of supersized consumption, it’s the small fries who
might be in the best shape.

I Musici de Montreal: Conductor Yuli Turovsky. Appearing as part of
the Quebec Festival. 8 tonight; Byham Theater, Downtown; $20-$25;
412-456-6666. Program: Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” Bloch’s
“Three Jewish Pieces,” Komitas’ “Armenian Folk Songs and Dances,”
Gougeon’s “Coups d’archet” and Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade in C

Nuance: Conductor Andres Cardenes. Pittsburgh Symphony chamber
orchestra series. 8 p.m. tomorrow; JCC Katz Auditorium, Squirrel
Hill. $15-$29; 412-392-4900. Program: Bach’s Concerto for Three
Violins, Piazzolla’s “Grand Tango,” Mozart’s Wind Serenade in C minor
and Huebner’s “New York Stories.”

Australian Chamber Orchestra: Leader Richard Tognetti with soprano
Dawn Upshaw. Presented by the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society. 8
p.m. April 26; Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland; $15-$30;
412-624-4129. Program: Corelli’s Concerto Grosso (Op. 6, No. 4),
Lentz’s “Te deum Laudamus,” Bach cantata arias, Schubert’s “Death and
the Maiden” lied and quartet (arranged for orchestra).

Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival: Conductor Lucas Richman. “Klezmer
Concertos.” 8 p.m. April 27; JCC Katz Auditorium; $12-$15.
412-394-3353. Program: Finkel’s “The Fiddle,” Krasa’s “Brundibar,”
Glick’s “The Klezmer’s Wedding,” Hoffman’s “Self-Portrait with
Gebirtig” and Richman’s “Kol Nidre.”I Musici’s conductor Yuli Turovsky

No, this is not another story about diets, but about the orchestra

Full-size orchestras are expensive to record, to maintain and
certainly to tour. In today’s classical musical world, their smaller
counterparts — chamber orchestras — have distinct financial
advantages .

Pittsburgh, a city which once entertained large visiting orchestras,
hosts a number of smaller ones over the next two weeks. I Musici de
Montreal and the Australian Chamber Orchestra visit, complementing
performances by local ensembles, Nuance (Pittsburgh Symphony’s chamber
orchestra) and the chamberorchestra of the Pittsburgh Jewish Music

“Touring costs us an enormous amount for our budget, but in comparison
to a large orchestra of course it is a pittance,” says Richard
Tognetti, artistic director and leader of the Australian Chamber
Orchestra. “For example, whenthe Sydney Symphony toured Europe with
Strauss’ ‘Alpine Symphony’ they took 13 or so horns … four players
less than our 17 core players. So indeed a chamber orchestra is a far
more flexible beast.”

The appearance of the 16-member I Musici is part of Pittsburgh
Cultural Trust’s Quebec Festival and is supported by the Quebec
Government House andAlcoa Foundation. Still, the concert will happen
only because the ensemble is already touring nationally.

For I Musici conductor Yuli Turovsky, the benefits of touring outweigh
the costs. “I think it is necessary to tour. First, I think we should
use our flexibility as an ensemble, to compare with big symphonies who
could afforda tour every other year or so. The bigger ensemble has a
bigger budget, but the smaller one is more mobile — it is our

Tours can also be a part of the mission statement for a smaller
orchestra, as is the case for the Australian Chamber Orchestra. “We
are the national orchestra, and we are obliged therefore to travel as
much as our schedule permits,” says Tognetti. “I would like to get
more to the outback and places that are not near our urban centers,
but then we can’t do everything.”

The flip side of a tour is the destination city. In the past,
Pittsburgh has hosted such big-ticket orchestras as the Israel
Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and even the Cleveland and
Philadelphia orchestras. A chamber orchestra costs less than these to
present, however it often comes on a series that has less money to
spend. The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, bringing the Australian
Chamber Orchestra, typically presents quintets, quartets or trios. It
can only offer a larger group so often.

“Chamber Orchestra appearances are rare on the series,” says Natalie
Forbes, executive director of PCMS. “The last chamber orchestra on the
series was in 1994, when the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra performed
with Benita Valente. List prices for better chamber orchestras are
close to $60,000, whereas more standard ensembles may have a list
price in the range of $15,000.”

One major reason why the Nuance series in the JCC Katz Auditorium was
created by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1999 was to offer
different repertoire in an intimate setting. Another was to have a
presence in the Squirrel Hill region with a minimum of expense. A
chamber orchestra of the members of the PSO fit the double bill. Some
of the same players perform in the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival.

Large and small ensembles do share some attributes when touring. With
only one stop in a given city, all touring ensembles must program
carefully to show their best side. Both the Montreal-centered I Musici
and the Sydney-based Australian Chamber Orchestra chose to represent
the quality of culture in their homes, but in different ways.

“I am no missionary, but should people continue to be surprised that
Australia has cars and TV, the telephone and culture, then I am more
than happy to persuade them that Australia is as rich and vibrant in
our need to express artistic ideas as any people anywhere,” says
Tognetti. Rather than show indigenous culture of Australia, therefore,
he booked American soprano Dawn Upshaw to sing Bach arias. The group
will perform a new arrangement of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”
Quartet (with Upshaw first singing the original lied) and more.

At the other pole is Turovsky’s decision to display the cosmopolitan
nature of Quebec when his strings visit Pittsburgh. “Quebec is a very
international society,” he says. “I wanted to represent the real
picture of Quebec cultural life, which exists of many cultures.”
Romanian, Armenian, Jewish folk worksare programmed with a
French-Canadian composer’s work and Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade in C

Perhaps the best reason to hear a chamber orchestra is the greater
electricity that can result from the communication of fewer players,
no matter if they come from Australia or Shadyside to perform.

“It is difficult to travel, but it is exciting for the musicians — it
makes life more exciting,” says Turovsky.