Jazz pieces provide the highlights in Orion Ensemble’s season opener

Thu Oct 02, 2014 at 11:25 am

By Gerald Fisher

The Orion Ensemble performed music of Brahms and Paul Schoenfield Sunday night in Evanston. Photo: Devon Cass
The Orion Ensemble opened their 22nd season Wednesday night at the Sherwood Music School. Photo: Devon Cass

The opening of the Orion Ensemble’s 22nd season at the Sherwood Music School was both adventuresome and tried-and-true. Wednesday night’s program included popular standards by Dvorak and Schubert but also two jazz-inflected classical pieces by Chicago-area composer Jim Gailloreto and one by early crossover king Morton Gould.

The jazz works proved the highlight of the concert and more of them would have been welcome. Dvorak’s laconic Dances for four hands and the Schubert “Trout” quintet took up a large part of the program.

As for the newer works, it was disappointing that Gould’s Benny’s Gig (written for Benny Goodman) was represented by only four  of  eight sections, although the performance of the four by clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle and guest bassist Robert Kassinger was outstanding. Gould’s music is classical in structure but retains many idiomatic jazz elements which are used abstractly in these finger-snapping, good-humored short segments. Gershwin is an influence, but Gould has his own style.

Of the two pieces by Gailloreto, one was a short original and the second an arrangement of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps for chamber ensemble.

The original piece, As of Yet is a concise dark-colored work for clarinet, violin and cello featuring slow harmonics, subtle interplay among the instruments and mostly somber solos spinning out to a quiet ending.

Giant Steps sounded more like the jazz it came from and is scored for clarinet, violin, viola and cello. The clarinet gets the star role here in an aggressive take on Coltrane’s original solo, intermixed with original material that sounds improvised but isn’t, and was short but full of jazzy riffs and bluesy harmonics.

The Dvorak Slavonic Dances opened the evening with Orion pianist Diana Schmuck joined by guest Sebastian Huydts in a spirited performance of three excerpts. The rich harmonics of this four-hand salon standard was hampered by the dry acoustic of the performance space and the result was at times hard-edged and clangorous.

The Schubert “Trout” Quintet was also a victim of the bald acoustic. The performance was ambitious and contained some good moments, mostly from the piano and the double bass, whose resonant tone was excellent. For the most part, however, this was a rather hit-or-miss rendition that sounded energetic but under-rehearsed.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Nichols Concert Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston. orionensemble.org

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