Founded in the fall of 1990, the Rembrandt Chamber Players (RCP) is composed of
seven of the finest musicians in the Chicago area, including members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Music of the Baroque. The ensemble successfully maintains an unusually wide repertoire, performing Baroque music in a historically informed manor, to 21st century compositions with eclectic instrumentations. RCP has, since its inception, actively commissioned twelve works by renowned composers from the Chicago area and beyond.
The ensemble also appears regularly on fine arts radio station WFMT, both live and in a series of rebroadcasts of concerts during the summers. In 1996, RCP was invited to represent the city of Chicago at the first Greenwich-Docklands Festival in London.
Deeply committed to fostering chamber music education and appreciation, RCP founded an Annual High School Chamber Music Competition in 1995, one of few in the country. The Rembrandt Young Artists program was founded in 2006 and provides numerous performance opportunities and coaching sessions for the competition winners.
Rembrandt Chamber Players performs the diverse repertoire of chamber music in intimate settings in a way that personally engages the audience and conveys the excitement and accessibility of this musical form. To perpetuate chamber music as a living art form, Rembrandt Chamber Players encourages young artists and new composers.
By HOWARD REICH
Arts+Entertainment - Lead Article
May 15, 2012
Fourteen years ago, a large audience crowded Orchestra Hall for the Chicago premiere of Wynton Marsalis' "A Fiddler's Tale," a full-blooded jazz response to Igor Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat" ("The Soldier's Tale").
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, with Marsalis on trumpet, performed the new work to enthusiastic ovations, but rarely – if ever – has the piece been heard again in this part of the world.
Until Sunday afternoon, when the Rembrandt Chamber Players revived the work on a program with Stravinsky's "L'Histoire" at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston. The Chicago-based Rembrandt organization did a great service to listeners with this performance, for in pairing the Stravinsky with the Marsalis on a single program, these musicians reminded the audience of the durability of the former and the ingenuity of the latter.
Those who expected Marsalis' version to amount to a swing version of Stravinsky's original
underestimated the jazz musician's imagination. Unlike, say, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's jazz-hot versions of Grieg's "Peer Gynt" Suite or Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Suite, Marsalis' opus ventures far from its original inspiration – even while retaining the brittle neo-classical flavor of Stravinsky's 1918 score. For starters, Marsalis uses the same chamber-music instrumentation as the Stravinsky, with its decidedly idiosyncratic writing for septet plus narrator.
Furthermore, Marsalis evokes the astringent harmonies and transparent textures of "L'Histoire," even as he inserts certain blues inflections in melody lines that stretch far longer than Stravinsky's and injects subtle swing rhythm into key passages.
As a result, Marsalis' "A Fiddler's Tale" strikes an extremely delicate balance between past and present, classical and jazz, sophistication and accessibility. Apart from "L'Histoire" itself, there's no work in the jazz or classical repertory quite like it, all the more thanks to the text by longtime Marsalis colleague Stanley Crouch.
Like "L'Histoire," "A Fiddler's Tale" explores the age-old,
Faustian drama of a protagonist who succumbs to the charms of the devil and pays the ultimate price. But the storyline has become decidedly more contemporary – and wickedly funny – in the Marsalis/Crouch version than in Stravinsky's original (with its text by the Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz).
While "L'Histoire" chronicles the demise of a weary soldier in World War I who loses everything
– a withering, metaphorical indictment of war itself – "A Fiddler's Tale"
takes on the American pop music industry. A less exalted target, to be sure, but one that's ripe for puncturing from Crouch's sharply satirical pen and Marsalis' vividly drawn music.
In "A Fiddler's Tale," the title character is not a man but a woman, and, more to the point, an accomplished musician of the highest integrity who suffers a fate commonly accorded such virtuosos: small audiences and smaller funds. This makes her easy pickings for the devil, who emerges in the form of a record producer. The exec promises the fiddler the world and indeed produces huge audiences but, of course, at a rather high price: The violinist must dilute her music for the masses, losing her soul in more ways than one.
Chicago humorist Aaron Freeman embodied the multiple characters of Crouch's script with such relish and gusto – hissing his consonants and growling his vowels – that his performance very nearly amounted to stand-up comedy. Yes, it was that funny. That Freeman managed to portray the comic-book cruelty of the manager at one moment, the wide-eyed naivete of the fiddler the next and the voices of subsidiary characters along the way attested to the high polish of this reading. One just doesn't encounter such finely honed work in concert narration very often.
That would have been just half a success, however, were it not for the performance of the Rembrandt Chamber Players, augmented by musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. CSO principal trumpeter Christopher Martin faced the unenviable task
of taking Marsalis' role, but Martin's jazz-tinged playing proved strikingly effective. Though playing from score, Martin brought an improvisational feeling to the jazzier portions of his part, at the same time drawing snarling, bluesy effects with plunger mute.
CSO violinist Yuan-Qing Yu stood as the heart and soul of both the Marsalis and the Stravinsky, the bracing quality of her tone, sharpness of her attacks and sheer sweep of her lyric lines obliterating distinctions between jazz and classical idioms. Or, to put it in other terms, Yu saw the commonalities between the two works and brought them to the fore, giving this program a degree of continuity it would not have had without her. The violinist's passages with CSO clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom – who helped stitch together a performance edition of Marsalis' score – were particularly gripping.
If Marsalis' "A Fiddler's Tale" amounted to a tragicomic version of the story, Stravinsky's "L'Histoire" stands undiminished as a chilling portrait of a hapless, nearly penniless soldier weathered by war and doomed by his hope for something better. Chicago actor Barbara Robertson started tentatively as narrator but eventually found her voice, the Rembrandt Chamber Players and their CSO colleagues offering a crisply unsentimental account of "L'Histoire" and reaffirming its timelessness nearly a century after its premiere.
No one knows whether Marsalis' "A Fiddler's Tale" will endure quite so long, but considering that it takes on corruption of the music industry, it would seem to have legs.
By WYNNE DELACOMA
Chicago Classical Review
Mon Mar 28, 2011
The Rembrandt Chamber Players have been a lively, gifted ensemble since their first concert 21 seasons ago. Formed by some of Chicago’s leading musicians,
they manage to find the sweet musical spot between the familiar and the unusual.
The sense of discovery was high at Sunday night’s concert in Evanston’s intimate, club-like S.P.A.C.E. (The concert will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Monday
in a vastly different space, the Driehaus Museum, a renovated Gilded Age mansion in downtown Chicago.) Granted, the composers—Prokofiev, Gabriel Pierne
and Ernst von Dohnanyi—were hardly obscure, and the pieces, though composed between 1923 and 1935, were solidly in the 19th century’s Romantic-era style.
But the works weren’t familiar warhorses, and best of all, the program’s opening and closing pieces—Prokofiev’s zesty Quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin,
viola and bass and Dohnanyi’s grandly sweeping Sextet in C Major, Opus 37, for violin, viola, cello, piano, clarinet and horn—called for unusual instrumentation.
Rembrandt’s players are masterful collaborators, and the addition of guest artists J. Lawrie Bloom, clarinet; Jonathan Boen, French horn and Robert Chase, viola,
seemed to heighten the excitement. In the final pages of the Dohnanyi, the exhilarated players raced ahead at top speed, full of smiles. Rarely has playing
chamber music seemed to be so much fun.
Dohnanyi’s Sextet was a revelation, full of sumptuously shaded dark moods, yet ending with an atmosphere of giddy high spirits. The music was densely textured
for the most part, and the performance was extremely cohesive, driven by a noble, sweeping lyricism. But when the texture became more transparent, we were aware
of the sheer beauty of the musicians’ individual sound: Boen’s golden, commanding horn; Alan Chow’s sparkling piano, Barbara Haffner’s soulful cello, Bloom’s
smoky clarinet, the mercurial urgency of violinist Yuan Qing-Yu and violist Roger Chase.
Prokofiev’s quintet, with oboist Robert Morgan and Collins Trier on double bass joining Bloom, Yu and Chase, was also full of expertly woven layers. There were
momentary outbursts of bluesy klezmer music and madcap, circus-like rhythms, but an intriguing hint of menace ran through all six movements.
In Pierne’s Sonata da Camera for flute, cello and piano, Sandra Morgan’s flute was occasionally overpowered by Haffner’s cello and Chow’s piano. But the sense
of Baroque-style elegance was clearly etched.
The concert opened with a performance by the winners of Rembrandt’s 16th annual high school chamber music competition: the Bone Rangers, a trombone quartet based
at the Merit School of Music. The young players–Jake Mezera, Doug Meng, Royce Marrington-Turner and Tanner Jackson—sounded poised and attentive to each other.
Despite the venue’s small size and brick walls, the quartet never sounded harsh in the short-breathed phrases and abruptly shifting moods of Gary Carpenter’s
Secret Love Songs, movements IV and V.
By JOHN VON RHEIN
May 6, 2008
The Rembrandt Chamber Players presented a fascinating rarity Sunday at
the Merit School of Music's Gottlieb Hall: Erwin Stein's arrangement
for small ensemble of Mahler's Symphony No. 4.
The concert launched a Mahler project that will include similarly
pared-down transcriptions of the composer's "Songs of a Wayfarer" and
"Das Lied von der Erde" before its completion in 2010.
In 1920 and 1921, Stein and his teacher Arnold Schoenberg prepared
chamber versions of various contemporary scores for performance at
Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances. No critics or
outsiders were allowed into these elitist concert gatherings of
like-minded musicians, whose primary aim was to realize the composers'
intentions with the utmost care and fidelity.
The Fourth is actually the most chamber-ish of the Mahler symphonies to
begin with. Stein scored it for string quintet, flute, oboe, clarinet
(doubling on piccolo, English horn and bass clarinet), piano,
harmonium, percussion and soprano solo. The harmonium, or foot-powered
reed organ, is both an extension of the winds and a substitute for the
missing brass parts.
So artfully crafted is Stein's arrangement, so beautifully wrought was
Sunday's performance under conductor Jane Glover, that you never felt
you were looking at Mahler through the wrong end of a telescope. What
was lacking in sonic richness was made up for by the many gains:
Mahler's textures and counterpoint took on a startling clarity;
instrumental details projected with unusual freshness, charm and
Glover coaxed wonderfully ripe rubato phrasings from her 12 players,
scaled climaxes deftly but never lost her grip on the grand design. The
scherzo had real sardonic bite, and the finale, a child's vision of
heaven, was affectingly sung by soprano Christine Brandes. Truth be
told, I enjoyed this Mahler much more than the previous week's
enervated Mahler's First by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The Rembrandt's fine, committed performance whetted one's anticipation
of the Mahler-Schoenberg rarities the ensemble plans to present over
the coming two seasons.
The concert began with a more recent vocal chamber work, Frank La
Rocca's "Veni Sancte Spiritus" (2001), a modern evocation of the
radiant spirituality of ancient chant, with the singer's stanzas
serenely floating atop the simple Aeolian-mode patterns of clarinet and
By MICHAEL CAMERON
Special to the Tribune
May 1, 2007
Chicago institutions promoted Osvaldo Golijov for at
least a few years before his appointment as CSO composer-in-residence
in 2006, and in this short time we have been treated to a substantial
chunk of his output. The centerpiece of the Rembrandt Chamber Players
concert Sunday was a rare local performance of his most substantial
chamber work (and one of his most gripping in any genre), "The Prayers
and Dreams of Isaac the Blind" from 1994.
Scored for string quartet and clarinet, this haunting concoction is
standard Golijov fare: a stew of klezmer tunes and Jewish prayers (most
notably, "Our Father, Our King"), blended in an epic five-movement
structure, bound with drones, propulsive riffs and a keen grasp of
string tone and texture.
Isaac the Blind was a 12th Century Kabbalist rabbi from Provence who
asserted that the universe owes its identity to combinations of the
Hebrew alphabet. This is a poignant look at every conceivable response
to loss, from resignation to mourning to visceral rage toward the deity.
The challenge for the quintet was the need to summon every ounce of
classical chops while eliciting the grit of street musicians.
Violinists Robert Hanford and Kathleen Brauer, violist Keith Conant,
cellist Barbara Haffner (all from the Lyric Opera Orchestra) and
clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom (CSO) nailed it, balancing subtle colors
one moment and pulsating drive the next.
The RCP managed an abrupt about-face with an all-Schubert second half,
including the unrelentingly cheery "Trout" quintet for piano and four
strings. Pianist Jeannie Yu, Hanford, Conant, Haffner and bassist
Collins Trier could have walked through this chestnut blindfolded, but
they instead coaxed a breezy lyricism that cheered their grateful if
modestly sized audience at Evanston's Music Institute of Chicago.
Positive notices of student ensembles are usually tempered by
None are needed in describing the remarkably polished and sophisticated
account of the first movement (Allegro non troppo) of Schubert's
"Rosamunde" Quartet by the Ridere Quartet.
By DOROTHY ANDRIES
Pioneer Press Classical Music Critic
Who can resist a program called "Tango & Tapas," when it is served
up by such a excellent ensemble as the Rembrandt Chamber Players. They
perform now in the acoustically splendid Nichols Hall in the Music
Institute of Chicago's Evanston facility, giving their well-planned
programs even greater appeal.
The zany title for the Oct. 15 program embraced music by everyone's
favorite Astor Aiazzolla, as well as Alberto Ginastera and Paquita
Guest artists, Gail Williams, horn, William Buchman, bassoon, Teresa
Fream and Yuan-Qing Yu, violins, and Howard Levy, harmonica, added to
the diversity of sound.
The hit, of course, was "Five Tango Sensations" by Piazzolla, written
for harmonica and string quintet, complete with the titles Asleep,
Loving, Anxiety, Despair, and Fear.
Levy's harmonica was soulful, sometimes expressing a kind of romantic
poignancy, and at others crying out in distress. The final movement was
layered like a fugue, with players entering one by one and enriching
Each time we get in our cars and drive to concert halls, we hope for
something beautiful, or at least interesting. With that Rembrandt
concert we got both.
This group's next concert is Feb. 4, when the music of contemporary
composer John Adams will be played. Interesting, for sure, and who
knows -- maybe even beautiful.
By DOROTHY ANDRIES
October 17, 2006
Why go to a live concert? CDs deliver near technical perfection, and televised
performances give us a much better look at the players. The Rembrandt
Chamber Players answered that question Sunday evening with a program so
fresh and brilliantly played that it was definitely the place to be.
The Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston was
the setting for many of the Rembrandt regulars: J. Lawrie Bloom,
clarinet; Keith Conant, viola; Barbara Haffner, cello; Robert Morgan,
oboe; Sandra Morgan, flute; Collins Trier, bass, and Yuan-Qing Yu,
Guests artists were William Buchman, bassoon; Teresa Fream, violin;
Gail Williams, horn, and Howard Levy, harmonica.
The music came from the Americas -- "Aires Tropicales" by Cuban
composer Paquito D'Rivera; "Impressions de la Puma" by Alberto
Ginastera from Argentina, and "Five Tango Sensations," by Argentinian
D'Rivera's piece was a tapestry of many hues, with strands both jagged
and smooth. As ably as the composer devised designs, so skillfully did
the players -- both the Morgans, Bloom, Buchman and Williams -- execute
them. The finale, "Contredanza," overflowed with rollicking Latin
rhythms, accentuated at times by the players stamping their feet.
Sandra Morgan unearthed the out-of-print Ginastera work for flute and
string quartet, and the soulful, flashy music was worth the search.
Piazzolla's tango renderings for string quintet and harmonica concluded
the program, with the harmonica taking the part written for the
bandoneon, the accordion-like instrument from Argentina.
The section titled "Asleep" was unabashedly Romantic in roots and
expression, while in "Anxiety" the harmonica seemed to be crying out in
distress. Levy favored us with an encore, his own dense, daring
rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Sun-Times News Group
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