Superstar Artists Come Out to Play

By: Paul J. Pelkonen – February 5th, 2017

In anticipation of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall, in Newark, NJ on October 22nd, 2017. Part of the 2017-18 Bank of America Classical Series.

New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s crown jewel is Prudential Hall, a vast yet intimate venue whose configurative design adapts to all kinds of music. A warm and crystalline acoustic, however, makes the hall an enticing stop for visiting orchestras – and an exciting slate of them has been released for the 2017-18 Bank of America Classical Series.

“Musicians know NJPAC’s reputation as one of the finest modern concert halls in the world,” says NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber. “Prudential Hall has everything one would expect: the grandeur of a classical music venue combined with modern amenities.”

The first of the orchestras in line for NJPAC’s 20th anniversary season arrives on October 22, when the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra crosses the Hudson River to perform in Newark. Orpheus is familiar to New York music lovers, a collective chamber orchestra that plays all of its concerts without a conductor. They also lack traditional posts like music director or artistic administrator or librarian. The musicians handle all these duties themselves, and choose their leaders by democratic election.

This is the first time that they will step onstage at Prudential Hall.

“It’s such a fantastic hall,” says violinist Laura Frautschi, one of the orchestra’s three elected leaders. “It’s great, both in terms of the size of the hall, the proximity of the audience and the acoustics. It seems pretty ideal for us. I took my family there to see my sister (violinist Jennifer Frautschi) play the Samuel Barber concerto.”

“Playing at NJPAC is something we’ve tried to do, wanted to do over the years,” she adds. “Some of our members have played here with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and that may have strengthened our case. It’s a long time coming.”

For its debut, Orpheus will play the Cherubini Overture, Mozart’s “Jeunehomme” Concerto – with piano soloist, frequent collaborator and NJPAC favorite Andre Watts – and a new piece by the jazz-influenced composer Vijay Iyer. The concert will climax with Beethoven’s chipper Symphony No. 1.

“In most orchestras, like the NJSO or the New York Philharmonic, the players have their role clearly defined,” Frautschi explains. “Orpheus musicians do a lot of different things; we wear different hats at different times. We have members who play with the Philharmonic or NJSO, but when we play in Orpheus we play as orchestral musicians, but we take the approach of chamber musicians. In our playing style there’s an assumption that we’re coming in to each concert with an individual voice. There’s a lot more chances for individuality of sound and approach, even within a section of the orchestra.”

Alan Kay plays clarinet and handles the orchestra’s programming at the moment.

“One must be aware at all times of what everyone is doing. Every member needs to be well-prepared,” he says. “Unlike a more standard scenario we have to prepare our parts, but we all have a copy of the full score of every piece we do. That increases our awareness and enhances our experience overall. It enables us to hear more.”

He offers some historical perspective. “The whole idea of the formation of Orpheus was to bring the idea of chamber music to the orchestral setting. It grew out of the Sixties. The temperament of the time was to create communal activity in the arts, and Orpheus came from that.

“All our members have experience playing concert music, and we all play in other orchestras or ensembles,” he notes. “It’s an enhancement in all of our lives to bring this approach to music-making to the public.”