The Orion Ensemble, winner of the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, celebrates Women's History Month by welcoming guest soprano Patrice Michaels for "A Voice from Heaven," the third concert series of its 20th Anniversary Season. Performances take place today, March 10 at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church in Geneva, March 13 at the PianoForte Salon at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago and March 17 at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
Highly acclaimed concert and recording artist Patrice Michaels, a guest with Orion in its opening season, performs a selection of three arias from her CD Divas of Mozart's Day: Bado Ma Dove by W.A. Mozart, Per Pieta by Vincenzo Righini and Sereno by Vincente Martin y Soler. These infrequently heard works showcase Michaels' singing through special arrangements for her and Orion by Peter LaBella.
Michaels teams up with Orion clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle for three short colorful Vocalises by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Orion pianist Diana Schmück joins Michaels and Pirtle for the Schubert favorite Der Hirt auf Dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock), full of virtuosity and lyricism.
Orion violinist Florentina Ramniceanu, cellist Judy Stone and Schmück join Michaels to perform "Music," the last of Dmitri Shostakovich's Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok, Op. 17, No. 7, written in 1967. Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, requested a "vocalise" for the two of them. After writing that piece, Shostakovich continued with Blok's verses, adding a violin. Each of the seven pieces showcases a different combination of the four instruments, all with ominous overtones. Only the seventh, an introverted hymn to the art, uses all four instruments.
Shostakovich wrote his Piano Trio in E Minor, Op. 67 as part of his artistic reaction to World War II. The first movement uses a haunting theme, developed in the introduction by means of timbre and register. In the second movement, which is full of energy and vitality, Shostakovich juxtaposes unexpected harmonies and melodic fragments, creating a tinge of sarcasm that overlays the movement's "joie de vivre." The profound third movement, a passacaglia (where an eight-measure chord pattern is repeated six times in the piano), leads directly into the final movement, which incorporates material from preceding movements, along with music in the style of Jewish dances. The material builds alternating themes of hope and despair, with a persistent rhythm, into an almost mocking tragic climax before the tension is released dynamically.