Chicago Ensemble to kick off 40th season at I-House

By HANNA PFEIFFER
Global Voices Metcalf Fellow

On Sunday, Nov.13, the Chicago Ensemble, a musical group known for its eclectic repertoire, will begin its 40th season with a performance at the University of Chicago’s International House.

Pianist Gerry Rizzer, who has arranged this Sunday’s concert, explained that he founded the Chicago Ensemble 40 years ago because he “wanted to perform a variety of repertoire” and that he was a “better chamber player than a solo player.” He addressed both of his needs by creating a mixed ensemble–a small vocal and instrumental group with a vast, yet unique repertoire. This new group, the Chicago Ensemble, filled a gap in Chicago’s musical community as there were no mixed ensembles in the city at that time and only very few in the country.

Rizzer explains that there is no such thing as a typical Chicago Ensemble performance, since “different combinations of players and singers appear in each program on the series.” This variety of pieces allows Rizzer, as the pianist, to play along to “not just violin sonatas, but [also with] singing, voice, and so on.” Along with a variety of instruments, each Chicago Ensemble performance contains a diverse array of pieces. This mixture gives audiences the chance to hear little-performed works along with more familiar fare.

Sunday’s concert, entitled “Half and Half: Baroque and Romantic,” will especially appeal to those who enjoy more traditional music. The first half consists of violin sonatas and vocal duets from the Baroque era, and includes works by Handel, Bach, and Purcell.

The second half of the program, as the title suggests, features Romantic music. One of these compositions is a duet by late 19th- and early 20th-century composer Max Reger, who, according to Rizzer, “is not that often played, although [Reger] is a rather prolific composer.” His works will be followed by a violin sonata by Robert Schumann, which Rizzer says the Chicago Ensemble has “never performed in forty years.” The program will conclude with Antonin Dvo?ák’s setting of Moravian folk songs.

The Chicago Ensemble will dexterously bring these pieces to life at Sunday’s concert thanks to the performers’ several decades’ worth of experience. Rizzer, who holds degrees from the University of Chicago and Yale, now serves as the group’s artistic director. Not only does he direct performances, play the piano, and teach at Sherwood Community Music School, but he also composes pieces of his own. Rizzer has composed music for several shows performed at the Theater Building Chicago, and he recently recorded a CD of his work, entitled “Songs Without Words for Piano.”

Mathias Tacke, who will play the violin during Sunday’s performance, is a native of Germany, where he performed three Grammy-nominated recordings with the Vermeer Quartet. Now based in the U.S., he teaches violin and chamber music at Northern Illinois University and is a guest lecturer for string chamber music at Northwestern University.

Stacy Eckert, a mezzo-soprano, is in her 19th year with the Chicago Ensemble. Her repertoire is as diverse as the Chicago Ensemble’s. In operas, she has portrayed Dorabella, Waltraute, Regina, and Carmen. She is also a concert soloist and a member of the Chicago Symphony Chamber Chorus. She has worked under myriad conductors, and when she is not performing, she is a vocal instructor for pop, opera, jazz, folk, gospel, rock, classical, and musical theatre.

Michelle Areyzaga, a soprano, has performed at Chicago’s own Lyric Opera, the Chicago Opera Theater, and on Broadway, among many other venues. Her “sensational singing” is not reserved solely for the stage; she has also appeared on public television and often sings on WFMT live broadcasts.

The years of experience and familiarity that these performers share allow Rizzer to “make sure the concert is struck in the way that utilizes [the performers] best.” Guests can appreciate their skills and the long development of the Chicago Ensemble when they begin their 40th season on Sunday.

This event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 13, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the International House Assembly Hall. It begins with a complimentary reception, and the concert starts at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 for General Admission, $10 for students, and free for students with a valid University of Chicago ID. Tickets can be purchased at thechicagoensemble.org, and at the door (cash and checks only). For more information about other Global Voices events and co-sponsorship opportunities, or for persons with disabilities who may need assistance, please contact Mary Beth DeStefano at (773)753-2274 or mdestefa@uchicago.edu.  

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The Global Voices column is a partnership between the University of Chicago’s International House and the Hyde Park Herald to inform the community about Global Voices lectures and performances.