Continuing its unique season of “Musical Travels,” The Orion Ensemble, winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, will showcase “Sounds of Russia,” featuring works by Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff and welcoming three special guests. Performances include Orion’s debut at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Charles March 9, as well as performances at Sherwood, The Community Music School of Columbia College Chicago March 12 and the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston March 16. 

“Sounds of Russia” includes Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat for Clarinet, Violin and Piano by Igor Stravinsky, considered by many to be among the most influential composers of the 20th century. The Suite is part of a larger work for improvised theater created by Stravinsky and his author friend Ramuz in 1918. The tale is an adaptation of the Faust story, about a soldier who trades his violin for great wealth, only to realize the folly of his decision later. Stravinsky was fascinated by rhythms throughout the many stages of his long and varied compositional life. L’Histoire, full of rhythmic energy and stylistic diversity and influenced in part by American jazz, illustrates this fascination.

Another stop on Orion’s Russian “journey” will feature Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17. Rachmaninoff’s compositional approach was influenced early by Tchaikovsky, as well as Rimsky-Korsokov and other Russian composers. Pianistically, he was influenced by Anton Rubenstein and favored the playing of his friend, pianist Vladimir Horowitz. The four movements of this suite—which he wrote at age 28 and performed with Horowitz—are exemplary of his virtuosic writing, his rhythmic layering and flexibility, his ability to spin long musical lines while devising varied and fascinating textures and his comfort with creating musical structure and shape.

This concert program also features Beethoven’s Trio in D Major for Violin, Viola and Cello, Op. 9, No. 2, the second of three Beethoven String Trios Orion is performing during its 2013–14 season. By 1797, the year he wrote the String Trios, Beethoven was composing prolifically and his style was jelling—in particular, his penchant for working more at the motivic level than with bulky themes. This Trio amply demonstrates the progress Beethoven was making in both the formal and stylistic arenas.

Joining Orion for these unique performances is a special guest on each piece: a student theater major from the Chicago High School for the Arts will serve as narrator accompanying the musicians for the Stravinsky Suite; pianist, composer and Columbia College Chicago director of Keyboard Studies Sebastian Huydts, who has actually written works for Orion, will join Orion pianist Diana Schmück for the Rachmaninoff Suite; and acclaimed violinist and violist Stephen Boe will join the ensemble for the Beethoven String Trio.

Orion’s intriguing “Musical Travels” season will conclude with “Czech and American Romance” in May and June, featuring violist Stephen Boe performing on the third Beethoven Opus 9 Trio along with works by Amon, Gershwin and Dvorak.

In addition to its annual four-concert series in three Chicagoland areas, Orion appears on the broadcast series “Live from WFMT” on March 24, 2014. For more information about the upcoming “Travels” concerts, visit
Members of the acclaimed Orion Ensemble (photo by Cornelia Babbit).

Orion Ensemble Continues "Travels" with "Sounds of Russia"