Members of the award-winning Orion Ensemble (photo by Cornelia Babbit)).

Orion Ensemble to Focus Much of Season Opener on Women Composers

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Winner of the prestigious Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, Orion Ensemble opens its 27th season with a program welcoming guest violist and frequent collaborator Stephen Boe and celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, along with a collection of piano-focused works.  

Beethoven's dynamic Serenade in D Major for String Trio, Op. 8 offers a portrait of the 26-year-old composer recently settled in Vienna. The work, composed in 1796-97, reveals a mixture of youthful exuberance and mature elegance. The second movement Minuet is a marked contrast to the ensuing Adagio-Scherzo, and the fifth movement variations show Beethoven's fondness for the form. The highly animated outer movements provide a charming beginning and conclusion the early work.

Orion pianist Diana Schmück has been exploring works by female composers who studied with the renowned French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger—specifically on this program, Nadia's sister, Lili and Louise Talma.

A member of a highly artistic and erudite family, Lili (Marie-Juliette Olga) Boulanger began her life of music study and compositions by accompanying her older sister Nadia to the Paris Conservatory. She later became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome at that institution, and she wrote a considerable amount of music during her short life: songs, piano pieces, choir compositions and orchestral works. The chamber pieces on Orion's program—Cortège (1914) for Solo PianoD'un soir triste (1918) for PianoTrio and D'un matin de printemps (1918) for Violin and Piano—are the last she wrote with her own hand, although she continued to compose until her death by dictating to her sister. These miniature masterpieces of varying expressions each serve as a tonal journey of lush and exotic harmonic colorations.

Louise Talma was one of many Americans—Aaron Copland being the most famous—who traveled to France to study with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau. In her Alleluia in Form of Toccata (1947) for Piano, one can hear the rhythmic play (a la Stravinsky), as well as the strong sense of forward motion and continuity, for which she was known. The work celebrates the dynamic, unrelenting rhythms one finds in virtuosic pieces.

​The heartfelt strains of Josef Labor's Quintet in D Major for Clarinet, Strings and Piano, Op. 11 closes out Orion’s season-opener, providing a gorgeous aural experience showcasing all five musicians. The five instruments muse in ecstatic melodic dialogues enhanced by the richness of harmonic textures at work in the work.

The Orion Ensemble is supported in part by grants from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the John R. Halligan Charitable Fund, the Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation Fund, the Illinois Arts Council and generous donations from its patrons.

For more information about Orion’s 27th season opener or their 2019-2020 season, visit