Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has been a regular and beloved presence on our stages for decades. They return to The Purchase PAC on January 22 with Change the Frame, a program of works by Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, and Hanna Benn, featuring violin soloist Renaud Capuçon. Looking ahead to the concert, we posed a few questions to Louis Hanzlik, an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director and trumpeter. Read on to learn more about the program and what makes Orpheus so unique.
Q: Your website states that Orpheus is a “radical experiment in musical democracy.” Can you explain what that means?
A: Traditionally an orchestra is led by a conductor whose primary responsibilities include showing the musicians when and how they should play, as well what and where they will play. That’s a lot of responsibility and power! When Orpheus was founded in 1972, its musicians were interested in exploring a new model of orchestral performance. A model of distributed leadership where members of the orchestra lead themselves and, in turn, have a say in the interpretation and other artistic concerns of the music.
If you examine this through the lens of democratic philosophy, what Orpheus aims to be is a collective community that values the expertise, opinions, and abilities of every person (i.e., musician) in the room. We are an orchestra that practices shared leadership, is collaborative, and thrives on new perspectives. Orpheus is a community that allows time for each member of the orchestra to voice an opinion, share their vision, and bring unique expertise to the collective whole. That’s our musical democracy.
Q: This year marks Orpheus’ 50th anniversary season. What special initiatives or events do you have planned?
Most audiences experience Orpheus within traditional concert halls, and we have plenty of those performances lined up for our 50th anniversary season. From Carnegie Hall, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to Scottsdale, Arizona, we’re performing across the country this season.
But I must mention two other initiatives that are important to us. First off, we’ve launched Club Orpheus, a series intended to engage new audiences and blur the lines of where and what audiences expect Orpheus to present. Come check out our curated program of pop, jazz, and classical selections alongside cellist Ken Kubota and his trio Empire Wild at Moto Distillery in Brooklyn, NY on February 11. Another initiative that is incredibly meaningful to every member of our organization is Orpheus Reflections™, a series that provides musical experiences for people with early-stage dementia through partnerships with organizations such as The Memory Tree and the Unforgettables Chorus of NYC.
Q: This concert, titled “Change the Frame” focuses on music inspired by art. Why this theme? How are programmatic themes decided on?
Music is so often intertwined or inspired by other art forms. I’m certain music students at Purchase College, for example, are constantly challenged to engage with visual artists, writers, or dancers in order to broaden their horizons, inspire new works, or create unique interpretations of classics. I’m really excited by this concert because it allows us to share these very things; a new work and a reimagined classic!
Most classical music enthusiasts know of Mussorgsky’s work Pictures at an Exhibition. We’ve commissioned the super-talented violinist Jannina Norpoth to reimagine this work for chamber orchestra, and I suspect those of us that know the piano and large orchestra settings are going to hear details we’ve never noticed before with Jannina’s fresh take on this old work. Also on the program is a new work by vocalist and composer Hanna Benn called “View: (Un)Titled.” This work, also a musical portraiture, is inspired by works of art on display at the MOMA in New York City.
As with all things Orpheus, we come up with themes collaboratively and always aim to curate a musical experience that inspires and guides both our musicians and audience.
Q: The concert at The PAC is the last stop on a multi-city tour. What makes performing on tour different than playing at home in Carnegie Hall? How do you get around? Do you have an Orpheus tour bus?
As you might expect, the biggest challenge is that we’re without the comforts of home and routine while on tour. But I have to say, the Orpheus administration always goes above and beyond to make sure we’re as comfortable as possible while on the road. They work to keep our flights or bus rides as direct as possible and (because finding good food can always be a challenge on a busy tour) they always make sure we have nice catering before every concert. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but these tiny details really make a difference and keep us performing at our best!
Q: Orpheus has performed at The Purchase PAC many, many times. What about the space makes it unique?
All of the performance spaces at The Purchase PAC are renowned for their acoustics, both on stage and in the audience. The clarity and beauty of sound that the hall provides make it a treat to perform there. I have to mention also that because so many members of Orpheus live in and around NYC, The Purchase PAC allows us to perform for many of our family and friends!
Pictured: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra violin section © Neda Navaee