All the members of the Orion Chamber Ensemble are women, a fact that would’ve raised eyebrows as recently as the 1970s and still distinguishes it from most other chamber groups. But the Orion’s real defining feature is the intellectual curiosity of its players, reflected in a large, eclectic repertoire; last year Chamber Music America recognized the group with an award for its commitment to programming music composed after 1975. The Orion was formed in 1992, and its present core lineup–violinist Florentina Ramniceanu, violist Marlise Klein, cellist Judy Stone, clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle, and pianist Diana Schmück–has been playing together for over five years. Its members are all busy local freelancers and teachers, and between them they’ve put in stints with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Lyric Opera’s pit orchestra. I wouldn’t put the Orion in the same class with the Chicago Chamber Musicians or Chicago Pro Musica–CSO-affiliated ensembles whose repertoires sometimes overlap with the Orion’s–but I think it may yet reach that level. For these recitals the Orion has engaged guest mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, a poised, versatile graduate of the Lyric Opera’s apprenticeship program who fortunately has opted to focus on contemporary music. She’ll sing with the group on four of its six selections: Es sang vor langen Jahren (“A Nightingale Sang Many Years Ago”) by Estonian neomedievalist Arvo Pärt; Five Songs for Six by Juan Orrego-Salas, which sets poems from his native Chile to rhythms that approximate speech; Four Poems by Franco-American composer Charles Loeffler; and two nursery rhymes set to music by British romantic Arthur Bliss. Rounding out the program are Anton Arensky’s D Minor Piano Trio and an instrumental arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime” for all five members of the Orion ensemble. Sunday, February 25, 7 PM, Fox Valley Unity Church, 230 Webster St. in Batavia, and Wednesday, February 28, 7:30 PM, Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan; 630-628-9591.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.