The Chicago String Ensemble, one of only a handful of orchestras in the country devoted to the string repertoire, has weathered periods of constant personnel turnover, including a shake-up in leadership three years ago. But it enters its 22nd season with its trademark velvety tone and eloquent phrasing intact. Director Allan Lewis, a ballet maestro long affiliated with the Joffrey, conducts the 22 members with a theatrical flair, meticulously sculpting melodic lines and adding both buoyancy and expressive color–an approach neatly suited to light, romantic, emotional music, the lifeblood of any string orchestra. The CSE’s season-opening concerts this weekend are predictably heavy on dances and other festive pieces, including Bartok’s famous Romanian Folk Dances and a medley of horas, czardas, and jigs that showcases Algerian-born French violinist Gilles Apap, a protege of Yehudi Menuhin who’s now concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Symphony; Apap will also perform Bach’s Violin Concerto in E. Lewis has unearthed two obscure 20th-century pieces to fill out the program: Bartok contemporary Georges Enesco’s languid, lyrical Two Intermezzi for Strings and Ernst Bacon’s Concerto Grosso. A Chicago native, Bacon tried to forge a distinctly American aesthetic, incorporating folk tunes and jazz rhythms into his music in an effort paralleling the work of his friends Carl Sandburg and Ansel Adams. Friday, 8 PM, First United Methodist Church, 1630 Hinman, Evanston, and Sunday, 3:30 PM, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton; 312-332-0567. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.