I really like the National Chamber Ensemble, the adventuresome and enjoyable programs they present, and the talented and friendly musicians who make up this wonderful group.
I go to a lot of concerts, but I find myself intrigued and happy about what I am seeing and hearing from Leo Sushansky and the National Chamber Ensemble. Upon arriving at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre on Saturday, June 1, 2013, the first thing I notice is the age diversity of the audience eagerly awaiting each performance, something that is not at all typical at many concerts I attend. Being curious, I greet a number of the children and teens present. They indicate that they are members of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, or that they take lessons at Levine, or that they are beginning chamber studies with Leo. They are connected to the National Chamber Ensemble and its musicians because its members not only perform for them, but also because they are studying with or have been conducted by members of the NCE. Before the first note sounds, I am very happy, just knowing what a privilege it is for children to grow up experiencing and learning music in this intimate setting and encouraging way.
The next thing that I love about the National Chamber Ensemble is that its members take turns introducing the program to the audience. Besides being informative, this interaction provides the opportunity for each musician to build rapport with the audience. By nature, chamber music offers an intimate musical experience, but because of the way that Leo and his ensemble approach their performances, the resulting outcome is more like a home party that turns into an impromptu concert, due to the fact that the guests just happen to have extraordinary musical talents and abilities.
Last night’s concert included Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3, a special arrangement for piano and string quartet of Beethoven’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 4, with Carlos Cesar Rodriguez at the piano, and the stunning Piano Quintet by Johannes Brahms. At times, the performance was so loose that it really did feel as if some very talented musicians just happened by for a read through of some great music, but the reality is that the program was far too challenging and difficult for this to have been the case. Personally, I found the music to be more than live and exciting precisely because the goal seemed to be more about a mutually fun and exciting musical experience than about musical perfection.
Carlos Cesar Rodriguez, the featured musician in NCE’s final concert of the 2012–2013 season, possesses vast and versatile musical talent and ability, and he is very much at ease playing multiple genres of music. His abilities came in especially handy in his commanding performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4. In addition to playing the music that Beethoven actually composed for piano, to the enjoyment of both his audience and his fellow musicians, he also improvised expected and unexpected phrases and musical lines that one might or might not hear from instruments obviously missing from the more familiar fully orchestrated version of this much loved work. In introducing the piece, Carlos explained that the reason the chamber versions of these large works exist is to give musicians opportunities to practice and perform them without necessitating the involvement of a full orchestra of musicians.
Without doubt, the entire audience clearly enjoyed last night’s performance, but for those familiar with the work in its fully orchestrated form, it was both fascinating and humorous to experience it performed with string quartet, improvisation, and even a bit of directing from the bench. It was a treat.
The string quartet, led by National Chamber Ensemble’s highly talented Artistic Director Leo Sushansky, included violinist Jorge Orozko, who is a faculty member at the Levine School of Music, as well as a conductor with Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras. Violist Uri Wassertzug, a very personable and enthusiastic musician, is a member of the Washington National Opera Orchestra and also teaches at George Washington University. Lukasz Szyrner, the dynamic cellist of the ensemble, hails from Poland and is the winner of a number of international competitions and a member of several ensembles and orchestras in the area.
National Chamber Ensemble’s performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet, which concluded the concert, was simply stunning. The work has a gorgeous cinematic feel to it, and the ensemble performed it with beauty, intensity and passion, earning its musicians a very well-deserved ovation.
As is always the case, National Chamber Ensemble invites the entire audience to a wine, cheese, and dessert reception following each of its performances. All of the performing musicians attend, giving everybody present a chance to speak with them, congratulate them, and ask questions of them.
The National Chamber Ensemble is a shining example of what it really means for an ensemble to be a dynamic and integral part of a community. This group is ahead of its time, and really represent a very fun and enjoyable way to present live music.
To check out National Chamber Ensemble’s exciting upcoming season and season ticket information, please visit the National Chamber Ensemble website, or call (888) 841-2787.