SATURDAY, March 19 — The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, for the most part, looks like most other orchestras you may encounter, save for one key difference: There’s no hand-waving conductor guiding the group through the pieces. Rather than the entire group submitting to the direction of one leader, the group works together to shape the pieces in rehearsal.
“I think of it as a microcosm of a democratic society,” said Dov Scheindlin, violist and co-artistic director of the ensemble. “When everyone feels like they’ve had their say, they pitch in more fully than in other systems. It’s an exciting way to make music and we feel like it comes out on stage, the excitement and intensity of that involvement.”
For Scheindlin, the process opens up greater options that might get lost in a traditional orchestra setup.
“Many of us have played in larger orchestras with conductors,” Scheindlin explained. “We’ve all had that frustrating experience where you have the answer to something, but you can’t say it. Or you have an idea that could make things better, but it’s really up to the conductor, and all the communication is in one direction. The conductor is giving you instructions, rather than allowing for lateral communication.”
While Scheindlin admits that opening up musical decisions to a democratic process can get messy, the group has several safeguards in place to help things go smoothly.
“We try out a lot of players, and one other things we’re looking for, in addition to great playing, is the ability to communicate well and to accept communication well,” Scheindlin said. “It’s a two way street. People have to be able to suggest ideas in ways that makes us all feel that the goal is to improve things, and also to be able to receive comments or criticism well, knowing that it’s all in order to make the group better. We really look for that in our membership.”
The group also rotates leadership roles. While many orchestras operate with a permanent concertmaster and section leaders, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra spreads the leadership duties throughout the orchestra.
“Everyone gets a chance at a leadership role,” Scheindlin said. “Now when you make comments, you also know what it’s like to receive them. That tempers the kinds of suggestions people make when they’re in the leadership role. Everyone is sympathetic; we know how to address each other in ways that are constructive.”
The group performs Monday evening at the Wharton Center, and Scheindlin hosts a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. in Stoddard Grand Tier Lounge. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will be joined Monday by Pinchas Zukerman, which will be the first time the legendary violinist has performed with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
“We’re excited to be working with him for the very first time,” Scheindlin said. “He’s one of those iconic figures that we’ve all looked up to for decades. It’s inspiring that he’s coming to play with us. He’s playing a Mozart violin concerto, and then he’s going to follow it with Beethoven’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra.”
Before the pair of pieces with Zukerman, Monday’s program will open with a symphony by J.C. Bach, son of revered Baroque composer J.S. Bach.
“Most people know his illustrious father, but his children were also very influential in the music world of their day,” Scheindlin said. “They were at least as well known as J.S. Bach, if not more so, during their lifetimes.”
The second half of Monday’s program features “Vision Machine,” a contemporary work by American composer Harold Meltzer that was commissioned by the ensemble.
“It’s part of a series of pieces that Meltzer has written that are based on architectural models,” Scheindlin explained. “‘Vision Machine’ refers to a modern building in New York, in Manhattan, by French architect Jean Nouvel. This building is a modernist icon in New York. We’ve been rehearsing it, and it’s a beautiful piece full of interesting colors and textures and gorgeous sonorities. I think it has a very poetic arc to it.”
The program concludes with Maurice Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin,” which is an orchestral transcription of one of Ravel’s suites for piano.
“The original has six movements, and he took five of them and orchestrated them,” Scheindlin said. “So not only does it show his compositional genius, but it also shows his orchestrational skill and understanding of orchestral color.”
While the piece is an homage to friends Ravel lost in the first world war, Scheindlin also sees significance in its use of archaic French musical forms.
“I think it’s an elegy, not just for the people who fell in the war, but for French culture in general and for the death of the old world, which he loved, and the emergence of the modern world, which, so far, had only brought war and death,” Scheindlin said. “I think it’s a fascinating piece. He avoids any sense of the tragic. He wanted it to be about carrying on through these challenges, not about wallowing in tragedy. It’s a curiously uplifting piece, despite its dark origins.”
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
With Pinchas Zukerman
7:30 p.m. Monday, March 21
Tickets start at $30
750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing
(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com