The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a Grammy Award-winning classical music chamber orchestra based in New York City. It is known for its collaborative leadership style in which the musicians, not a conductor, interpret the score.
Orpheus was founded in 1972, by cellist Julian Fifer and a group of fellow musicians who aspired to perform orchestral repertoire using chamber music ensemble techniques. Central to its distinctive personality is its unique practice of sharing and rotating leadership roles. For every work, the members of the orchestra select the concertmaster and the principal players for each section. These players constitute the core group, whose role is to form the initial concept of the piece and to shape the rehearsal process. In the final rehearsals, all members of the orchestra participate in refining the interpretation and execution, with members taking turns listening from the hall for balance, blend, articulation, dynamic range and clarity of expression.
Recognized internationally as one of the world's great orchestras, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has been playing to music lovers on four continents for 34 years. For the past 26 seasons, the centerpiece of each Orpheus season has been its concert series at New York's Carnegie Hall. Accompanying the critical acclaim for Orpheus' live appearances are numerous distinctions and awards, including a 2001 Grammy Award for “Shadow Dances: Stravinsky Miniatures”, a 1998 Grammy nomination for its recording of Mozart piano concerti with Richard Goode, the 1998 "Ensemble of the Year" award by Musical America, as well as performances on Herbie Hancock's Grammy-winning “Gershwin's World”. On May 16, 2010, the orchestra was awarded an honorary degree from Case Western Reserve University at the university's graduation ceremony alongside Katie Couric and M. Cherif Bassiouni.
Orpheus has collaborated with many of the great artists of our time including Isaac Stern, Gidon Kremer, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky, Emanuel Ax, Richard Goode, Alicia de Larrocha, Radu Lupu, Martha Argerich, Alfred Brendel, Horacio Gutierrez, Murray Perahia, Peter Serkin, Mitsuko Uchida, Tatiana Troyanos, Maureen Forrester, Frederica von Stade, Peter Schreier, Anne Sofie von Otter, Dawn Upshaw, and Renée Fleming. Reflecting their commitment to expanding the chamber orchestra repertoire, Orpheus has premiered works by Elliott Carter, Jacob Druckman, Mario Davidovsky, Michael Gandolfi, William Bolcom, Osvaldo Golijov, Fred Lerdahl, Gunther Schuller, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Susan Botti, David Rakowski, Bruce Adolphe, Peter Lieberson, Elizabeth Brown and Han Yong.
Individual members of Orpheus have received recognition for solo, chamber music, and orchestral performances. Each brings a diversity of musical experience to the orchestra, which constantly enriches and nurtures the musical growth of the ensemble. Of the 30 players who comprise the basic membership of Orpheus, many also hold teaching positions at conservatories and universities in the New York and New England areas, including Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Columbia, Yale, Mannes College of Music, Montclair State University, and the Hartt School. Orpheus musicians also hold posts with other orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, American Composer's Orchestra, Met Opera Orchestra and New York City Opera Orchestra. Orpheus members serve on the administrative staff as well as on the Board of Directors.
Orpheus is known for performances of repertoire ranging from Baroque masterworks to contemporary commissions. In addition to extensive national and international touring, the orchestra presents an annual concert series at Carnegie Hall and appears regularly at major New York venues, including Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its 2008-2009 series included performances with pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Jonathan Biss, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. Each of these concerts was broadcast live on WNYC and re-broadcast on American Public Media affiliate stations nationwide, as well as made available for free on-line streaming through the WNYC program archives. The orchestra returned to Europe in February 2009 for an extensive tour with pianist Jonathan Biss, performing in venues such as the Konzerthaus Berlin and the Musikverein. On January 31, 2009 the orchestra premiered Concerto No. 3 for Sitar and Orchestra by Ravi Shankar (with Shankar's daughter, Anoushka Shankar) commissioned by Orpheus. New works by Pulitzer Prize-winners Paul Moravec and Melinda Wagner will mark the next installments of Orpheus’ New Brandenburgs commissioning project, a four-year project begun in 2006, with the goal of premiering six orchestral works modeled on J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg" concerti. To conclude its Carnegie Hall season, in May 2009 the Orchestra performed several newly composed, as well as several newly orchestrated, songs by Ned Rorem, with Susan Graham.
Orpheus’ 2009-2010 season featured collaborations with celebrated musicians including violinists Henning Kraggerud and Ryu Goto, oboist Albrecht Mayer, pianist Angela Hewitt, and cellist Alisa Weilerstein. The Orchestra also presented new works by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Aaron Jay Kernis - the final two installments of The New Brandenburgs commissioning project. Through the generous support of the MetLife Foundation, these concerts were broadcast live on WQXR and re-broadcast on American Public Media affiliate stations nationwide, as well as made available for free on-line streaming through the WQXR program archives. Orpheus' 2010-2011 season saw the orchestra play with pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Rudolf Buchbinder, soprano Kate Royal, and violinists Vadim Gluzman and Arabella Steinbacher. In addition, the group will perform at the inaugural Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall and hosted its first public charity gala concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
During their 2011-2012 Carnegie season, Orpheus will collaborate with violinists Gil Shaham and Viviane Hagner, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, oboist Albrecht Mayer, and mandolinist Chris Thile. The orchestra also launches Project 440, an initiative to commission four rising composers in celebration of the orchestra’s upcoming fortieth anniversary. All except one Carnegie Hall concert date in the 2011-12 season will feature one piece by one of these young composers.
The Orpheus recording legacy consists of over 70 albums. Their extensive catalog for Deutsche Grammophon includes Baroque masterworks of George Frideric Handel, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, Haydn symphonies, Mozart symphonies and serenades, the complete Mozart wind concerti with Orpheus members as soloists, Romantic works by Dvořák, Grieg and Tchaikovsky and a number of 20th-century classics by Béla Bartók, Prokofiev, Fauré, Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Charles Ives, Copland, and Igor Stravinsky. Recent releases include a recording of English and America folk songs with counter-tenor Andreas Scholl (Decca); “Creation”, a collection the Impressionist music from 1920's Paris with saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Sony Classical); a series of recordings of Mozart's greatest piano concerti with Richard Goode (Nonesuch); and a vigorous reading of The Four Seasons with Sarah Chang (EMI Classics). A collection of Mozart piano concerti with Jonathan Biss was sert for releases in the fall of 2008, also on EMI Classics.
Orpheus has embarked on many extensive tours of the USA, Europe, South America, Asia, and Japan. In 1998, the orchestra performed in Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Brunei, Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, and Hanoi. On this tour, Orpheus was the first American orchestra to perform in Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War.
In addition to performing, Orpheus is committed to providing diverse audiences with opportunities to engage in music. In 2003, Orpheus launched the Orpheus Institute, through which Orpheus musicians share their unique artist-centered philosophy, methodology and skills with college-aged musicians. During the 2011-2012 academic year, Orpheus will be the Artist-in-Residence in the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland (UMD) for the 2011-2012 season. The residency will provide UMD music students with the opportunity to experience the democratic Orpheus Process™ of conductorless ensemble performance through coaching sessions, rehearsals, master classes and performances. Orpheus also provides hands-on music learning opportunities for hundreds of New York City public school students, through the Access Orpheus programs, which include workshops, open rehearsals, and concerts, and audience engagement through the Orpheus Unwrapped pre-concert lecture series.
In March 2007, Orpheus became one of the first winners of the Worldwide Award for the Most Democratic Workplaces sponsored by WorldBlu, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based organization specializing in organizational democracy.
Stephen Hartke: A Brandenburg Autumn, inspired by Brandenburg No. 1 (2006)
For orchestra consisting of 3 oboes, bassoon, two horns, harpsichord, and strings. 16 min
Paul Moravec: Brandenburg Gate, inspired by Brandenburg No. 2 (2008)
For trumpet, flute, clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), solo violin and strings. 17 min
Christopher Theofanidis: Muse, inspired by Brandenburg No. 3 (2007)
For strings and harpsichord. 12 min
Melinda Wagner: Little Moonhead: Three Tributaries, inspired by Brandenburg No. 4 (2009)
For solo violin, two flutes, harpsichord (doubling celesta) and strings. 12 min
Peter Maxwell Davies: Sea Orpheus, inspired by Brandenburg No. 5 (2010)
For piano, flute, violin and string orchestra. 18 min
Aaron Jay Kernis: Concerto with Echoes, inspired by Brandenburg No. 6 (2009)
For orchestra consisting of 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, percussion (crotales, chimes, vibraphone, pitched gongs, medium tam-tam, medium suspended cymbal, timpani), violas, cellos and basses. 14 min