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Clyde attracts renown concert musicians for April concerts

Chamber music will dominate Langley the first weekend of April. - submitted photo
Chamber music will dominate Langley the first weekend of April.
— image credit: submitted photo

The first weekend in April concert musicians from some of the nation’s most prestigious musical institutions will be tuning up in a most unlikely place-— the unpretentious Clyde Theatre in Langley.

Six acclaimed chamber musicians will have flown in from their homes on the East Coast, or in one case ferried over from Seattle, to join their friend and fellow musician Judy Geist in concert.

Geist, a violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and part-time resident of South Whidbey, is the founder and artistic director of a global network of concert artists called Ensemble M based on Whidbey Island. The group’s first appearance will be at the weekend extravaganza of 18th and 19th Century chamber music, titled Boccherini and Beyond, scheduled for April 4 and 5 at The Clyde.

Fortunately for music lovers, Geist has incredibly talented friends. At these concerts Ensemble M will include Paul Arnold of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Simon James of The Seattle Symphony on violin, Suzanne Ornstein of The Arden Trio and Geist on viola, Kathryn Read of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Judith Serkin of The Marlboro Music Festival on cello, and Rudolph Vrbsky of The National Symphony on oboe.

Despite these lofty affiliations, these artists have also played in looser formats. Geist toured with jazzman Chick Corea, Ornstein was concertmaster for Garrison Keillor’s Coffee Club Orchestra, and Simon James can be heard on many film scores.

Ensemble M will be playing two different but equally ambitious programs of music. On April 4, they will play Boccherini’s Cello Quintet Opus 13 No. 5 in E Major, Mozart’s Quartet in F Major for oboe and strings, Reger’s Lyrische Andante, and Glazunov’s Cello Quintet in A Major Opus 39.

On April 5, Ensemble M will perform Boccherini’s Cello Quintet Opus 25 #1 in D Minor G295, Mozart’s Quintet in C Minor for oboe and strings K406, Reger’s Lyrische Andante, and Brahms’ Sextet in G Major.

Both concerts begin at 2 p.m. at The Clyde Theatre on First Street in Langley.

The Ensemble M Live at The Clyde collaboration is just the next step in Geist’s master plan. Two years ago, after performing in Seattle, a couple of her friends in the Philadelphia Orchestra joined Judy, the Seattle Symphony’s Simon James, and local music legend Michael Nutt to christen her new home/art studio/performance space on South Whidbey with a casual house concert that drew 80 neighbors, friends, and friends of friends. She was touched by the response of this audience to hearing chamber music as it should be—up close and personal. After that, as Geist says, “The time seemed ripe for a festival of great music played by world-class professionals in a friendly space on a gorgeous island for an audience of receptive listeners.”

From the start she has intended this festival to shake the dust off chamber music. “All of us in Ensemble M want to break the stereotype of chamber music being stuffy and rarefied. This old music was once modern and has endured and been treasured for centuries.” Thus the decision to site her concert in a 250-seat 1937 movie house that’s a well-loved community institution. And her choice to have violinist Paul Arnold provide insightful and often humorous commentary to introduce each piece on the program.

“The Universe seems to have been leading me to a point where place and purpose merge,” Geist said. “I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest in the late 1970s, when I came to visit a composer friend who moved here to teach at the UW. Years later another composer brought me to Whidbey, where I felt instantly at home.”

“Preparing for this chamber music endeavor has been an extraordinary experience, with people appearing to offer their expertise just when I needed it,” she said. Local arts organizers Linda Morris and Mary Ann Mansfield stepped up to make arrangements while Geist was out of the country on tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Sheet-music aficionado JoAnn Kane found obscure Boccherini cello quintet parts in England and had them printed and mailed to her in the Canary Islands. JoAnn’s husband, pianist and composer Artie Kane, agreed to perform with Ensemble M at a special fund-raising salon recital in their home the Friday before the concerts. Artists, designers, and writers offered help with publicity. Locals with extra bedrooms offered to house musicians. “My hope is that the weekend debut of Ensemble M Live at The Clyde will be just the beginning of a longer festival or a series of chamber music concerts that provide a joyful and stimulating experience for everyone involved,” Geist said.

Tickets for either one ($22) or both ($40) concerts of Boccherini and Beyond can be purchased in person by cash or check at The Clyde Theatre on First Street in Langley in the evenings. The Whidbey Island Center for the Arts has agreed to sell tickets to the Saturday and Sunday concerts at The Clyde to those wishing to use a credit or debit card (call 360-221-8268, 1-800-638-7631, or go to www.wicaonline.com). WICA will be the only venue selling the 50 tickets ($100, partially tax deductible) for the Ensemble M fundraising salon recital Friday April 3 at the Kanes' waterfront home. A food and wine reception with the musicians will follow that recital.

Tax-deductible donations to help defray the costs of the concert series can be written to the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and mailed to P.O. Box 52, Langley WA 98260. Please mark “Ensemble M” on the memo line.

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