When the Grammy Award–winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra took the stage May 9 at its annual gala concert in New York City’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, the string players were joined by a few unlikely collaborators at the “Bach to Brazil” program: Ivan Lins, a renowned Brazilian songwriter, and Cyro Padilla, a percussion dynamo, as well as two classical guitarists, propped themselves onstage right in front of the orchestra. The performance that followed infused traditional Bach and Chopin with 20th-century Brazilian dance music. Throughout the evening, the audience watched and listened with rapt attention as Orpheus explored the interactions and highlighted the similarities of some very different compositions.
The conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, now embarking on its 40th anniversary season, has become well known for its inventive performances and ensemble methods. Whether it’s playing a concert with violin virtuoso Gil Shaham at Carnegie Hall, or mandolinst Chris Thile (a Yo-Yo Ma collaborator on the recent Goat Rodeo Sessions) in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood, or working with 30-year-old composer and pianist Gabriel Kahane—whom the New York Times has dubbed “a one-man cultural Cuisinart”—as its first composer-in-residence or teaching their innovative Orpheus Process of shared leadership to music and business students, Orpheus musicians always are looking forward.
“When we started out in the ’70s, we played a fairly narrow range of pieces,” Orpheus violinist Ronnie Bauch says.