Kennedy Center Chamber Players: Six Talents, One Accord

Nurit Bar-Josef is among the NSO musicians who form the Kennedy Center Chamber Players.
Nurit Bar-Josef is among the NSO musicians who form the Kennedy Center Chamber Players. (By Jared Leeds)
By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It is sometimes said that within every orchestral musician is a soloist desperate to get out. I'm not sure about that (the very fact of choosing the tuba or the double bass as one's instrument more or less rules out a solo career), but I do believe that many artists find deep satisfaction when playing in small groups with a few favored colleagues.

And so one attends concerts by the Kennedy Center Chamber Players not to discover new talent but rather to listen to the same musicians that National Symphony Orchestra subscribers hear every week, only in different capacities. Such was the case Sunday afternoon when six members of the NSO -- concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef, first violist Daniel Foster, first cellist David Hardy, principal flutist Toshiko Kohno, principal clarinetist Loren Kitt and the orchestra's pianist, Lambert Orkis -- joined for a program of music by Mozart, Dvorak and Arnold Schoenberg at the Terrace Theater.

There wasn't a great deal to say about the performances of Mozart's Trio in E-flat for Piano, Clarinet and Viola or the two movements I heard of Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat. Here were enormously gifted musicians, gifted with intimate understandings of each other's work, passing along supple, lyrical, time-tested melodies with assurance, proportion and, when necessary, deference to one another.

Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 was presented in an arrangement for piano, clarinet, flute, cello and violin by one of the composer's two most gifted students, Anton Webern. Orkis gave a wonderfully witty and full-hearted introduction to the score, which was followed by an impassioned performance.

Nevertheless, I confess that the score does very little for me. True, the radicalism has long worn off -- this is not what the composer's detractors would describe as "scary" Schoenberg -- but I continue to find the music both over-reliant on simple harmonic formulas (how often must we marvel at a straightforward row of ascending fourths?) and much denser than it needs to be, even in Webern's reduction. It is, as the lamented comedian Anna Russell used to say, the sort of thing one likes if one likes that sort of thing. The Kennedy Center Chamber Players certainly do, and they offered a performance of rapt intensity.

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