The Artemis Chamber Ensemble

SYREN Modern Dance and Artemis Chamber Ensemble at Baryshnikov Arts Center

We rarely attend dance recitals (is that the correct word? feels wrong to say “concert” or even “show”). We love music. One of the flexible groups of musicians that we follow is The Artemis Chamber Ensemble. In particular, we are huge fans of Melissa Tong, David Fallo and the conductor and musical director, Matthew Oberstein.

When we heard that Artemis was performing with SYREN Modern Dance for three nights (part of a six-night run for SYREN, opening their 8th season), we bought tickets for the third night. The performances were (and are being) held at Baryshnikov Arts Center.

SYREN performed two pieces, broken up by an intermission. The first was Dolce, choreographed by Kate St. Amand (one of the co-founders of SYREN).


There were six dancers for this piece. They performed in every permutation from only one of them on stage to all six. They were: Sonja Dale, Chanelle Lagacé, Xuexin (Nico) Li, Brigitte Mitchell, Lynn Peterson (the other SYREN co-founder) and Chihiro Shimizu. They were all terrific, individually and collectively.


Artemis can be configured from a quartet all the way up to a 19-piece chamber orchestra. Last night was seven pieces plus Matthew working his conductorial magic. The seven players were: Melissa Tong, Heidi Shaul-Yoder and Sarah Koenig-Plonskier on violin, David Fallo on viola, Laura Bontrager and Emily Brausa on cello and Eleonore Oppenheim on bass. They were fantastic (no surprise, that’s why we showed up in the first place).


Dolce was set to Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg. It’s a stunning musical piece, brought to life perfectly by Matthew and Artemis. SYREN’s choreography (or Kate St. Amand’s, to be more precise), matched the music wonderfully. Given that we’re not “dance first” people, the visual could have distracted me from the amazing music, but it didn’t.


The second piece was “the last of the leaves” (I put it in quotes since it wasn’t capitalized in the program) also choreographed by Kate. In addition to the same six dancers above, two male dancers were added to the mix: Bryant Henderson and Jeremy Neal. The men dressed in the same outfits as the women.


The dance was set to Shaker Loops by John Adams.

While the dancing and choreography were as fluid and interesting (to my untrained eye) as the first piece, the musical experience was nothing like the Holberg Suite. I would describe the piece as constantly dissonant. The skill require to play the piece might have been even more difficult, but it felt to me like I was watching horror movie transitional music.


I was expecting a knife to come through a shower curtain, or someone to be pushed down a flight of stairs in the dark. Unlike Dolce, without the dance, I would not have been able to enjoy the music with my eyes closed.

The dance matched the music in this case as well, but I could have stood for a repeat of Grieg’s work. Smile


I am thankful that we get to broaden our horizons through our connections with our friends and the musicians that we actively follow.


Tonight through Sunday, SYREN is performing a different piece (without Artemis to my knowledge): Toward Home, music by Damon Ferrante.

Artemis Chamber Ensemble at Holy Family Church

We were supposed to be gone yesterday morning. When we heard about two shows we pushed our plans back by two days. The first of those shows was yesterday.

The Artemis Chamber Ensemble had another show at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle. One of the tenets of Artemis is to have a configurable set of musicians/instruments, to be able to perform a wide variety of works in a wide variety of spaces. The last time we saw them (also at Holy Family Church) they were configured in a 19-piece ensemble, with a conductor, paired with two Church choirs. I covered that concert in this post.

Yesterday had a dramatically different feel. There were a total of six musicians (who performed in a variety of configurations) plus one baritone vocalist. The conductor (the absolutely amazing Matthew Oberstein) was in attendance, but he didn’t conduct. I asked him after the performance whether he had drilled them in advance and he said that he had nothing to do with it, he was there to enjoy it as we were.


Another Artemis goal is to play as many pieces by contemporary composers as they can (obviously, Mozart’s Requiem doesn’t qualify). Yesterday’s program was titled “Chamber Music: Then and Now”.

The program started with String Trio No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinu. It was performed by Melissa Tong on violin, Christine Chu McGovern on cello and David Fallo on viola.


Melissa is one of our favorite violinists (and people!). She was, of course, fantastic yesterday, as was every single person who played and sang. She introduced the piece explaining the various influences that we would hear.


Christine Chu McGovern was superb on the cello on every piece.


David Fallo was a very pleasant surprise for us. We’ve seen him a half a dozen times (at least), supporting Alex Wong, The Paper Raincoat and ambeR Rubarth (usually with Melissa Tong sharing the string duties with him). I’ve always loved his play in those shows, but you can’t really compare background strings in a pop show to the kind of performance David gave yesterday. Wow!


As for the piece itself, neither of us is likely to want it on our iPod. The virtuosity of the musicians was obvious (it’s no easy piece to play), but it’s way too dissonant throughout to be our cup of tea. I don’t know Martinu, so I don’t know if this piece if typical of his work.

Next up was Dover Beach, for baritone and string quartet, Op. 3 by Samuel Barber. Joining Melissa, Christine and David was an additional violinist, Bryony Stroud-Watson. Christopher DeVage supplied the amazing baritone singing.

Bryony Stroud-Watson also performed at the Mozart Requiem concert. She was amazing then as she was yesterday. I didn’t mention her in the last post (though I included the program which listed her) because I only selected a handful of the 19 musicians to highlight. Last time, it seemed to me that both Melissa and Bryony played the same notes at the same time (most pairs did that as well, violas, bassoons, etc.).


Yesterday, even when Melissa and Bryony played together (as in the piece I’m discussing now), they played different lines. I’ll mention Bryony again for the last piece of the program.

Christopher DeVage has a gorgeous voice (velvety). In addition to singing, Christopher introduced this piece, explaining that it began as a poem that was later set to music.


I found the singing beautiful, but distracting, since I can understand the English (as opposed to operatic Italian), but I didn’t find the lyrics compelling in song. The quartet was amazing.

Voyage, for flute and string quintet by John Corigliano was next. Corigliano is the only living composer among yesterday’s selection. Two additional musicians were added to the mix for this piece. Melissa Healy on flute and Scott Thornton on upright bass. Melissa introduced the piece.


Melissa Healy is an extraordinary flutist. I’ve always been a fan of the flute (specifically, Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway).


Scott Thornton also played the bass at the last concert. He did a very nice job on this one piece yesterday.


Love Blows as the Wind Blows, songs for baritone and string quartet by George Butterworth swapped Christopher and his vocals for Scott and his bass. This piece was introduced by Christopher, reading a piece of the poem/song before singing it with the flute and string quartet.

Again, I found the fact that I could understand what he was singing more distracting than enhancing. The music, again, gorgeous, as was Christopher’s voice.

Saving the best for last (at least in my opinion), they performed Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major, K. 285 by Wolfgang A. Mozart. The quartet consisted of Melissa Healy (flute), Bryony Stroud-Watson (violin), Christine Chu McGovern (cello) and David Fallo (viola).

The piece is spectacular. Melissa’s flute play was heavenly (and mind-boggling). Lois wondered if Melissa took any breaths during her long lines.

Bryony was fantastic on the violin (as before, but without Melissa Tong on stage, there was no question as to who was hitting what notes on the violin).

Christine and David were equally wonderful, as they were on all of the other pieces.

Holy Family Church is a wonderful place to hear these types of concerts. The acoustics are wonderful and the people are so welcoming.

Mozart Requiem at Holy Family Church

Ask and ye shall receive (no, seriously!). On Thursday I saw Alex Wong perform at Rockwood Music Hall. One of his guests was the wonderful Melissa Tong on violin. Here’s what I wrote about her in my post about that show:

Melissa Tong on the violin joined Alex for the next number, one of my favorites, Brooklyn Blurs, which they knocked out of the park. I’ve said it so many times, Melissa is an incredible musician, we can’t get enough of her. I look forward to seeing her play with a symphony, her specialty.

While that last line wasn’t rhetorical, I didn’t expect it to bear fruit so quickly. This morning I woke up to a wonderful surprise. Melissa updated her Facebook status to say that she was playing at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle at 2pm. We were already at the house, so there was no way we were going to miss this one.


The Artemis Chamber Ensemble and the Choirs of Holy Family and St. Frances de Chantal Churches performed Mozart’s Requiem. (Note: you can click on any image to see a larger version.)


Artemis and the choirs were conducted by Matthew Oberstein (Executive Director of Artemis). Monsignor Ferdinando D. Berardi of Holy Family introduced the program, describing Matthew Oberstein as Energetic. He’s that, and much more.


Lois and I sat in the first pew near the center aisle. I have never been so close to a conductor. My vantage, five feet to his right, gave me a view of his technique that I have never experienced. From behind, we all see the arms moving up/down and in/out to the music. From a distance, you might see them point toward a particular section of the orchestra as well.

I could see so much more. Matthew uses many subtle cues to extract the sound that he wants. Tiny finger movements, things that would be difficult to detect from a distance, even if you had the correct angle. I was extremely impressed. Lois noted how riveted most of the choir was on his every movement.

There were four Solo singers (who also sang together):

Wendy Baker, soprano. Absolutely stunning voice.

Elizabeth Mondragon, mezzo-soprano. Beautiful voice, not quite as highlighted in this piece as the others were.

Steven L. Nanni, tenor. Amazing voice. He really moved me whenever he sang.

Kevin Burdette, bass. Looks can be deceiving. Kevin is tall and thin, not a body type I associate with a deep bass voice. Wrong. Kevin has an incredible voice and he easily (or at least apparently easily) reaches extremely deep notes.

Each sings wonderfully on their own. When the four sang together in any combination, it was mesmerizing. When they all sang with the choir, it was heavenly.


Artemis configures themselves depending on the material. They range from a quartet to a full chamber orchestra. Today, they were 19 pieces, 18 right in front of us, and one on the organ on the side of the Church. They were all awesome. I was inches away from Flavio Gaete on Viola. Watching him so close up was wonderful.


We came to hear Melissa (President of Artemis, something I didn’t know prior to the performance) and I am so thankful that we made the effort. She’s as good as I imagined (as are the rest of Artemis). Requiem is quite complex, in particular the starting sequences right after the long pauses. Melissa and Heidi Schaul-Yoder were like Siamese Twins nailing those flying measures.


The other person I’d like to call out is the cellist, Christine Chu McGovern (Artemis’ Artistic Director). Wow. I could name every person in Artemis, so please don’t assume I think less of the others.


We didn’t have a great view of the right side of the orchestra during the performance. Here are two shots of them afterward:


Everyone mentioned above are professionals, in every sense of the word. On to the so-called amateurs. The choir was large, made up of the combination of both Holy Family and St. Francis de Chantal Church choirs.


They were absolutely amazing. As I mentioned above, they were riveted on Matthew’s every little movement and they responded perfectly to those instructions. They sang softly when called for, and filled the entire Church with their power when that was requested of them.

Here are the names of everyone who performed from Artemis and the Choirs:


After the performance I asked Melissa how many times they rehearsed with the choir. Twice! Amateurs indeed (not!).

I challenge those of you who don’t believe me to go see this exact performance next Sunday (November 14th, 2010) at St. Francis de Chantal in the Bronx, 3pm. I urge those that do believe me to go and enjoy next week’s performance as well.

If you would like to support this amazing group of musicians, please send contributions to:

Artemis Chamber Ensemble

P.O. Box 813

Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520