Every series — musical or otherwise — begins an anniversary at season opening (if you think about it). The Ronen Chamber Ensemble just celebrated the inaugural of their 20th a week ago Tuesday. Gratefully, the Hilbert Circle Theatre Wood Room was filled almost to the brim with devotees of musical esoterica. What they got was a friendly mixture of standard repertoire and almost brand new.
Butler composer-in-residence Michael Schelle’s ‘Berlin Archetype’ was featured at the opening concert of the Ronen Chamber Ensemble.
With each Ronen program scheduled this season to look back at some of the group’s past achievements, this one featured Butler composer-in-residence Michael Schelle’s Berlin Archetype for “cello solo with clarinet and piano.” Pianist Richard Ratliff and Ronen’s co-founders, clarinetist David Bellman and cellist Ingrid Fischer-Bellman, performed. They commissioned the piece and gave its first performance right here in the Wood Room on Oct. 16, 1990. Schelle describes it as his personal reaction to concurrent world events, including the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lasting about 15 minutes, Schelle’s work added a tom-tom drum on Ratliff’s left side and wind chimes on his right. At the piece’s conclusion, Indy’s favorite tenor, Steven Stolen, stood up from the audience and sang a few bars of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” — to strengthen the “Berlin” allusion, a tie undoubtedly lost to most in attendance. That said, Berlin Archetype displays Schelle as a good, serious composer for one usually associated with musical satire. The piece contains ravishingly beautiful cello writing conveyed by Fischer-Bellman’s equally ravishing playing; she ended up dominating my attention. Rebecca Arrensen, Nancy Agres and Wendy Muston began the program with Debussy’s late-written Sonata for flute, viola and harp — the players listed in the instrument order. They delivered a seamless account of the second of six sonatas Debussy had planned to compose for diverse instruments; he completed three of them before his 1918 death. With an unusual collective timbre, Debussy’s very essence seemed embodied in this highly mature, uniquely individual score. On a much lighter vein (to latch onto a currently abused phrase), five Ronen players joined for Carl Maria von Weber’s Quintet in B-flat for clarinet and strings, Op. 34 (1815). If anyone could be said to bridge the gap between Classical and Romantic music, Weber would come first to mind. Bellman took front and center with nicely managed scale and passage runs profusely appearing throughout this four-movement work — a clarinet virtuoso display with the strings backing him up.