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Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: musically devoted to the “caviar” as well as the "potato"

Now in their 10th season, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have earned their special place in New York City music lovers’ hearts.

A stone throw from Lincoln Center’s main venues, the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on 152 West 66th Street provides a modest but intimate setting for the chamber music series, commemorating the powerful legacy of the founder and conductor of the Jupiter Symphony Orchestra, Jens Nygaard, who had performed for audiences at Alice Tully Hall, as well as the homeless and victims of natural disasters alike.

His passion for music not only glorified already celebrated works, but he sought out lesser known and neglected works or composers whose names had been forgotten, which he presented with great appeal. This charismatic personality in teaching and music-making touched many lives before he passed away in 2001. The Emmy Award winning documentary “Life on Jupiter,” has accounts of Nygaard’s highly spirited and relevant impact, told by his friends and colleagues. Run by private funding, the enthusiastic efforts of the Chamber Players’ manager and Nygaard’s widow, Mei Ying, as well as former first bassoonist and now music advisor, Michael Volpert,  the series is dedicated to continuing Mr. Nygaard’s artistic quest for beautiful music and interesting performance. It also keeps on providing performance opportunities for some of the former orchestral musicians as well as talented guest artists.

A small but loyal and informed audience follows this quest on a very low budget. Tickets are not expensive. The performances are held on twenty Monday afternoons (2pm) and evening (7.30pm) programs.

Besides playing some of the standard gamut, the performers who come from a roster of first rate, internationally performing artists, notably explore a handpicked, highly selective repertoire.

This means of course intense rehearsal times for the musicians who often have to learn little known music and put it together, within the same weekend. Those rehearsals typically take place at some of the actively engaged volunteers’ homes.

Rehearsals often take place at the hospitable Leslie Brereton's house, not far from the venue

This particular Saturday three of the regular Jupiter players, cellist Inbal Segev, former Jupiter principal clarinetist Vadim Lando and former Jupiter principal horn player Karl Kramer, were joined by guest artists, pianist Roman Rabinovich and violinist Dmitri Berlinsky, to prepare a challenging program. The musicians form an international crowd; the mood is friendly – and the music is stirringly beautiful.

Sometimes the Russian violinist Rabinovich is on the same page with the Israeli cellist Segev, when Kramer from Norway, argues tempi. Later Kramer mitigates between the Russian Lado and Rabinovich, the other Russian at the piano. The impression is that the music can only be so alive, because of people like these devoted musicians who choose to spend the bigger part of their weekend, arguing over its nuances in a never ending quest for perfect beauty and harmony. There is yet another rehearsal necessary which will take place at the cellist’s home on Sunday. And then of course the performance itself on Monday will bring out new perceptions, inspired by the different acoustics and the presence of the audience in the church.

“The critics will come in the afternoon,” proclaimed Mei Ying, (photo right) who remained busy sorting piles of index cards, containing notes on the repertory of the Jupiter Symphony Orchestra, during the entire rehearsal. Her tiny physical stature does not give away her sheer endless energy, when it comes to taking care of her agenda: keeping the music going.

The program of Monday, March 28th, offers a truly varied selection that the clarinet virtuoso Vadim Lando charmingly introduces: “As if we did not have enough music to play, we were asked to still include this piece by Weber, The Variations on a theme from “Silvana” Op.33 (1811).”

After the intermission where cookies are served, Karl Kramer gets the opportunity to shine in 4 octaves of horn playing mostly to himself in a Haydn Divertimento a tr’e for horn, violin and cello.

But the absolute highlight of the program is the last one performed: Schoenberg’s “Verklaerte Nacht” (Transfigured night) Op. 4 (1899) transcription by Eduard Steuermann in 1932 for piano trio. The transcription of the original String Sextet was permitted by Schoenberg, even though he never got to hear the finished piece of his talented student, Steuermann. He would have loved it, is my guess. Cellist Segev convinces with assured, yet soulful lines, her beautiful deep tones  intertwined with Berlinksy’s heartfelt dialogue, who takes the unfolding drama to its melodic heights. Pianist Rabinovich unites the most sensitive moments with his utmost pianissimo and seemingly expands time until he creates virtuosic turmoil with all the power of his well balanced hands, over the keyboard. Based on a romantic poem by Richard Dehmel, the piece was performed, together with original works by Schoenberg, by Steuermann at a private music society founded by Schoenberg and frequented by the circles who surrounded Berg, Webern and himself at that time. According to Michael Volpert, critics were not allowed. Alfred Brendel has been a pupil of Steuermann.

So how does one pick the program, and which piece for which artist? It seems to be a process that has no definitive rule, but gets there as circumstances evolve:”First we make a roster of dates, establishing who is available when. Once we have the musicians, we choose the style accordingly. Every artist has a personally different approach, different preferences and different things to offer. One may have the more stellar technique, while the other may offer a better tone. One is great in romantic repertoire, others prefer modern or classical. Usually I choose one larger piece, and build the program around it. Sometimes I look more for variation within a program; sometimes the pieces are historically related or the program becomes thematic.

Photo: Michael Volpert in charge of all programs

“But most importantly, we do what we do because we love the music and being with the musicians. Some are here every other week; some twice a year and we are all fans. The musicians must enjoy making music with each other. In that sense we are a community, by now a lot of friendships have developed.”

All photos: Ilona Oltuski

To read more about the Jupiter Chamber Music Players go to their website: The next “out of this world” program on April 11th, 2011, will host guest artists: CMS pianist Alessio Bax; Cynthia Phelps, principal violist of the New York Philharmonic and violinist Stephan Jackiw, winner of the 2002 Avery Fisher Grant.



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