The Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble, the oldest continuously performing chamber ensemble in the Delaware Valley, is celebrating its forty-sixth season.
Donald and Margarita Montanaro, both members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, had been inspired by the intimate musical groupings at the Marlboro Music Festival to develop a similar performing environment in their neighborhood. A proposal early in 1977 to do a benefit concert for St. Peter’s School in Society Hill provided an opportunity to learn if others shared their dream. The audience response was a resounding “yes” as a community in renewal became one with the music and the musicians. Inspired by that success, several in attendance determined to create a new format for the presentation of chamber music in Center City Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble was born.
The Chamber Ensemble assembled a core group of artists with strong ties to the Philadelphia Orchestra and a deep love of chamber music. The first concert was held on November 18, 1977 at the Athenaeum, a private library located on Washington Square. The program included works by Debussy, Hindemith, Ginastera, and Schubert. It was an immense success. During the reception held after the concert, the audience mingled and talked informally with the musicians. Every concert that year was sold out.
“The idea I had for our ensemble,” said Mr. Montanaro, Music Director, “was to create programs that had mixtures of instruments, so that people could hear diverse selections, rarely heard works, and instruments seldom played together.”
The Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble includes strings, winds, a harp, and a piano. Guest artists often join the permanent members. Each concert consists of several works, carefully chosen to complement each other. The ensemble’s repertoire includes US premieres of important but little-known works by Martin, Penderecki, and LeBaron. To celebrate the 30th anniversary season in 2007, the Chamber Ensemble commissioned a piece by the Iran-born composer and professor at the Julliard School of Music, Behzad Ranjbaran. This composition, “Isfahan,” was given its world premiere by the Chamber Ensemble at the March, 2007 concerts.
When the Athenaeum was closed for structural repairs, the concert location was changed to the Old Pine Street Church. This beautiful Greek Revival setting, in the heart of Society Hill, has excellent acoustics and is handicap accessible. The Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble family continues to welcome the audience with a reception attended by the musicians following each concert. Over the forty six years of a unique partnership, the Philadelphia Chamber Ensemble has produced four recordings, which are available on CD.
Board of Directors
Michael J. Connelly – President/Treasurer
Gail Frederick – Vice President
Sherry Ash, PhD – Secretary
Margarita C. Montanaro – Music Director Emerita
Lino D’Asti, DMD
John Koen – Music Director
Sherman Leis, DO
Carl G. Roberts, Esq.