Arts and Entertainment

Live at The Clyde, Ensemble M debuts new concert series

Violist Judy Geist is the founder and artistic director of the new Ensemble M, a chamber music group of world-class musicians that will play a series of concerts at The Clyde Theatre in Langley.   - Photo courtesy of Judy Geist
Violist Judy Geist is the founder and artistic director of the new Ensemble M, a chamber music group of world-class musicians that will play a series of concerts at The Clyde Theatre in Langley.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Judy Geist

Professional classical musicians live a kind of paradoxical life.

They are modern jet setters who often play the oldest music in the world.

Orchestral musician Judy Geist lives partly on Whidbey Island but plays music in places such as Philadelphia, New York, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

As a violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Geist has accumulated not only a well-stamped passport, but also an impressive circle of talented friends over the years.

With those friends in mind, Geist recently became the founder and artistic director of Ensemble M, a network of concert artists who she will invite to perform a series of concerts on the island.

The group’s debut entitled “Boccherini and Beyond” is at

2 p.m. Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 at The Clyde Theatre in Langley.

The first program will feature Boccherini, Mozart, Reger and Glazunov. The Sunday program will include more Boccherini, Mozart and Reger, and also Brahms.

“The time seemed ripe for a festival of great music played by world-class professionals for an audience of receptive listeners,” Geist said.

Geist, playing viola, will be joined by Paul Arnold of the Philadelphia Orchestra and John Kim, concertmaster of the Bellevue Philharmonic on violin; Suzanne Ornstein of the Arden Trio, also on viola; Kathryn Read of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Judith Serkin of the Marlboro Music Festival on cello; and Rudolph Vrbsky of the National Symphony on oboe.

Geist’s idea for the ensemble sprung from her impetus to shake the dust off chamber music.

“All of us in Ensemble M want to break the stereotype of chamber music being stuffy and rarefied,” she said.

“This old music was once modern and has endured and been treasured for centuries.”

In keeping with that thrust to lose the stigma of pretension that surrounds chamber music, Geist sought out the cooperation of The Clyde as the best place to present the concerts.

The 250-seat, 1937 movie house is a well-loved community institution and owners Lynn and Blake Willeford embraced the idea.

Geist also chose Arnold as the one to provide insightful commentary to introduce each piece on the program, knowing his ability to keep everything light with his natural penchant for wit and humor.

Boccherini may have had the same effect in his day.

Geist said that although classical music is sometimes erroneously perceived as elitist and stuffy, Boccherini may have been the equivalent of what a pop star is today.

Born in Italy, he became a virtuosic cellist who moved to Spain and became the main musician for Don Luis, the brother of King Charles II of Spain in the 1770s.

He wrote 140 cello quintets as a resident player in the royal quartet, which was like the in-house entertainment of the period.

“There were no radios or TVs, and live music was the technology of the day,” Geist said.

“And everyone loved this music.”

Boccherini also wrote many symphonies and other ensemble combinations all with a quill pen and ink, Geist noted.

“Boccherini’s music is robust, very spirited, playful, warm, joyful and expressive of feelings and life,” she said.

The fact that Ensemble M will have two cellists on hand and will be able to present so many cello quintets in two days is unusual, Geist added.

“It’s a rich feast of a repertoire involving the full, earthy, ‘heartful,’ thickened cello sounds,” she said.

Added to that — a Brahms Sextet — makes it all not-to-be-missed, Geist said.

“We could perform these programs at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, or in Barcelona at the gorgeous Palau with a stained glass ceiling, or in New York’s Lincoln Center,” Geist said.

“Our musicians have played in all of these places, but they are so excited to be coming to Whidbey Island to be part of a new musical entity that is still forming its identity here.”

On Saturday, Ensemble M will play Boccherini’s “Cello Quintet Opus 13 No. 5 in E Major,” Mozart’s “Quartet in F Major for oboe and strings,” Reger’s “Lyrische Andante,” and Glazunov’s “Cello Quintet in A Major Opus 39.”

On Sunday the ensemble will perform Boccherini’s “Cello Quintet Opus 25 #1 in D Minor G295,” Mozart’s “Quintet in C Minor for oboe and strings K406,” Reger’s “Lyrische Andante,” and Brahms’ “Sextet in G Major.”

“My hope is that the weekend debut of Ensemble M live at The Clyde will be just the beginning of a longer festival or a series of chamber music concerts that provide a joyful and stimulating experience for everyone involved,” Geist said.

Tickets cost $22 for each show, or $40 for both.

Tickets for “Boccherini and Beyond” can be purchased in person by cash or check at The Clyde Theatre in Langley in the evenings; at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts with a credit or debit card, by calling 221-8268, 1-800-638-7631, or at www.wicaonline.com.

In addition to the concerts at The Clyde, Ensemble M will present a fundraising Gala Concert and Reception on Friday, April 3 at the Geist Studio House in Freeland.

The intention of the gala event is to supplement the ticket sales for The Clyde concerts and to support the return of Ensemble M to the island in the future.

Refreshments will be generously donated by Jo Ann and Artie Kane, who were also instrumental in finding the obscure Boccherini sheet music for cello.

WICA will be the only venue selling the 50 tickets for the gala at $100 each. The tickets are partially tax deductible. Directions to the studio will be given at the time of purchase.

Donations to help defray the costs of the concert series are also welcome and can be written to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and mailed to PO Box 52, Langley, WA 98260, with “Ensemble M” on the memo line.

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