Concert Review: Fifth House Ensemble

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Fifth House Ensemble working with school kids--part of their educational outreach program. (From the 5HE website)
Fifth House Ensemble working with school kids--part of their educational outreach program. (From the 5HE website)

CHICAGO, December 14, 2014 – Hot on the heels of our enthusiastic review of their latest recording, “Excelsior,” we had the pleasure recently of witnessing Fifth House Ensemble (5HE) perform in Chicago’s Constellation club.

The (only slightly formal) event ran the gamut from Shostakovich to elf costumes and from Mahler to audience participation. The ensemble’s performance was chiefly intended to highlight and raise money for 5HE’s considerable and impressive educational efforts.

In short, when they’re not busy conquering Chicago’s new music scene, the Fifth House Ensemble takes part in an ambitious education program, which takes them everywhere from inner city grade schools to juvenile correction centers. Nor is this activity merely a standard ploy for obtaining grants, as can sometimes be the case. During their most recent performance, in fact, the members of the ensemble spoke of their powerful education experiences with tears in their eyes and philanthropic conviction evident in their voices.

The concert – which also included works by Miguel Del Aguila, Jacques Ibert, and Chicago’s own Marc Mellits – was interspersed with demonstrations of the type of activities the ensemble regularly conducts with students. It was certainly clear that a great deal of originality is involved in their pedagogical thinking, including the fact that other activities by the group might have reminded one of the beautiful “music games” promoted by artist-educators like Bobby McFerrin.

The performances themselves were as heartfelt as they were jolly, though the ensemble struggled with some balance issues clearly arising from Constellation’s limited acoustics. It would have been wonderful to hear their convincing rendition of Mahler’s Adagietto, for instance, in a space more conducive to chamber music.

As the ensemble embarks on a new year of music making, its members will also be thinking about their growing role as educators in the city. For those with the ability to do so, the material support of such valuable ventures would certainly be money well spent.

Meanwhile, given that the new year is almost upon us, here’s wishing continued artistic and educational success to 5HE in 2015.

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