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CHICAGO ENSEMBLE

The Chicago Ensemble is blessed with a camaraderie-enhanced excellence but cursed with a persistent inability to connect with a younger audience. To be sure, in its 19 years of existence it has carved a comfortable though tiny niche, surviving as a reliable purveyor of eclectic chamber classics and an ardent presenter of relatively new works. But its loyal subscribers have aged, and the ensemble--whose core membership is now down to founder Gerald Rizzer (piano), Susan Levitin (flute), Sherban Lupu (violin), and Julie Zumsteg (cello)--seems at a loss at attracting the under-40 crowd. The predicament also plagues other chamber performers, of course, but the ensemble's stuffy, professorial deportment does little to counter the impression of music dispatched from a high pedestal. This isn't necessary, especially given Rizzer's penchant for non-Eurocentric variety. The group's season closer is a telling example. Alongside Bach's Trio Sonata in G, Schumann's Trio no. 2, and Schubert's Sonatina in A Minor are the playful Assabioa Jato ("Jet Whistle") by the Brazilian iconoclast Heitor Villa-Lobos and Child Song by the Cambodian-born Chinary Ung. Ung's piece, in fact, was commissioned by Rizzer for the ensemble a decade ago. Since then the underheralded Ung, who's taught in east-coast colleges, won the coveted Grawemeyer Award. The first and only time I heard Child Song I was struck by the skillful, unobtrusive way strands of Cambodian folk melodies were woven into a sparse Carterian texture. And the ensemble's performance was on the mark in suggesting the piquancy and exoticness of the music's southeastern Asian roots. A second hearing is overdue. Sunday, 3 PM, International House, University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th; 907-2190. TED SHEN

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