Jim Johnston is one of many people who truly believe that classical music is becoming more popular than ever.
“Concert audiences are always changing,” said Johnston, who plays the piano for the highly acclaimed Proteus Ensemble that will perform Wednesday in the latest of the UBS Atrium Series of free lunchtime concerts produced by the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center (HRPAC). The concert is set to begin at the UBS Financial Services headquarters in Weehawken at 12:30 p.m.
“The music industry is always in a state of flux and it’s in a particular state of flux right now with all the different styles of music,” Johnston said. “But for chamber music, intimate settings are always the best. I think chamber music is made for that setting and the interaction you have with the audience. I think we’re introducing our music to a variety of people and I think more and more people are becoming interested.”
The Proteus Ensemble, which takes its name from the Greek prophet god who was capable of assuming many forms, brings a fresh perspective to a wide variety of musical forms from the distant past to the present day.
“We create a whole different style out of the chamber repertoire,” Johnston said. “We formed about as broad of a range you can find. We get asked all the time about the name and I think that’s the reason. We’re never the same. We’re just hoping to be memorable.”
With its winds, strings and keyboard instruments, the Proteus Ensemble draws on its inherent diversity to create eclectic, yet coherent programs that include the classics of the standard repertoire and the many currents of recent music. The quintet often divides into smaller combinations allowing it to perform an even wider variety of repertoire that includes quartets, trios, duos, and solos.
“We can do duos and solos very easily to showcase a particular member,” Johnston said. “It adds to the variety of the program.”
The Proteus Ensemble will perform what they call, “Americans in Paris,” featuring the works of American composers George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, both of whom spent time learning their craft in France.
The group does their own arrangements of orchestral work, music that was created for as many as 13 instruments that is now compacted and arranged down to five instruments.
“There’s something to be gained by it,” said Johnston, who is joined by Alberto Carrini on the cello, Yuko Naito on the violin, Jennifer Grim on the flute and Gilad Harel on the clarinet. “It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun, doing different arrangements of different music.”
The group was formed while they were all studying classical music.
“The flutist, Jennifer, and I actually met at Yale eight years ago,” Johnston said. “We put the group together and found Yuko, who is another Yale grad. We played together at Aspen for three years and that was great. We’ve just evolved since then.”
The Proteus Ensemble is one of the country’s most respected mixed ensembles. After winning top prizes at Chamber Music Yellow Springs and the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, the quintet made its New York debut to a sold-out audience at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
Since then, Proteus has been in demand for concerts and master classes across the country, including their three-year stint as the Aspen Music Festival’s Contemporary Ensemble. Recent performance highlights include the ensemble’s Lincoln Center debut as part of the Great Performers Series, the Celebrity Series in St. George, Utah, and the British Art Museum at Yale University.
“We’ve been exploring a wide range of music for our performances,” Johnston said. “We’ve been performing at a variety of different places, like concert halls, but even churches, house concerts, wineries. I think the smaller settings are great. We want to try to bring younger people to the audiences. We love playing the older music, but we need to have the variety to attract the younger audiences as well. But any time classical music can get attention, I think we all benefit from it.”
The HRPAC’s production of The Proteus Ensemble, which will be held at the UBS Financial Services headquarters at 1000 Harbor Boulevard in Weehawken Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., is free and open to the general public. For the full schedule, directions, and additional information, please check the HRPAC web site www.hrpac.org or call the concert hotline at (201) 716-4540.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org