by Nick Stubblefield
Singer Karen Marie with the Highline Chamber Ensemble
The Highline Chamber Ensemble, which typically performs in lofts, bars, and studios throughout NYC, played to a packed SubCulture on Tuesday with a dynamite show that crossed genres from tango, to musicals, to jazz standards. In the process, they made me throw away all of my preconceptions of what a chamber music concert is supposed to be.
The group brands themselves a "conductorless orchestra," with a full string section, piano, and drum kit. They opened with a lush, jazzy mashup of the standard "Nature Boy" with RJD2's "A Beautiful Mine," better known as the noir-ish trip-hop theme from the TV show "Mad Men." It was a strikingly effective blend, both harmonically and in terms of mood. It was performed by Karen Marie, a powerful songstress with major stage presence and vocal qualities reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. Marie also fronted the group for a lush arrangement of Billie Holiday's "Crazy He Calls Me."
All of the ensemble members are classically-trained, which became apparent in Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." The work, inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons, incorporates elements of the tango; the ensemble played with both great precision and furious energy. Violinists Bela Horvath and David Lisker alternated as featured soloists, each delivering confident and awe-inspiring performances.
Next up was a fun, dance-y interpretation of Henry Mancini's "Meglio Stasera," from the Pink Panther. Marie took the stage again, this time in a bright red dress, and engaged in some joyous musical interplay with Horvath. She also sang the Irving Berlin/Kay Thompson tune, "I Love a Violin, I Love a Piano," which bursted with energy. The program closed with Piazzolla's, "Libertango," with a dash of the "Mad Men" theme for flavor.
The Highline Chamber Ensemble delivered a dynamic and engaging show, with the musical chops to please the most discriminating classical fans, and the accessibility to entertain just about anyone.