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Highline Chamber Ensemble at SubCulture

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. 

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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.