For our 20th anniversary season, we wanted
to do music that we liked," explains flutist David Wechsler,
a native of Midwood and founder of the Omni Ensemble, which has
brought chamber music of all stripes to enthusiastic Brooklyn
audiences for two decades.
Omni Ensemble’s upcoming concert, Feb. 1 at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, pits two giants of the 18th and early 19th centuries - Bach and Beethoven - with a triumvirate of French composers from the 20th century - Claude Debussy, Albert Roussel and Jacques Ibert.
The eclectic program is par for the course for the ensemble, as Wechsler says, "One of the reasons I started this group to begin with is that there are certain contemporary and 20th-century music that people would want to hear." Along with Wechsler, the Omni Ensemble includes cellist Sara Wollan - who’s been with the group for four seasons, and pianist Jim Lahti, a composer who joined the ensemble at the beginning of last season. (Wechsler and pianist John Creek started the group in 1983.)
Pairing weighty works by two acknowledged masters with lesser-known but no less forceful music by three 20th-century Frenchmen is typical of the ensemble’s programming method: its first concert this season included works by Ravel and Richard Strauss alongside Norman Dello Joio’s 1948 Trio and pianist Lahti’s own Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano.
Wechsler enjoys finding works that fit the players’ sensibilities, including the guest artists for this concert, violist Sam Kephart and harpist Laura Sherman.
"The Bach G-minor sonata (originally for flute and harpsichord) is done with a transcription for harp," he notes. "Since the pedaled harp is relatively recent invention - it came into use in the mid-19th century - there’s no baroque music written specifically for it."
Also being performed in a transcription for harp is Ibert’s "Entr’acte," a lovely miniature originally composed for flute and guitar. The Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp and the Roussel Trio for Flute, Viola and Cello are being performed, because, as the flutist says, "they’re for odd combinations of instruments, and are really beautiful pieces to hear."
Interestingly, Wechsler and Wollan have never performed in concert the second Beethoven sonata for piano and cello - marked by a lengthy and exquisite first movement adagio - which should only add excitement to their interpretation.
The ensemble plays in the intimate confines of the renovated concert hall at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where Wechsler is a member of the faculty. With 100 seats, he considers it "the perfect size for this kind of music."
After 20 years of performing for loyal audiences in Brooklyn - he also plays flute in the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra - Wechsler weighs in on the continuing debate over the supposed demise of classical music.
"I don’t think classical music is dying," he states. "I think it goes through phases, and part of the problem is that there’s a proliferation of other entertainment sources that continue growing. There are many things competing for what is essentially a finite audience.
"But it’s not an entirely dead issue," he continues. "Opera is growing, and has been for the last 10 years. And with ’La Boheme’ on Broadway and Mark Morris’ version of ’The Nutcracker’ [’The Hard Nut’] at BAM, it opens up standard pieces to new audiences with a new look and sensibility. I think there’s hope.’
Part of that hope is a musical group that Wechsler has helped form at the Conservatory of Music.
"We’ve started a community group, and there’s been a big response from people looking to participate in the music in a more hands-on fashion," he explains. "This, in turn, makes them better audience participants. The biggest challenge is to get a response from the younger generation, which we are - we’re getting a range from high school kids to adults in their 50s."
Such groups take Wechsler back to his youth: "When I was growing up in Brooklyn, there were several groups like this, including one in Borough Park that I played in. Education is the key, and we are now bringing music education to schools. It’s music through the ages, from baroque to contemporary."
Through concerts and teaching, Wechsler is trying to ensure that audiences of all ages enjoy the delights that classical music can bring.
"When you’re young, you think it’s old-fashioned," he says, "but that always changes the more you learn, the more you know and the more you hear."
The Omni Ensemble, with guest artists
Laura Sherman and Sam Kephart, performs music by Bach, Beethoven,
Debussy, Roussel and Ibert at 8 pm on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the
Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, 58 Seventh Ave. at Lincoln Place
in Park Slope. Tickets are $15, $12 students and senior citizens.
For more information, visit www.omnien