The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (founded 1972) is a Grammy Award-winning classical music chamber orchestra based in New York City. It is known for its collaborative leadership style in which the musicians, not a conductor, interpret the score.
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1972 by Julian Fifer and a group of like-minded young musicians determined to combine the intimacy and warmth of a chamber ensemble with the richness of an orchestra. With 71 albums, including the Grammy Award-winning Shadow Dances: Stravinsky Miniatures, and 42 commissioned and premiered original works, Orpheus rotates musical leadership roles for each work, and strives to perform diverse repertoire through collaboration and open dialogue.
Performing without a conductor, Orpheus presents an annual series at Carnegie Hall and tours extensively to major national and international venues.
Collaborators of Orpheus include Isaac Stern, Gidon Kremer, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky, Emanuel Ax, Richard Goode, Alicia de Larrocha, Radu Lupu, Martha Argerich, Alfred Brendel, Horacio Gutierrez, Murray Perahia, Peter Serkin, Mitsuko Uchida, Tatiana Troyanos, Martin Fröst, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maureen Forrester, Frederica von Stade, Peter Schreier, Anne Sofie von Otter, Dawn Upshaw, and Renée Fleming. Orpheus has premiered works by Elliott Carter, Jacob Druckman, Mario Davidovsky, Michael Gandolfi, William Bolcom, Osvaldo Golijov, Fred Lerdahl, Gunther Schuller, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Susan Botti, David Rakowski, Bruce Adolphe, Peter Lieberson, Elizabeth Brown, Wayne Shorter, Brad Mehldau, and Han Yong.
Individual members of Orpheus have received recognition for solo, chamber music, and orchestral performances. Of the 30 players who comprise the basic membership of Orpheus, many also hold teaching positions at conservatories and universities in the New York and New England areas, including Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Columbia, Yale, Mannes College of Music, Montclair State University, and the Hartt School. Orpheus musicians also hold posts with other orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, American Composer's Orchestra, Met Opera Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and New York City Ballet Orchestra. Orpheus members serve on the administrative staff as well as on the Board of Directors.
The Orpheus has recorded over 70 albums. Their extensive catalog for Deutsche Grammophon includes Baroque masterworks of Handel, Corelli and Vivaldi, Haydn symphonies, Mozart symphonies and serenades, the complete Mozart wind concerti with Orpheus members as soloists, Romantic works by Dvořák, Grieg and Tchaikovsky and a number of twentieth-century classics by Bartók, Prokofiev, Fauré, Ravel, Schoenberg, Ives, Copland, and Stravinsky. Recent releases include a recording of English and America folk songs with countertenor Andreas Scholl (Decca); Creation, a collection the Impressionist music from 1920's Paris with saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Sony Classical); a series of recordings of Mozart's greatest piano concerti with Richard Goode (Nonesuch); and a vigorous reading of The Four Seasons with Sarah Chang (EMI Classics). A collection of Mozart piano concerti with Jonathan Biss was released in 2008, also on EMI Classics, and in 2014 Orpheus released its first self-produced album containing Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 recorded live at Carnegie Hall.
Orpheus has embarked on many extensive tours of the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, and Japan.
Orpheus has trademarked its signature mode of operation, the Orpheus Process™, a method that places democracy at the center of artistic execution. It has been the focus of studies at Harvard and Stanford, and of leadership seminars at Morgan Stanley and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, among others. Two unique education and engagement programs, Access Orpheus and Orpheus Institute, aim to bring this approach to students of all ages.
Access Orpheus, Orpheus' educational initiative, shares the orchestra's collaborative music-making process with public school students from all five boroughs in New York City. Because of declining resources for arts education, many public schools do not have access to fulltime arts teachers to provide music instruction and exposure to art and culture. Access Orpheus helps to bridge this gap with in-class visits, attendance at working rehearsal, and free tickets for performances at Carnegie Hall.
Orpheus Institute brings the Orpheus Process and the orchestra's musicians to select colleges, universities, and conservatories to work directly with musicians and leaders of tomorrow. Students in all fields of study learn from Orpheus' creative process and in areas of collaboration, communication, creative problem solving, and shared leadership. In the coming seasons Orpheus will continue to share its leadership methods and performance practices as the ensemble provides its audiences with the highest level of musicianship and programming.
Orpheus as a democratic workplace:
In March 2007, Orpheus became one of the first winners of the Worldwide Award for the Most Democratic Workplaces sponsored by WorldBlu, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based organization specializing in organizational democracy.
Since its inception, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has been dedicated to expanding the chamber orchestra repertoire and inspiring listeners with new perspectives. To date, the orchestra has commissioned and presented 39 new works, the majority by American composers and many of who were in the beginnings of their careers. The orchestra's conductorless model can offer young composers a unique collaborative partner in exploration where greater experimentation and immediate feedback is possible. By fostering the creation of new music, Orpheus builds on its ongoing commitment to challenge artistic boundaries and create new avenues for interaction between musicians, audiences, and composers.
Within the past decade, Orpheus successfully presented the The New Brandenburgs program, engaging six composers to create six new works for the orchestra. Each composer was joined with one of Bach's iconic Brandenburg Concertos and was asked to compose a new piece inspired by the original. Following the completion of The New Brandenburgs, Orpheus launched its Project 440 initiative that commissioned four emerging composers chosen by a diverse group of advisors through a nationwide selection process. The four composers included Cynthia Wong, Clint Needham, Andrew Norman, and Alex Mincek, all of whom have continued their careers with great success. Orpheus was proud to offer these talented composers space and time to create a new work with a collaborative orchestra, and was thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from audiences and critics alike to Project 440.