"Handel and Eggs" Preview - The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players Come to the City Winery

The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players (cp2) will serve up a heaping portion of Handel, Mozart, and J.C. Bach at City Winery, 1200 W Randolph Street, Chicago in a program entitled “Handel & Eggs”, on Sunday, November 20th at noon.

Rose Armbrust Griffin, Steven Houser, Deb Stevenson, Thomas Yang


 The Chicago Philharmonic Society is a collaboration of over 200 of the highest-level classical musicians performing in the Chicago metropolitan area. Governed under a groundbreaking structure of musician leadership, the Society presents concerts at venues throughout the Chicago area that cover the full spectrum of classical music, from Bach to Britten and beyond. The Society’s orchestra, known simply as the Chicago Philharmonic, has been called “one of the country’s finest symphonic orchestras” (Chicago Tribune), and its unique chamber music ensembles, which perform as the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players (cp2), draw from its vast pool of versatile musicians.

The Chicago Philharmonic; photo by Elliot Mandel


 The program for the concert is as follows:


G.F. Handel: “The Arrival of Queen Sheba” from Solomon

Alessandro Marcello: Concerto for Oboe and Strings in C minor (feat. in The Firm)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Quartet for Oboe and Strings in F Major, K370

Ennio Morricone: “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission

J.C. Bach: Quartet in Bb Major

Jean Francaix: Quatuor for English Horn and Strings

James Stephenson: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

                                                 Jacob Gade: Gypsy Tango


The performers in the quartet are:

Deb Stevenson, Oboe

Thomas Yang, Violin

Rose Armbrust Griffin, Viola

Steven Houser

The Metropolis Oboe Quartet

Deb Stevenson has been a freelance oboist in the Chicago area for over twenty years. In addition to her work with the Metropolis Oboe Quartet & Symphony, she also performs frequently with the Chicago Philharmonic, Lake Forest Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Apollo Chorus. Deb can be heard on recordings including Strauss’s “Alpine Symphony” and Stravinsky’s complete “Firebird” with the Chicago Symphony. Deb teaches at Wheaton College and maintains her own active teaching studio Violinist Thomas Yang is familiar to his audiences through his work as concertmaster of Metropolis Symphony, as well as the violinist of Metropolis Oboe Quartet and Trio Capriccio and first violinist of the Chicago Classical String Quartet. Mr. Yang is a member of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and has performed with the Chicago Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and many other musical organizations. Mr. Yang’s solo performances have included works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Massenet, Vivaldi, Ysaye, and Vaughan Williams.


Violist Rose Armbrust Griffin received her Bachelor of Music from The Juilliard School, Artist Diploma from The Curtis Institute of Music and Master of Music from Indiana University. Rose is currently a member of the Chicago Philharmonic and The Lake Forest Symphony. Rose’s chamber music performances include concerts at The Kennedy Center, Avery Fischer Hall, and Ravinia’s Steans Institute. Currently, she is an active member of the International Chamber Artists, The Jupiter Chamber Players, and the Metropolis Oboe Quartet.


Steven Houser began playing the cello at age 13, teaching himself for a period of 6 years. He began formal lessons at the onset of his college years, first at Olivet College in Michigan, and then at DePaul University in Chicago, studying on scholarship with Frank Miller. Mr. Houser currently plays principal cello with the Metropolis Oboe Quartet and Metropolis Symphony as well as with the Lake Forest Symphony, Park Ridge Orchestra, and is also a member of the Chicago Philharmonic and the Grant Park Symphony.                        

The Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players; Thomas Yang, Rose Armrest Griffin, Steven Houser and Deb Stevenson; photo by Alan McConnell Photography


A Discussion with the Performers

This reviewer had the opportunity to meet with the Quartet, observe part of their rehearsal and interview them about their work, their collaboration and the upcoming concert.


Driving into the leafy campus of Wheaton College, stately Edson Chapel hove into view. Its wide halls are preternaturally quiet and seem empty on this weekday morning until, rounding a corridor, the baroque strains of  “Quartet for Oboe and Strings” can be heard. I enter a large white- walled sunny windowed room with a piano at the back and the Metropolis Oboe Quartet in the foreground. Deb Stevenson looks up with a grin, “We’re playing a little Mozart”, she confides. I sit and listen.


"This scene could be taking place in a palace hundreds of years ago", I muse. I take in  the four talented musicians, the violin, viola, cello and oboe confidently held, the earnest heads bent, the lilting strains swirling in my ears. Over the course of the next hour, I am graciously invited to make requests! I select the Handel piece and then “Gypsy Tango”- a private mini concert- what luxury!


 It all sounds perfect to me, but I observe and inquire a bit as one by one the performers make suggestions to each other, redo a portion, revise their approach, and work together to fine-tune the pieces for the lucky audience at the upcoming performance. These people obviously are very comfortable with each other and thoroughly understand the music; they have no trouble refining their playing; there is little need to define terms. Not so for me. At one point, for example, Steve Houser indicates a portion sounds “too crunchy”- they work it out. “What does crunchy mean?” I dare to ask. He wields his bow swiftly over the cello in demonstration, and replies, “Oh, you know, crunchy!”


I address a few questions to each of them before they sail off into the afternoon. Violist Rose Armbrust Griffin talks about the unusual programming she enjoys playing with the International Chamber Artists; “There’s a lot of new music”. She advises that because she and her colleagues are all so busy as artists the most daunting professional challenge is finding time to practice alone; “It’s of paramount importance”. She suggests people come to the concert to hear, if nothing else, “The Marcello adagio or the Mozart second movement”. Then she dashes off.

Steven Houser, Rose Armbrust Griffin, Deb Stevenson, Thomas Yang

Thomas Yang, who effortlessly helped solve the “crunching” problem by directing the group’s efforts tackling the Mozart, mentions one of the most incisive moments in his career. He “almost quit the violin to start a tee-shirt business”- thankfully, he thought better of it. He tells me about the development of the Metropolis Oboe Quartet and the Metropolis Symphony, for which he performs as concertmaster. “A concertmaster is a liaison from conductor to orchestra”. He describes how he “creates the bowing”. Asked about his myriad activities, he allows that he is well organized. “I do well in organizations”, he admits with a smile.


Steven Houser, cellist, talked about how he tackles a new piece. “First, I isolate the problem areas, and practice those. You can only play as fast as you can play the difficult passages”. He explains the difference between improvisation and ornamentation. “When you’ve arranged a piece yourself, you can add interest. When you’re learning, you’re chained to the piece”. Interpreting, he says, is “Phrasing…deciding what shape a piece should take.” About the upcoming concert, he said he believes “Everybody will leave having loved something; it’s a diverse program”.


Deb Stevenson is the oboe player for the Metropolis Oboe Quartet. At Wheaton College, she gives oboe lessons and teaches “An immersive course for band leaders”. She has just switched instruments, is still getting used to the new Royale Loree’ and currently has with it  “A love-hate relationship- it depends on the reeds”. She’s been playing with Steve and Tom for 14 years, with Rose for 3; they are all “Best friends”, and have a 67-piece repertoire. As for the City Winery, she comments, "They feature chamber music in the afternoon and rock at night." When asked about her expectations for the concert on November 20th, she chuckles, “Food, wine and music- what could be better?”

Deb Stevenson


 Doors open at 11:00 A.M., and brunch will be available for purchase before and during the performance. Casual attire is encouraged.


“Handel & Eggs” is the second concert in the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players (cp2) Fall 2016 Series at City Winery Chicago. The third and final concert in the series will be “St. Nick in Shades II” on December 18th.


For information about this and other great programs by the Chicago Philharmonic and it’s artists, and for tickets, go to the Chicago Philharmonic website




Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of The Metropolis Oboe Quartet


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