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Founders will bring a ‘grab bag’ of instruments and styles to Logan Chamber Music Series

In the classical repertoire, most standard combinations of instruments have matured over centuries. The string quartet is nearly 300 years old. The first known wind quintet was written sometime in the 18th century. The modern symphony orchestra, though it continues to expand and evolve, appeared during Beethoven’s time.

But what about an ensemble whose members are a clarinet, a trumpet, a violin, a cello and a double bass?

“There is no historical precedent there, and I guess that’s exactly why we’re doing it,” said Founders trumpeter Brandon Ridenour. “This is a grab bag of instruments that we arrived at and we like the sound spectrum that this group has.”

At 4 p.m. Monday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Founders will present the final edition of this season’s Logan Chamber Music Series. The program will comprise Founders’ signature set list of classical adaptations, improvisation and original songs.

Because of the group’s unusual instrumentation, Ridenour arranges and adapts existing classical works for the group to perform.

Founders

“We’re taking lots of classical masterworks and kind of reclassifying them, or declassifying them,” Ridenour said. “It’s not usually a straight-up transcription.”

Instead of transplanting classical works note-for-note into a new arrangement, Ridenour likes to add a “twist,” usually mixing in some other stylistic influence.

“You’ll have a piece by Bach, but it’s Bach in the style of New Orleans jazz or something,” Ridenour said.

One of the new arrangements on the program will be Ridenour’s take on the “Romanian Folk Dances” by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

“Now they’ve become ‘Romanian Funk Dances,’ ” Ridenour said.

Bartók’s original six-movement suite for solo piano has already been adapted for string orchestra, violin and piano, and other combinations of instruments. Ridenour’s version takes Bartók’s dance-inspired rhythms and makes them “a little funkier.”

According to Ridenour, pieces like the Bartók are perfect for adaptation because they’re so sparse and leave plenty of room for creative twists.

“I remember playing that piece when I was younger,” Ridenour said. “He really only used the notes that were necessary.”

Ridenour also needs to be able to imagine the other members of Founders playing a piece before he commits to arranging it.

“When I come across a piece where I can without a doubt envision these musicians playing it, then I want to write it,” Ridenour said. “If I can’t envision the piece working, then I just respect that and don’t touch it.”

According to Ridenour, the group’s instrumentation lets them convincingly explore a wide swath of genres, from folk to funk to jazz. For example, Ridenour’s arrangement of the last movement from Samuel Barber’s “Excursions” magnifies the piece’s fiddling square dance ethos.

“In its original form, it sounded weird to me on the piano,” Ridenour said. “I thought it should be a fiddle tune, so we kind of turned it into that.”

Ridenour, along with clarinetist Yoonah Kim and bassist Kris Saebo, can also explore jazz idioms within the quintet.

“We can go down the jazz road a little bit just by virtue of our instruments and their versatility,” Ridenour said.

Some of Founders’ members take on other duties within the ensemble. Ben Russell is a violinist, vocalist and one of the group’s lead songwriters. Some of Russell’s songs will be sprinkled throughout Monday’s concert, time permitting.

“When we started the group, the ideas was anybody who wanted to could bring a song they were working on and we would play it whenever we were rehearsing,” Ridenour said.

That’s why Ridenour thinks Founders, with its eclectic instrumentation, creative openness and conservatory-trained musicians, functions more like a mainstream singer-songwriter group.

“The group has a versatile sound that we’re still developing,” Ridenour said. “That enables us to be both a band and a classical chamber ensemble.”

Tags : Elizabeth S. Lenna HallFoundersLogan Chamber Music Seriesweek nine
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The author Philip de Oliveira

Philip de Oliveira reports on the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Logan Chamber Music Series for the Daily. He is the Walton D. Clarke Fellow at NPR member station 89.7 WKSU in Kent, Ohio, where he has filed stories for local newscasts and statewide for Ohio Public Radio. He occasionally contributes to Cleveland Scene magazine and Cool Cleveland.

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