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Consort concert at Lied has sumptuous moments

By JOHN CUTLER / For The Lincoln Journal Star


Just about every type of violin ever created was heard Thursday when the Hutchins Consort took the stage at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. The Hutchins Consort has a local tie: University of Nebraska-Lincoln music faculty member Hans Sturm plays bass with the ensemble.

The instruments played by the Consort are all violins. These include the treble, soprano, mezzo, viola, alto, tenor, baritone, bass and contrabass. The unity of sound stood out in the opening “Romanian Folk Dances” of Bela Bartok.


The Leos Janacek “Suite for Strings” was well-received by the 700 patrons at the Lied. The Suite’s ravishing second movement was pulled like taffy by ensemble members, bringing smiles on patron faces.


The world premiere of Henry Brant’s “Climates” was arranged for the Hutchins Consort by group conductor and contrabassist Joe McNalley. Sections of the ensemble were spread across the front of the Lied hall. The spatial harmony was intriguing, but patrons seemed to dislike the dissonances, offering but lukewarm applause.


More traditional music completed the evening’s bill. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s popular “Hodie Christus Natus Est” is a choir Christmas favorite but sounded equally as warm and richly polytonal with the consort’s violins.


McNalley’s arrangement of the Samuel Barber “Adagio for Strings” has become the Consort’s signature piece. It resonated with all the trappings of a full string orchestra as the violins slowly bowed their way through the sumptuous work.


The George Gershwin “Summertime” got strong applause as several soloists in the group took on solo roles. The evening’s bill closer was “Ghost Riders in the Sky” with a Western twang that got smiles from the crowd. The house came to its feet and offered heavy applause for the Consort, and the group obliged with an encore.

On Tour:

“…these eight musicians have been crafting their skills throughout their lives, and the passion and creativity they demonstrate through playing their violins is truly inspiring.”

 -Sara Larabee, Bryant University, Smithfield, Rhode Island


“Where the instruments worked best was in modern pieces that took advantage of their acoustical properties.  Brant’s “Consort for True Violins” opened with ruminative solos and duos that demonstrated each instrument’s voice; roiling ensemble passages had a surprising transparency.  In Mr. Otto’s newly composed “Castor and Pollux” high-pitched violins playing in their lowest ranges were paired with lower counterparts played at extreme highs, producing rich concords and throbbing overtones.”

 -Steve Smith, New York Times


“The Hutchins Consort, a string octet from Southern California, appeared at the Ortiz Festival to entertain the public in Alamos, Sonora, with a program titled “Music of the Californios.”  The thirty-two strings (of the eight violins) elicited unceasing, enthusiastic applause for each of the pieces they performed on the instruments designed and crafted by the luthier Carleen Hutchins.  Without doubt this was a very special evening for the Festival and a dazzling presentation by an invited ensemble.”

 -EHUI!, Sonora, Mexico


“From the first note, their bright and graceful sound filled the theater.  The musical talent of the group was obvious; the artistry flowing from one musician to another with great command of their instruments.  The concert ended to huge applause and standing ovations.”

 -Sierra Barroza, Sacramento Press


At Home:

”Hearing the instruments, most people are surprised as to the volume produced by the eight instruments.  The octet’s mezzo violin, which corresponds in tuning to a regular violin, can be as loud as three of the traditional instruments.  An ostinato played on the contrabass can give the impression that timpani is doubling the line behind the stringed instrument.  And the compatibility of timbre increases the overall voice of the ensemble, blending to produce a choir-like richness.  McNalley says the consort is “like an organ made of strings, like one super instrument.”  With just eight instruments, the consort can achieve the volume of a chamber orchestra, with the soprano and treble violins adding brightness not normally found in a string ensemble.”

 -Paul Hormick, San Diego Troubador

“There’s no question that this ensemble has carved out a unique niche, but success depends upon talent—and that’s in abundance in this group.  All of the music the Consort played had to be specially arranged for their unusual instrumentation.  The full house received the performance warmly and was rewarded with an encore—a tango, no less.  An inventive chamber music group like this has attracted an enthusiastic audience and recently won national attention, receiving an NEA grant to boot.”

 -Rick Stein, Executive Director, Arts OC

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