Chamber music at its finest

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, eight string players from around the world, is heard on more than 30 records produced by major labels. The program they will perform Sunday at George Mason University Center for the Arts, a Brahms sextet and octets by Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, is one that thrills audiences everywhere.

The instrumentalists are members of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra based at the church by the same name in London's Trafalgar Square. It has been regarded as one of the world's foremost ensembles since its founding in 1959 by Sir Neville Marriner as a string group without a conductor.

Cellist Stephen Orton explains that the Chamber Ensemble, one of three ensembles within the Chamber Orchestra, plays about half of each season with the larger group. In that configuration, they regularly tour with violinist Joshua Bell, who was appointed music director last season, pianist Murray Perahia, the principal guest conductor, and guest artists. In the tradition begun by Marriner, the leader does not conduct from a podium but from a seat onstage.

The Chamber Ensemble engagements this season involve tours across Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan. As manager of these tours, Orton is responsible for such details as hotels, car rentals and plane tickets.

Onstage
The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
When: 4 p.m. Sunday; 3:15 p.m. preperformance discussion on the Center's Grand Tier III
Info: $25 to $50; 888-945-2468; cfa.gmu.edu

"It's a bit easier traveling in a small group because the eight of us jump off the plane and into two rental cars. We always offer three or four programs wherever we go and especially enjoy starting with the Brahms because it begins a bit slowly, giving the feeling that we're starting on a journey together," he said. "The Shostakovich and Mendelssohn works were written while both composers were teenagers, so we love surprising the audiences with them.

"The wonderful part about playing in the Chamber Ensemble is how much we enjoy our music and seeing that the audience is enjoying it equally," he said. "We're not just going through the motions but are playing each work exactly how it should be heard."

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