<i>James Lee is founding member and artistic director of the National Chamber Players, an ensemble composed of members from the National Symphony Orchestra and prominent guest artists. The group kicks off its annual concert series at Episcopal High School on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Lee, who plays cello with the Chamber Players and the National Symphony Orchestra, spoke about what audiences can expect from this year’s performances.</i>
<b>Introduce the National Chamber Players</b>.
The National Chamber Players was founded in 2004, and have been the resident chamber ensemble at Episcopal High School ever since. The NCP perform four concerts a years in Pendleton Hall, in the Ainslie Arts Center at Episcopal. The concerts feature ensembles ranging from solo instruments to chamber orchestra. Presenting "exceptionally intimate" performances, "played with consummate skill" (The Washington Post), the National Chamber Players are appreciated by critics and their devoted following for their innovative and balanced programs and their virtuoso performances. The NCP artists include members of the National Symphony Orchestra, along with prominent chamber artists from the Washington, D.C area, as well as from the nation and Europe.
<b>How were the members of this group chosen?</b>
The majority of the players are musicians in the National Symphony Orchestra. One of our regular members from outside the D.C. area is violinist Benny Kim, an exceptional musician from Kansas City. In the past five years, we have had guest artists from all over the world.
<b> How did the National Chamber Players initially get involved with Episcopal High School?</b>
At the time the Ainslie Arts Center was in its final building stage, I was teaching Steven Westerfield, an EHS student, and son of Helen Westerfield, the choral director at EHS. Helen gave me a tour of Pendleton Hall. I thought it would be a great venue to start a new chamber music series.
<b> What is special about the yearly series you perform at EHS?</b>
What I love about the concert series is that the NCP performs works that range from solo pieces to chamber orchestra works. Every year we try to do a benefit concert. Last season we performed the chamber version of Mahler's 4th Symphony with Leonard Slatkin conducting. All proceeds went to benefit the organization "Autism Speaks." The series also creates a platform for my wife (NSO violinist, Teri Lee) and me to play chamber music with some of the incredible musicians we went to school with 25 years ago!
<b> How did you select the pieces are you performing in the series' first concert?</b>
The first concert this season is an example of the variety of repertoire we try to offer: The Ravel Duo was written for violin and cello. The Beethoven Septet includes strings and woodwinds. Quite a contrast between the two works.
<b> What are you looking forward to the most in this year's series?</b>
One thing that I look forward to every year is seeing the students at EHS coming to the concerts and really enjoying them. Last year we performed Oliver Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time." The feedback from the students was amazing. Seeing the students react to hearing such a powerful piece of music for the first time is very exciting!
<b> At what other venues and events does the group perform?</b>
This season, the National Chamber Players will be performing in the Tamvenova Concert Series in Georgetown on Sept. 28. The NCP will also be performing at the St. Andrews School in Middleton, DE in February.
<b> What is your favorite cello piece to play and why?</b>
Being the Artistic Director definitely has its advantages. Many of the concerts are "cello friendly." This season, our final concert on May 5 will feature the Mendelssohn Octet, another great cello work. Our guest artists for this concert will include violinist Benny Kim, violist Daniel Foster and cellist Eric Kim.
<b> How does the work of the Chamber Players differ from the pieces you perform with the National Symphony Orchestra?</b>
Playing chamber music is so different than playing in an orchestra. The connection between the players on stage while playing chamber music is very close experience. Also, in a chamber performance you have so much more control over the music than you would in such a large group as an orchestra.
<b> What is the best part of performing in this series for you?</b>
One thing that is great about the series at EHS is that the concerts are free to the public. Pendleton Hall is one of the best chamber music halls in the D.C. area. Everyone who has played on the series in Pendleton has loved the hall. It would be great to get the word out to the Alexandria area about this wonderful hall and the free concerts. The Episcopal High School community has been so generous in presenting these free concerts for the students and the public.