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Germany’s great vocalist Ute Lemper carries the torch of Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, and Edith Piaf with her stylish command of cabaret songs, street ballads, and musical theater staples from the 1930s and 1940s.

It could be said that Orpheus Chamber Orchestra carries its own torch as a “conductorless” orchestra that has earned widespread acclaim. The ensemble has presented audiences at the Williams Center for the Arts with many inspired collaborations with guest artists, from countertenor Andreas Scholl and bassist Edgar Meyer to saxophonist Branford Marsalis and violinist Gil Shaham. Perhaps the boldest and most memorable of these pairings will occur 8 p.m. tonight, when Orpheus and the sultry German cabaret singer Lemper share the Williams Center stage to perform songs in an excursion through the gritty cultural terrain of Europe between the two great wars.

Arnold Schoenberg’s masterful Chamber Symphony No. 2 and Erwin Schulhoff’s haunting Chamber Symphony are part of this important musical retrospective, along with Lemper’s unrivaled touch with songs of Kurt Weill, Jacques Prévert, and Hans Eissler. Tickets cost $32 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

Orpheus also will appear at the Williams Center with heralded young pianist Jonathan Biss 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6, in the annual J. Mahlon and Grace Buck Concert, and will premiere a commissioned work for clarinetist David Singer 8 p.m. Thursday, April 7.

A recipient of Billboard magazine’s Crossover Artist of the Year award and an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Lemper has made her mark on the stage, in films, in concert, and as a unique recording artist and interpreter of Berlin Cabaret songs, the works of Kurt Weill, and French chanson. Her professional debut on the musical stage was in the original Vienna production of Cats in the roles Grizabella & Bombalurina. She went on to play Peter in Peter Pan (Berlin) and Sally Bowles in Jérôme Savary’s Cabaret (Paris), for which she received the Molière Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She played Lola in The Blue Angel (Berlin) and Maurice Bejart created a ballet for her, La Mort Subite (Paris). Ute also appeared in Kurt Weill Revue with the Pina Bausch Tanztheater.

Her solo concerts have been produced throughout the world at prestigious venues such as La Scala, Piccolo Teatro (Milan), Théâtre de la Ville, Theatre National de Chaillot, Les Bouffes du Nord (Paris), Palao de la Musica (Barcelona), The Sydney Opera House (Australia), Berliner Ensemble (Germany), Barbican, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Almeida Theatre (London), Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center (New York), Tanglewood (Massachusetts), The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Herbst Theatre (San Francisco) and The Westwood Playhouse (Los Angeles).

Lemper’s symphony concerts include “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “Songs from Kurt Weill,” “Songbook,” and “Songs from Piaf & Dietrich” with The London Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Berlin Symphony Orchestra, The Paris Radio Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, The ” Illusions ” Orchestra, and The Michael Nyman Band. She also appeared in “Folksongs” with the Luciano Berio Orchestra and with The Matrix Ensemble performing Berlin Cabaret songs.

Her many film credits include L’Autrichienne, Prospero’s Books, Moscow Parade, Prêt á Porter, Bogus, Combat de Fauves, A River Made to Drown In, and Appetite. She has appeared on television in Rage/Outrage, The Dreyfus Affair, Tales from the Crypt, Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill, Illusion, Songbook, The Wall, and The Look of Love.

Williams Center audiences enjoy Orpheus’ final polishing of its award-winning recording projects, major international tours, and numerous Carnegie Hall programs. The series has included many guest appearances by musicians later showcased by Orpheus at Carnegie Hall. Local audiences have been treated to musicians unlikely to be heard in other roles: pianists Jeffrey Kahane, Andre Watts, Cecile Licad, and Olli Mustonen; violinists Shaham and Elmar Oliveira; vocalists Scholl, Nathalie Stutzman, Milagro Vargas, and Carmen Pelton; and bassist Meyer.

Recognized internationally as one of the world’s great chamber orchestras, Orpheus celebrates its 32nd season with concert activity spanning three continents, including appearances in major cities of North America, Europe, and Asia. The centerpiece of each Orpheus season is its five-concert series at Carnegie Hall.

Accompanying the critical acclaim for the orchestra’s live appearances are numerous distinctions and awards, including a 2001 Grammy Award for Shadow Dances: Stravinsky Miniatures, three 1999 Grammy Awards for its jazz-inspired Ravel and Gershwin collaboration with Herbie Hancock, a 1998 Grammy nomination for its recording of Mozart piano concertos with Richard Goode, and the 1998 “Ensemble of the Year” award by Musical America.

Orpheus was founded in 1972 by cellist Julian Fifer and a group of fellow musicians who aspired to perform chamber orchestral repertory as chamber music through their own close collaborative efforts, and without a conductor. Orpheus developed its approach to the study and performance of this repertory by bringing to the orchestral setting the chamber music principles of personal involvement and mutual respect. Orpheus is a self-governing organization, making the repertory and interpretive decisions ordinarily assumed by a conductor. Holt/NY Times Books published a book about Orpheus and its management model, Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestra, written by former Orpheus executive director Harvey Seifter and business writer Peter Economy.

Members of Orpheus have received recognition for solo, chamber music, and orchestral performances. Of the 18 string and 10 wind players who comprise the basic membership of Orpheus, many also hold teaching positions at prominent conservatories and universities in the New York and New England areas, including Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Montclair State University, Mannes College of Music, and Columbia and Yale Universities.

The Orpheus recording legacy consists of nearly 70 albums. Included in the catalogue of over 50 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon are Baroque masterworks of Handel, Corelli, and Vivali, Haydn symphonies, Mozart symphonies and serenades, the complete Mozart wind concerti with Orpheus members as soloists, Romantic works by Dvorák, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky, and a number of 20th-century classics by Bartók, Prokofiev, Fauré, Ravel, Schoenberg, Ives, Copland and Stravinsky. Recent collaborations include a recording of English and American folk songs with countertenor Andreas Scholl (Decca); Creation, a jazz-inspired CD of classics from 1920s Paris with saxophonist Branford Marsalis (SONY Classical); and a critically acclaimed series of recordings of Mozart piano concertos with Richard Goode (Nonesuch).

During the 2003-04 season, Orpheus performed with some of the world’s finest soloists in concerts at Carnegie Hall and on tour in the United States and Europe: Watts, Meyer, Jennifer Larmore, Sarah Chang, and Zhang Qiang. Orpheus also presented the New York premieres of works by Meyer and Tan Dun. It continued its series of concerts at Trinity Church and its educational programs at Baruch College/CUNY and in New York City elementary, middle, and high schools. The season marked the launch of a major new multimedia outreach program, 3 Places, designed to bring composers together with diverse communities throughout New York City.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2004-05 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, J. Mahlon and Grace Buck Foundation, and Croasdale Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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