The Allegria Ensemble brings classical sounds to Centre County

The Allegria Ensemble performs in various combinations for concerts, educational programs and private events.
The Allegria Ensemble performs in various combinations for concerts, educational programs and private events. Photo provided

Most weeks, I focus this column on individual performers, bands, venues, album releases, various events and even album releases. This week is different.

Along with the diverse array or indie, rock, blues, bluegrass, jazz, Celtic and whatever else we have going on in our music community, we also have a classical ensemble, and a very good one at that: The Allegria Ensemble.

“We are a group of classical musicians who perform in various combinations for concerts, educational programs and private events,” Allegria violinist Debbie Trudeau said. “You’ll also see us in the local orchestras like Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra and Penn’s Woods Music Festival.”

The Allegria Ensemble’s core consist of five members, each of whom sits in and out of gigs depending on the needs of the venue and the music. They are: Trudeau, who plays violin and viola, Mark Minnich and Sally Williams Minnich, who play play violin, cellist Jon Dexter and Robyn Dixon Costa, who plays oboe and English horn.

It is a decidedly string ensemble, and by decidedly I mean it definitely is, which is interesting to note because a quick internet search of musical ensembles results in a lot of specificity regarding what constitutes a musical ensemble. There are different iterations, different sizes, different instrumentation and classical music certainly creates one of the most diverse webs of instrumentation.

“Personnel has changed over the years and now we have a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) and oboe to create interesting mix of combinations including quintet, quartet, trios and duos,” Trudeau said.

Musicians who play classical music are often really talented and very passionate about what they are playing, which makes sense. It’s hard music to learn, harder to compose and exhilarating to perform. My entry to classical music came via “Amadeus,” a movie that came out in the 1980s about Mozart. He was sensational, and that led me through Beethoven and then Bach, along with some others. Bach ultimately stuck with me because of how easily his compositions translate to the mandolin, but which I stopped trying to replicate after hearing Chris Thile’s Sublime album covering a collection of Bach sonatas.

“Classical music encompasses our western heritage and worldwide cultures spanning over 500 years,” Trudeau said. “It has amazing richness and depth, yet is always living and evolving. So many different emotions and colors are available. Can you imagine going to an art museum and seeing only one style on the wall?”

Tackling those diverse styles is art of the thrill of playing in a classical ensemble, an ensemble that is not particularly concerned with composing new classical music, but is often focused on the art of synthesizing a handful of complex musical parts to create a coherent whole. Members of The Allegria Ensemble relish the challenge.

“Playing in a small ensemble challenges us to do our best work,” Trudeau said. “There is no hiding behind the loud instruments or large section group. Playing with these particular musicians keeps me on my toes. We have a musical chemistry between us in all combinations that makes it a joy to do our work.”

Locally, The Allegria Ensemble enjoys playing all types of gigs, and will continue to do so as 2019 unfolds. Right now, the ensemble is taking a temporary breath of fresh air so a few members of the group can focus on the new additions in their families. But, when the ensemble gets back together it promises new music and an all access pass to the all-encompassing, all pervasive musical pocket.

“When it clicks, there’s a lightness to the work,” Trudeau said. “I imagine it’s like when a rider finds that moment with a great racehorse, letting the run effortlessly unfold. In our musical performances there are often moments of grace where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We share a musical journey as one heart and mind, creating a magical experience which our listeners get to share.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.