In 1971, a group of members of the Greenwich Philharmonia, now the Greenwich Symphony, sought an opportunity to play together in an intimate setting and share the music they loved with the community. The Chamber Players was borne.
Vincent Lionti, son of founding member Victor Lionti (viola), recalled the Chamber Players’ first rehearsal. “I was about ten at the time. I was with my father and Dorothy Happel, Helen Law [violins] and Gretchen Belknap [cello], and we all went next door to a neighbor’s house because she had a good piano. They were working on the Fauré Quartet in C Minor. John Nelson was the pianist. He was music director of the Greenwich Philharmonia at the time. They were all very excited about it.”
“Vinnie” joined the Chamber Players from time to time as a guest artist. He was a member of the viola section of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from 1986 until his death in 2020.
The group began that first season in 1971 with a three-concert series on Sunday afternoons at the Greenwich Library, and were soon performing at several Greenwich Churches and in nearby communities. In 1983, Mary Radcliffe became president of the Greenwich Symphony and offered the Chamber Players support and encouragement. She describes the group as “superb musicians, unique in their personality and liveliness.”
As the group grew, it garnered great reviews. Greenwich Time music critic John Sweeney wrote: “The Chamber Players emerged as a brilliant band of virtuosi.” He characterized the musicians’ performances as “flawless, graceful, poetic, intense, intriguing, agile—a knockout.”
“A strong component of their musicianship is the obvious camaraderie of the group. It suffuses these performances,” wrote another Greenwich Time reviewer, Marion White, “and shows their professionalism, dedication to their music and generosity in sharing their gifts with others.”
Throughout the years the Chamber Players have given concerts in partnership with the Bruce Museum, Cos Cob Library, First Congregational Church of Old Greenwich, Alliance Française, Edgehill Retirement Community and Greenwich Library. In 1990 it helped the town of Greenwich celebrate its 350th anniversary by presenting a program of works by composers William Schuman, Myron Fink, Arthur Kelley, Quinto Maganini, Rob Mathes, Constance Walton and Alec Templeton, all of whom had ties to Greenwich. Guest artists often join the group, and during the past fifty years it has amassed a cumulative repertoire of over 350 works.
In 2001, the Chamber Players separated from the Greenwich Symphony, taking the name The Chamber Players of the Greenwich Symphony, with its own board of directors and responsibility for its funding. It maintains close ties with the Symphony, and the two organizations continue to promote each other’s concerts and cooperate in numerous ways.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of many of the 2020–2021 season’s concerts. But to the joy of the musicians and a small audience—all masked—the group was able to perform two live concerts in April 2021 as well as virtual concerts, which can be heard on its website and on YouTube.
“We have an amazing team of musicians under the skilled leadership of Artistic Director Danny Miller. Not only talented musicians, they are also knowledgeable and creative programmers who know how to keep audiences interested by introducing music they may not have heard before—witness our recent focus on women composers,” says president, Christine Boies. “I love to hear our guest artists, like Min Xiao-Fen, who introduced us to the pipa instrument and to the sounds and rhythms of Eastern music traditions, and Michael Ibrahim, who on his saxophone brought Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche alive. We heard Wayne DuMaine, a spirited trumpeter with a repertoire reaching from the early eighteenth-century composer Johann Friederich Fasch to twentieth-century masters like George Gershwin and Bohuslav Martinu. Musical highlights for me are when our Chamber Players play pieces that transport me and make me forget the troubles of the world, and I can honestly say that I have such moments at every one of our concerts. “
The Chamber Players give four pairs of concerts, performed on Sunday afternoons at Round Hill Community Church and on Monday evenings at either the Greenwich Arts Council or the Historical Society of Greenwich. For information on the opening concerts on Sunday, Oct. 10, and Monday, Oct. 11, the upcoming season and the fiftieth anniversary celebration in June, visit chamberplayersofthegso.org.