The Ursa Ensemble is a Chicago-based chamber music ensemble that seeks to present uncommon music to our audiences in unique ways, in unconventional places, and with individual interpretations. The Ursa ensemble is currently in its fifth official season, and has performed at a variety of locations across the Midwest including Constellation Chicago, Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, The Green Mill Jazz Lounge, DePaul University School of Music, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the DANK Haus, Tavern of Fine Arts, The Musical Offering, Uncommon Ground, PianoForte Studios, and the Narloch Piano Studio. They have been highlighted in festivals such as Chicago Artists Month, The Ravenswood Art Walk, Narlochpolooza, and the Thirsty Ears Festival. For the 2018-2019 season, Ursa Ensemble has the honor of being Ensemble in Residence at the Musical Offering in Evanston, Illinois.
Ursa Ensemble members are fiercely dedicated to making Western Art Music less intimidating, but still deeply moving, to the uninitiated listener. Their flagship Collaboration in Concert (CIC) series gives listeners the opportunity to create an art piece under the tutelage of a professional painter, poet, author, photographer, or other artist, while gaining direction from the ensemble’s live music. CIC events have led the Ursas into all sorts of arenas, allowing them to work with and perform for an extremely diverse audience: elementary school students at Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School in Chicago’s low-income, Austin neighborhood; college students at Harold Washington College in Chicago’s Loop; young writers-in-the-making at 826CHI; even trendy bar-hoppers at the Tavern of Fine Arts in St. Louis. Past CIC events have involved collaborations with artists in a wide range of expertises, including photographer Michael Schoeneweis, author Michael San Gabino, printmaker Sarah Adams, painter Lewis Achenbach, and painter Melanie Brown.
With the instrumentation of Clarinet, Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Ursa Ensemble enjoys exploring and arranging a vast repertoire spanning thousands of years, from the Renaissance to present day. The Ursa Ensemble is also committed to furthering the impact and longevity of classical music by actively commissioning and performing new works. They have premiered works by composers such as Pierce Gradone, Jonathan Hannau, Jordan Jenkins, and Jeff Kowalkowski, all of which were written specifically for the ensemble.
The Ursa Ensemble consists of some of the best young musicians in the Chicago area, all of whom are dedicated performers and artist-teachers. Pianist Jonathan Hannau is also dedicated to his solo project, the Rocking Chair Series, which involves commissions of short solo piano works presented alongside an interview with the composer in an effort to create an inviting atmosphere for the audience as they listen to a wide variety of musical styles. He also teaches at Access Contemporary Music. Violinist Rachel Brown is the Associate Principal Second Violin of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, and has given over a dozen world premieres of contemporary solo and ensemble works. She teaches violin lessons, chamber music, music theory, and music history at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, Harold Washington College, and The Musical Offering. Violist Nicholas Jeffery holds the Principal Violist position with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, and maintains a private studio in Oak Park. Cellist Veronica Nettles focuses on performance in classical chamber music (she was a founding member of the Kaia String quartet) and world music collaborations (she is a member of a Cuban Charangas ensemble). Also, she maintains a private studio at the DePaul University Community Music Division. Joe Sanchez, clarinetist, is a founding member of the Vandoren Sponsored Lake Effect Clarinet Quartet, and he can be heard regularly with a cross continental spread of orchestras, ranging from Las Vegas to Kalamazoo!