Since (Le) Poisson Rouge, (LPR) opened in 2008; the venue has established itself as a sure ticket to an unconventional concert experience. LPR’s motto, “serving art and alcohol,” gives some idea of its free-spirited approach.

Now, with the launch of its own ensemble, LPR has further expanded the venue’s ventures into unchartered, artistic territory. David Handler, LPR’s co-founder and the ensemble’s artistic director, initiated the establishment of the ensemble as a natural outgrowth of LPR’s curatorial identity. He collaborated with Ronen Givony, co-director of Le Poisson Rouge’s mission and creator of the multi-genre “Wordless Music“line up.

“LPR was always about creating community, cultivating camaraderie among musicians, and encouraging freedom of expression through atypical programs,” says Handler, a composer and violinist/violist, as he describes the core vision for LPR that he and co-founder Justin Kantor, a cellist, had during their student years at the Manhattan School of Music. Handler and Kantor, with Givony’s assistance, were effectively shaping the experimental curating scenery then in demand by a host of diverse audiences. LPR succeeded in providing what audiences were missing by tapping into a broad cultural craving for accessible presentations, a platform on which Ensemble LPR can build with high expectations.

“It’s a very exciting moment for us,” shares Handler. “We feel privileged and take very seriously the trust of our listeners in our ability to create an innovative merger of programming,” he maintains, “And with the ensemble, we continue to manifest and express ourselves artistically by making our own choices as a group. For us that means playing anything from Baroque to today’s music, rigorously, at the highest level, and with peerless guest artists – collaborating with classical and non-classical artists who have something interesting to express.”

The ensemble will follow the principal concept of LPR’s expanding artistic alliances without compromising high-performance standards or intriguing repertoire. The secret ingredients of this model have attracted new audiences and high-caliber artists within the classical and non-classical music scene alike, shifting people’s notion of what belongs on the concert stage and how that stage should project onto its audience.

“The ensemble’s structure is very elastic,” says Handler, “ranging from two to 30 players, and it’s always about the musical context of a program.”Earlier productions with Ensemble LPR have included a memorial concert in honor of the American composer Elliot Carter, in January of 2013. It featured some of Carter’s longtime collaborators, like cellist Fred Sherry, pianist Ursula Oppens, and clarinetist Charles Neidlich, among others, with Ensemble LPR membersclip_image004

This photo shows the most recent performance of Ensemble LPR in January 2014, with pianist Taka Kiagawa and the conductor Oliver Hagen (photo credit: Mark Shelby Perry)

Another noteworthy performance by Ensemble LPR, in December 2013, was Max Richter’s original “Recomposed” performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with violinist Daniel Hope as soloist performing with the composer. Paying homage to the classical masterpiece, Richter created a fascinating blend of electronic fragmentations of the original score with his own compositions, commenting that he “literally wrote himself into Vivaldi’s score.”clip_image006

Photo: ensemble LPR, an evening with Max Richter – Daniel Hope, violin; Max Richter, keyboard/electronics; Tito Muñoz, conductor.

Out of this performance grew Ensemble LPR’s aspiration to collaborate with André de Ridder, the conductor who had originally recorded Richter’s program (on the Deutsche Gramophone label, with Hope).


clip_image008This objective will be realized at LPR on March 7th,2014, when de Ridder will make his New York City debut with the ensemble. In the program that will illuminate LPR’s main agenda – to integrate classical music into the larger cultural dialogue – de Ridder will conduct Ensemble LPR in works by Bartók, Jonny Greenwood, and a premiere by Bryce Dessner, titled “Lachriame”. For the first time, New Yorker audiences will have a chance to see the ensemble lead by De Ridder, who is well known as a universally diverse collaborator and has performed with artists and ensembles as varied as the Philharmonia Orchestra, Jazz musician Uri Kane, and MusikFabrik. During the past five years, he has been principal conductor of VIVA, the UK-based Sinfonia known for innovative programs, often juxtaposing renowned works of the classical tradition with contemporary music inspired by the traditional works.

Given the broad scope of national and international collaborations with these innovative programs, it is Ensemble LPR’s intention to tour beyond its home- based venue in the near future.

In the meantime, the ensemble takes part in LPR’s vast volume of productions, numbering two shows on most evenings, and providing a wide breadth of music choices to appeal to their diverse audiences.

“An audience member may come precisely because of a long-awaited program or artist or simply because he or she had a prior good experience here. Some want to be surprised and are open-minded, even challenged, in the best sense of the word, to discover something new,” adds Handler. “That’s a testament to the diversity of our listeners – they really continue to surprise us by being constantly willing to expand their domain.”

The successful concept of LPR has clearly gained a following, evident in the many co-productions at LPR with the “giants” of music presenters, like the MET or Carnegie Hall, which recognized the appeal of changing up the “packaging” of some of their productions.

Says Handler: ‘We are honored if we are able to co-produce with such stellar forces like the Met or Carnegie Hall, but our loyalty is to our crowd. If the program would not be right for us, we would not choose to do it. Our being here is a part of a bigger movement, and it’s happening all over. We have never set out to be the only ones, and if we were a catalyst in any way, we are very pleased to have helped create a new environment.”


Ilona Oltuski-GetClassical


By Ilona Oltuski

Ilona Oltuski was born in Berlin (Germany), the city her family returned to after her grandmother’s escape to Palestine. Through her parents – the father from Krakow in Poland, the mother from Berlin – Ilona experienced cultural diversity early on in life. Growing up Jewish in post-war Berlin and Frankfurt would add to this. Although deeply connected to German culture, Ilona was always acutely aware of the differences between herself and her environment. Perhaps it was the search for her very own identity, which led her to study art history and complete her doctorate on the Bezalel Art Movement, a part of her investigation into the existence of an explicitly Jewish art. Besides art history, Ilona studied piano at the Hoch’sche Conservatory - the Frankfurt music school founded by Clara Schumann. After moving to New York with her husband, she continued to study her favorite instrument and met and befriended many pianists - from amateurs to professional performers. A passionate amateur herself, Ilona decided to combine her love for the piano and the world of music with her interest in writing and the sharing of ideas, resulting in her first articles on Next was her German blog, ‘Wohltemperiert aus New York’, which she continues to write for Naxos Deutschland (; see the ‘Naxos America’ link for Ilona’s English blogs). Her English-language blog,, can be found on Facebook’s blog network; it recently migrated into the collection of blogs on her own website, She also still maintains her ‘Piano Salon’ group on Facebook, connecting pianists and their friends. Forever interested in an exchange of information and ideas, Ilona hopes that her very own website will provide a wide platform for a conversation among readers, performers and music lovers. “Reinventing my creative side by writing about my diverse encounters in the world of music, about inspiration and artistic expression, and the very human side of these endeavors, reaching right under my skin - that’s my shtick”, she says. Ilona lives in New York City with her family.