PLEASE ENJOY THE SHOW; Smaller Players in the Local Arts Scene Are Ready to Open Another New Season of Rich Entertainment

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Byline: ROGER BULL

As another fall and another arts season gets under way in Jacksonville, you look around and say, "Wow, there's really a lot going on."

You just have to look a little, but not very hard. There are original plays, chamber music, jazz, spoken word ... all kinds of stuff. Some of it is even free. A few of the performing arts organizations are often just underneath the radar, the ones that don't get as much recognition as the big players in town.

RITZ CHAMBER PLAYERS

The Ritz Chamber Players don't have anything to do with the Ritz Theatre, but that's where they were based when they formed in 2002. These days, they perform most of their concerts at the Jacoby Symphony Hall at the Times-Union Center. But they're on the road a lot, too, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, at The Juilliard School in New York.

The players are a group of 17 African-American musicians whose full-time jobs are in prestigious organizations such as the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and London Symphony. Periodically, they get together in different combinations, usually six to eight of them, to put on chamber music concerts in Jacksonville and around the world.

The group has already earned praise across the country, but its base is here in Jacksonville. Before each of their concerts here, the performers go out to a school to perform for the students and to the Mayo Clinic to play for patients.

Terrance Patterson, clarinetist and the group's founder and artistic director, said part of what draws the musicians together is camaraderie, since many of the Ritz Chamber Players are the only African-Americans in their respective orchestras.

Then there's also the love of chamber music.

"Most composers put something special in their chamber pieces," Patterson said. "Beethoven's string quartets are his heart and soul. You have to study them thoroughly to fully understand the body of his work."

Among the highlights of the season here is Ann Hobson Pilot, the recently retired principal harpist with the Boston Symphony, who will play in the opening concert on Nov. 11 and the Martin Luther King Jr. concert on Jan. 20.

UPCOMING EVENTS

RITZ CHAMBER PLAYERS

Oct. 17: Recital at St. John's Cathedral, 256 E. Church St.

Nov. 10: Cafe Conversation at MOCA, 333 N. Laura St.

Nov. 11: Opening concert at the Times-Union Center

Jan. 19: Cafe Conversation at MOCA

Jan. 20: In Remembrance of the Dream at the Times-Union Center

Feb. 20: Recital at St. John's Cathedral

April 20: Cafe Conversation at MOCA

April 21: Spring concert at the Times-Union Center

May 15: Recital at St. John's Cathedral

June 9: Final concert at the Times-Union Center

For more information, go to ritzchamberplayers.org or call (904) 354-5547.

PLAYERS BY THE SEA

Players by the Sea is entering its 44th year as a community theater in Jacksonville Beach, but Executive Director Joe Schwartz said it's really coming into its own.

"It's not like we're the new kids on the block," he said. "But we've grown from the original founders who got together a few times a year to put on plays because they loved to do it, to a second, younger generation. And now we're in our third generation. We've got a paid staff, and we've got our identity."

That identity, he said, is to take risks. And Players is clearly not afraid to take chances. Among this season's offerings are the premiere of a new play by local playwright/poet Al Letson, one by Eugene O'Neill and a musical about a murder and lynching.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary in its building, Players is once again doing "Piano Bar," a musical biography by Beaches institution Gene Nordan.

"I think we take on projects that maybe other theaters won't," he said. "That's not a knock on them. …