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Classical in Seattle

This site will soon be no more. Make sure you book mark the new site:

Updated: 2015-09-16T13:23:21.065-07:00




This blog is moving and changing names. You can find everything on this site and more here: This is a move and a name change that I have been considering for awhile.

The move will take some time for the change to be complete, but I do think Wordpress will be a much better platform as the blog grows and expands.

Sorry for any confusion and thank you for your patience while this change is underway.


Focus: American guest conductors


The Seattle Symphony released its 2008/2009 season last week. The theme the season is built around is American guest conductors. I harbor ambivalence about season themes. On the one hand themes, especially when used to develop concert programs, can be a good device to explore unfamiliar repertoire. On the other hand, themes are often so poorly done that they end up hurting the season more than helping. Fortunately for Seattle audiences Schwarz has developed programmatic themes that are interesting and unlike other orchestras. There is no season long Brahms festival for Seattle, but we do get refreshing Central Europe, immigrant composer, and contemporary American music programs.

(image) This season’s unifying theme could be very good. The composer’s being tapped are big names. Andre Previn comes for two weeks. Dennis Russell Davies, the conductor of the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz, does too. Leonard Slatkin makes his debut with the Seattle Symphony and conducts Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Joann Falletta, arguably the first woman to head a “major” American orchestra (she leads the Buffalo Philharmonic) will conduct Faure’s Requiem. Saint Louis Symphony’s David Robertson is also coming to town. All in all the talent on the podium will be fun to watch and hear.

Unfortunately, Rossen Milanov will be conducting one of the Mostly Mozart concerts. When I lived in Iowa, Milanov came through town. Fresh after being appointed to Philadelphia, Milanov put together an exciting performance of Franck’s Symphony with my town’s resident part time orchestra.

The visiting orchestras are also pleasing. The San Francisco Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and the Academy of Ancient Music will each perform.   

But there are still pieces of the season that puzzle me. For instance, how does a complete cycle of Beethoven string quartets fit with the overarching subject of the season? For me it is an intriguing addition, but one that seems oddly juxtaposed alongside a robust orchestral season. It may not compliment the American guest conductor theme, but it does add a chamber music dimension to the season.

Best of all, the season opener is Mahler’s gargantuan Symphony No.8. Last fall I was talking with a record store clerk and I let him know that I wanted to hear each of Mahler’s symphonies performed live at least once. The record store clerk thought the eighth would never be performed. Cost would prohibit Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand from ever reaching the stage. Thankfully, Schwarz and Phillion decided to perform the piece anyway.

If your like me and can't wait to hear Mahler's No.8 check out this wonderful clip of Simon Rattle conducting the piece at the 2002 Proms.

Winter nights


The history of Russian music and as a result Russian chamber music, can be divided before opera and after opera. Prior to the arrival of opera, Russian musical tradition could be generously described as primitive. There were no composers of note and no real instrumental tradition. Folk songs and folk performances were typical, but even those were discouraged by the harsh influence of the Orthodox Church. We know that this isn’t the whole story of Russian music. We would never have heard Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev if it were. The arrival of opera marked a dramatic shift and musical renaissance within Russia. In less than fifty years, Russia was able to establish itself as a global musical force influenced by the west but with its own unique voice. Early Russian musical pioneers successfully reconciled Western forms and influences with a unique Russian imprint. The Russian Chamber Music Foundation’s inaugural concert last night at the Nordstrom recital hall may do the same thing for Russian chamber music in Seattle. Russian Chamber Music was founded in 2007 by Dr. Natalya Ageyeva. Ageyeva began formal piano lessons at the age of thirteen when she was accepted at Moscow’s Special Music School for Talented Children. She came to the United States to complete her PhD at the University Washington. Local music audiences remember Ageyeva as the Finisterra Trio’s pianist. The goal of Russian Chamber Music is ambitious: “to bring the best of Russian chamber music to American audiences.” Choosing the best is almost an impossible task because there is so much good, interesting Russian chamber music out there. Moreover, defining what is “Russian” is equally as difficult. Do we include Ukrainian, Georgian, Estonian and other regions that are not ethnically Russian but were associated with Russia and the Soviet Union? Arensky, Taneyev, Silvestrov, Gubaidulina, Glinka and Miaskovsky come to mind as “Russian” composers worth exploring and with any luck Seattle will occasionally hear more music from these and other composers that don’t often show up in Seattle concert programs. Ultimately these are challenges, as artistic director, for Ageyeva to determine. Nevertheless, how Ageyeva defines what is “Russian” and what constitutes the “best” may not matter much as long as Ageyeva and her fellow musicians perform like they did last night. Ageyeva was joined by local favorite cellist Josh Roman and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center violinist Arnaud Sussman. The three don’t regularly play together and while this was apparent at times, especially when one player would dominate the other, they dug into the music, exploring both the dark and light. Sussman was especially fine. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher and Waltz Scherzo flowed effortlessly. His playing was nuanced and shimmering. The meat of the performance, Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata and the ubiquitous Shostakovich Trio Op.67, were framed by three short pieces by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Prokofiev’s Op.119 sonata was one of the composer’s final works, having been composed while Prokofiev carried the burden of being denounced as a “formalist.” Roman had a clear affinity for the music. Roman’s performance was sympathetic and very warm. Even the furious passages for the cello were handled well.  Sean McLean, the host for the evening, suggested Roman's performance of the sonata may even show up on a recording when the cellist strikes out as a solo artist at the end of the Seattle Symphony season.  The Shostakovich Trio has been popular this year. Earlier in the year, I heard Ageyeva’s former ensemble, the Finisterra Trio, perform the same piece. And not too long after the Finisterra’s performance the Onyx Chamber Players took on the piece. Compared to the Finisterra’s performance last fall, Saturday’s performance was highly rugged. The Allegretto was even more intense than usual with Sussman, Roman and Ageyeva lettin[...]

Four concertmasters


The Seattle Times reports the Seattle Symphony's four concertmaster experiment is causing some distress among the players.  Essentially, no part time positions are allowed and with four concertmasters you have four part time players.  

The Way


Last night, St. James Cathedral demonstrated once again why they are central to musical and religious life in the Emerald City. The occasion was the Stations of Cross, presided over by Father Michael Ryan. The music was Antonin Dvorak’s Stabat Mater. For those not familiar with the Stations, it is essentially a reduction of the Passion of Jesus Christ. For Catholics, it is a representative and popular spiritual journey for worshipers during Lent. Worshipers meditate and pray on each step of Jesus’ journey as they go on their own personal journey. The Stabat Mater is frequently used during the Stations of the Cross. The Stabat Mater attempts to convey Mary’s suffering as she bears witness to the suffering of her son, Jesus Christ. Composers from Arvo Part to Richard Davy have written Stabat Mater's. However, there are few composers who have captured the profundity of the setting as movingly as Antonin Dvorak. The composer’s own personal tragedy likely motivated his heart wrenching music. In three short years Dvorak lost three children. In 1875, the composer’s infant daughter Josefa died. In 1876 Dvorak began to channel his grief into initial sketches of his Stabat Mater. In 1877 Josefa’s death was compounded by the death of his daughter Ruzenka who died of poisoning and their son Otakar who died of small pox. After the death of Otakar, Dvorak quickly finished his Stabat Mater, needing only two months for the task. St. James has a long history of incorporating “classical” music into worship. There are times during mass when Bach or Bruckner will come pouring out of the cathedral organ. Moments like these startle and comfort me. Growing up in a dusty manufacturing town In Iowa my mass experience was generally limited to unconvincing attempts to make church music fun and meaningful. Most Catholics can recount similar bad post-Vatican II music experiences. When I started listening to classical music in the mid-90’s, classical sacred music became a mild obsession of mine. I wondered why actual church music seldom resembled the wonders I was finding in recordings. That changed when I moved to Seattle. My first experience with Seattle’s robust religious music scene was St. Mark’s Sunday evening Compline. Not too long after that, when I was shopping around for a new home church I found St. James. It is almost impossible to write objectively about an event, like last night’s Stabat Mater/Stations of the Cross. St. James’ music department deserves immense credit for infusing religious worship with extra dimensions. Months ago readers may recall I heaped praise on the cathedral for their setting of Mozart’s Requiem. Even though the various performances at St. James are far from definitive, I firmly believe there is no better place in Seattle to have both a musical and a spiritual experience. Last night was no different. After a long week at work I was barely able to sit up, but as soon as cathedral organ began playing Dvorak’s introduction followed by the choir mournfully singing “Stabat Mater dolorosa…” (the mother stood grieving). I knew the entire service would provide ample reflection on the tragedy and uplift of Jesus’ last moments. Of course, Dvorak’s shifting from minor to major keys helps with the uplift too. Even if you aren’t Catholic, St. James should be a required stop for anyone who loves sacred music. I know the mechanics and opulence of Catholic religious practice can be intimidating, but being uncomfortable for only a few hours is a small price to pay for the beauty and emotions inherent in most St. James services. [...]

New links


Just a quick post to draw your attention to two new links.  The first is Cappella Romana.  The ensemble is one of the few truly professional vocal groups in the Northwest.  They perform frequently in both Seattle and Portland.  Their recent performance "Arctic Light" was positively covered.  You can watch a clip of Cappella Romana in a dress performance below.


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The other link is the newly created Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle.  This organization's inaugural concert is this week on February 23, 2008.  As a fan of Russian music, including chamber music, I am hopeful this organization will take off.  The inaugural concert features Shostakovich's frenetic Op.67 trio and Prokofiev's Sonata for Cello and Piano.

Both Cappella Romana and the Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle are well worth looking into.      

The commercial power of blogs


The Hollywood Reporter has a short piece on the commercial influence of blogs.  According to an NYU professor, if a record is mentioned more than forty times the record sales three to five times above average. 

Flying Soloist


So after listening to almost exclusively Mahler for just about 15 days running, I decided it was time for something different.In one of my constant attempts to stay on the cutting edge of what’s new in music I picked up a disc of a composer I knew absolutely nothing about. The only thing I knew about this CD while buying it is that Martin Grubinger, the solo percussionist, is a force to be reckoned with. With it’s sleek hyper-modern neon cover art, something told me that composer Rolf Wallin would give me something aurally modern to chew on. And boy was I right, for those out there who like their modernism fast, lean and logical then step right up for Mr. Wallin’s wild ride. All the fat has been trimmed off his compositions, but that’s not to say his compositions are dry, oh no, quite the contrary. Had this music been created prior to the 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Krubrick would’ve tossed out his Ligeti LPs and replaced them with Wallin’s futuristic soundscapes.A level headed approach to Brahms first piano concerto, soloist Cedric Tiberghien has the technical know-how to grasp what Brahms is dishing out (he also has pretty big hands from my understanding), but doesn’t dig in the way one often thinks Viennese romance should be. Instead he plays Brahms in a very Chopinesque manner, more gentle than we typically associate with Brahms. Conductor Jiri Belohlavek smooths out some of the more bombastic elements of the score and creates a cool, refined symphonic backdrop. His conducting in the Haydn Variations come across the same way, excellently played, but slightly too proper for Brahms. This team may be better suited for Schumann rather than a hot head like Brahms.Now, I haven’t heard this one, but I encourage everyone to go out and buy it immediately. Ernst Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 has suffered from never receiving a recording that lives up to my standards. The best recording I’ve heard was tape recorded in someone’s lap at some college performance in Utah (I don’t even remember which college). I have sadly never found a recording that matches it’s intensity or spontaneity. “Why haven’t you bought this one” some people may be asking, well Hansslser is expensive and I’m not made out of gold. Normally I don’t recommend something so highly without hearing it first, but Jenny Lin is a fierce pianist with true instincts for music, I’d recommend any of her discs.Here’s one to help start a discussion at the brandy parlor, Daniel Hope, who I believe is more well equipped to tackle modern masterpieces pieces than past warhorses, brings us the world premiere recordings of two of Mendelssohn’s most famous pieces, his Violin Concerto in E minor op. 64 and his Octet in E flat major op. 20 in their original unrevised form. Now I’m inclined to just outright say ‘the revised versions are better’ because I truly think that they are. But someone could easily persuade me away from that mindset by arguing that it’s just Daniel Hope’s playing, he’s just not as convincing as other players have been. So the jury is still out on this one, it’ll take a little digesting, perhaps another recording or two of the violin concerto and octet are in order before I make a final decision.Can’t get enough Golijov? Well if you don’t mind him broken down into 2 minute increments then the score for Francis Ford Coppola's newest movie Youth Without Youth will have to be your next fix. Golijov speaks very highly about the making of the score, particularly working with Coppola, describing him as “…a great hero of mine…” and going on to say “I felt it was possible to fulfill every dream in life!” The score isn’t terribly engaging, but it’s good noncommittal music, music to listen to while doing something else.[...]

"The pity of war"


The music of the Twentieth Century echoed through Seattle's concert halls this weekend.  Michael Stern and the Seattle Symphony started the weekend with performances of Edgard Varese's rarely heard Integrales, Victor Herbert's equally rare Cello Concerto No.2 and the romantic longing of Rachmaninov's Symphony No.3.  However, the real treat of the weekend was Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.  George Shangrow and his talented, home-grown Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers played the Requiem.  By most accounts the piece has not been heard in the Puget Sound for almost thirty years. Two themes ran through both performances.  On the one hand, Varese and Britten were deeply impacted by the  carnage of war.  Varese was conscripted into the army before he fell ill and made his way to the United States.  Similarly, Benjamin Britten was a staunch conscientious objector who crafted his Requiem for the dedication of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.  Britten also dedicated the piece to four friends who died during World War II.  The pessimism and renewal that follows a period of war are found in both pieces.  Conversely, while Britten and Varese were taking music in new directions.  Varese exploding harmony and line in favor of "sound masses," rhythm and timbre and Britten later explored traditional forms in inventive ways, Sergei Rachmaninov and Victor Herbert seemingly clung to the old-fashioned, idioms of the past.    Roughly 60 years separates the earliest work, Herbert's Cello Concerto No.2 (the earliest work) and the War Requiem (the latest).  The separation in time is not obvious.  Rachmaninov's symphony sounds as if it were composed contemporaneously with Herbert's concerto.  In fact, forty years separate the works.  Similarly, Varese's musicial idiom is so jarring that I suspect most listeners would not place the composition at the start of the last century.  Britten's War Requiem is just as elusive.     Herbert's concerto seems obsolete in comparison to the work of his contemporaries (Debussy, Mahler, and Sibelius).  Nonetheless, as evidenced by his almost constant swaying and humming (?), guest cellist Lynn Harrell enjoyed the piece and so did the audience.  Harrell luxuriated in the work's artifice and the audience eagerly joined him on the ride.  Rachmaninov's Symphony No.3, composed less than a decade after Varese's uncomfortable Integrales, clings to the romantic sentiment that was being jettisoned by composers in Europe and America.   Michael Stern is building a formidable career with the Kansas City Symphony by conducting pieces usually overlooked by larger, more well known orchestras.  This year alone, Stern is conducting excerpts from Berg's Wozzeck, Stephen Dankner's The Apocalypse of St. John, Lou Harrison's Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.1, Winter Dreams.  His recent release on Naxos of Gordon Shi-Wen Chin's Double Concerto has been favorably reviewed by music critiques.  The collision of red state Missouri and Kansas is an unusual place for new and forgotten classical music to find an audience.  It's a development that should give Seattle pause.     Britten's War Requiem ties the past and present together.  His dissonance is counterbalanced with haunting moods and abundant atmosphere.  Britten's affinity for vocal composition is credited with restoring English operatic and choral tradition.  The War Requiem synthesizes all of these traits into a profound piece of music. Britten juxtaposed the traditional mass for the dead alongside the anti-war poetry of Wilfred Owen.  Discord and placidity coexist side by side.  Notably, the sheer volume o[...]



Seattle Symphony: Guest Conductor Michael Stern is in town this weekend to conduct SSO in Rachmaninoff Symphony No.3 and Victor Herbert's addictive Cello Concerto No.2.  Since taking over at the helm of the Kansas City Symphony, Stern has helped revitalize the city's arts scene.

Orchestra Seattle: Tomorrow, George Shangrow and his home-grown orchestra perform Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.  Britten's requiem is a gigantic work, setting poetry alongside the traditional Catholic mass, to create a piece that is one of the Twentieth Century's greatest musical achievements. 




In response to my most recent account of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance, Marty Ronish, had this to say:

"I'm so glad you stopped in to hear the Chicago Symphony. As the producer of the national broadcasts for the CSO, I want my fellow Seattleites to know they can hear live Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts on-demand anytime they want. I post each broadcast online for two weeks at, 52 weeks a year. The programs do not air on KING-FM, I'm sad to say, but you can always get them online.The concert you heard with Pierre Boulez and Susan Graham will be on the broadcast this summer. I just did the interviews with them this past week. Happy listening! "

Marty RonishProducer, BP Chicago Symphony Orchestra Broadcasts

(and devoted Seattle resident)

You heard it here folks. You can hear what I'm writing about. The site is beautifully laid out, complete with program notes, special interviews, and of course, the best performances you could ever hope for. So, thank you Marty and happy listening indeed to everyone.

In the shadow of a giant


The pre-concert lecture for the recent Seattle Symphony concert was titled "In the shadow of a giant."  The title, an obvious reference to Brahms' First Symphony.  Brahms labored for twenty years on his first symphony.  His creativity gripped by the belief that he could never surpass, let alone equal, the achievement in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. 

However, the title could have been extended further to include the two other composers on the program.  Claude Debussy labored to break free from Wagner, Liszt and the rest of the music mainstream.  In a larger way, Debussy resided firmly in the long cast of the Twentieth Century and the avant garde music scene that was erupting around him in Paris.  Arnold Schoenberg's place in the continuum of music is more obvious.  A pupil of Zemlinsky, Schoenberg emerged from the post-Romantic world of Mahler seeking to extend and differentiate his own music from an extensive German musical tradition. 

(image) While this past weekend's program wasn't exactly revolutionary, it was different enough to cause me to wonder what things might be like at Benaroya Hall if Schwarz ever left.  Debussy's practically unknown Symphonic Fragments from The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian and Schoenberg's better known, Transfigured Night filled out the first half of the concert.  Ingo Metzmacher's approach to both was expansive and deliberate.   

In Transfigured Night, Metzmacher drew out ravishing solo playing from Susan Gulkis Assadi and quarter time concertmaster Frank Almond.  I wonder what incoming Milwaukee music director Edo de Waart thinks about Almond's part time gig and Schwarz's experiment? 

But, Almond and Assadi weren't the only ones deserving of credit.  Metzmacher pulled out of the Seattle Symphony strings an exceedingly fine performance that could have only come from a conductor with a keen understanding of Schoenberg's music.     

Metzmacher's Brahms was a aurally delicious way to end the concert.  Brahms struggled for two decades to finish his First Symphony and the obvious tension in the piece from struggle to triumph had critics to comparing the work to Beethoven's Ninth. 

Sunday's performance demonstrated the power of a controlled performance.  Metzmacher's command of the physics of the piece and orchestra created a tightly coiled sensation for the entirety of the work.  Most people probably prefer their Brahms on the wild, unrestrained side.  Perhaps, even a little opulent.  I should know, that's usually how I like my Brahms.  The only problem with highly emotional, overflowing, and unrestrained Brahms is that it leaves you worn out by the end.

Metzmacher's approach had my ears begging for more when the final notes were played.  Nearly the entire time, I was hoping for a Bacchanal to erupt.  However, Metzmacher's restraint peaked my anticipation and had me more engaged in the composer's symphony than I had been in a long time.          

Magical Evocations


Having already attended performances of the Music of the Baroque, the Baroque Band, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, among other things, I thought I would give myself the ultimate pleasure in the city by attending a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I had shied away from going to the CSO because I thought tickets would be really expensive. But once I accepted the notion that I didn't have to be right in front with the bourgeoisie and just focused on getting a seat that I liked, I  ended up becoming a 5-concert subscriber. If the quality of the first concert is what I can expect for the rest, I am in for quite a time. The concert did not have a German in sight. The concert began with four short pieces by Luciano Berio and concluded with Stravinsky's ballet of 1911, Petrouchka. Both works call for massive orchestras, and it was certainly fun to see such a large ensemble after having had a slight musical diet of baroque orchestras whose total compliment would be thirty. In this orchestra, the violins alone were thirty, with twelve violas, ten cellos, 7 basses, four flutes, two doubling piccolo, and on down the line. I think you can get the picture: big. In the middle, and the real reason why I chose this concert, the CSO was performing Les nuits d'ete, Op.7 of Hector Berlioz. Long established as one of my favorite vocal pieces (along with Britten's Serenade and Copland's Dickinson Songs), I was finally going to hear them live and with American superstar mezzo-soprano Susan Graham singing. Then, when you add in the expert conducting of Pierre Boulez, especially in this repertoire, the concert was guaranteed to be stunning, and it was. The program began with something called Quatre dedicaces by Berio. A composer of diverse interests, as represented by his concerto for trombone, SOLO, and his reconstruction of Schubert's tenth symphony, Berio also wrote several short pieces for specific occasions. Four of these, Fanfara (1982), Entrata (1980), Festum (1989) and Encore (1978/81) were performed under the afore-mentioned title given by Boulez, and together began the concert with a strong whiff of modernity. The four were written during the late 1970's and 1980's, and they call for a large orchestra, even if all the effort is for twelve minutes. As you might imagine, they were cacophonous creations, and all the musicians were noticeably paying close attention to their music, as was Boulez, who was giving the precise beat with his batonless hand. The works had much going on, but it never reached the border of noise. The pieces reminded me of busy cities, with cars and pedestrians going in every direction, all with their own agendas, but seemingly making up what city life is as a whole. Strings, divided in all sorts of ways, would do their thing, as the many winds, brass and percussion would add their trajectories. The little pieces even required the presence of piano, celesta and organ! They buzzed along to their conclusions and were a raucous beginning to this concert.  Over half the musicians left the stage for the performance of the song cycle of 1840. Although Berlioz can certainly cull together huge orchestral forces, he pared himself down to an intimate orchestra for the magical accompaniment to the songs. I first fell in love with this set when I purchased a two-disc set that had a performance of Romeo et Juliet, his choral symphony. Such a large work, it spills onto a second disc, and added as filler was a wondrous performance of the songs by British mezzo Dame Janet Baker. Her rendering of the second song in the set, Le Spectre de la Rose, stays with me long after I hear the disc. That staggering benchmark was what Susan Graham was up against, and for the most part, s[...]



Even though this is a blog about music, I can't resist.  My trade is politics and this, by any measure, is an amazing crowd for Senator Barack Obama.


Senator Obama's rally today in Minnesota.

"Love and tragedy" no more


(image) Some months back, this weekend's Seattle Symphony concert was dubbed "Love and Tragedy."  Back in September the program featured two Brahms works - the Tragic Overture and the Symphony No.1.  But, Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande was also on the program. 

However, the program has been considerably revised.  First, the Tragic Overture is out.  Perhaps there was too much Brahms.  Taking the place of the overture is Symphonic Fragments from Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien.  Debussy's  Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien is an odd work of incidental music which includes opera, cantata and orchestral music.  Debussy's amalgam was both his last attempt at composing for the stage and a flop.  Also jettisoned from the program is Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande.  In its place: Verklarte Nacht.  The piece is one of Schoenberg's earliest and is probably his most popular. 

Verklarte Nacht is a musical setting of Richard Dehmel's poem.  The poem's narrative is pretty simple.  A couple is strolling through a forest.  The woman confides in her lover that she is pregnant with the child of another man.  Rather than rejecting her, the woman's lover graciously embraces the circumstances, promising to make the child his own.

The "love and tragedy" are still there: martyrdom, the love of a woman and a child and the "tragedy" of Brahms difficulty composing his symphony.       

Release Date: February 12th


Harmonia Mundi and its affiliate labels have a promising set of new releases and re-issue slated for the 12th of February. Some of them include, but are not limited to...Having tackled Handel's Op. 3 with much critical acclaim, worthy sales and a gramophone award, the Academy of Ancient Music and Richard Eggar set their sights on Handel's Op.4 Organ Concertos. This is a priority release for Harmonia Mundi so expect lots of press, promotion and other hoopla in the coming months. For you audiophiles out there this is also an SACD Hybrid.Harmonia Mundi's budget priced re-issue series Musique d'Aboard has six previously deleted titles reemerging, most of which focus strongly on early music including discs by Englishman John Blow, the young Rameau contemporary Jean Joseph Mondonville, early 20th century Spaniard Joaquín Turina, rococo composer Luigi Boccherini and 2 separate releases of early chant, one entitled Carmina Burana the other focusing on Syrian chant called Chant Traditionnel MaroniteAnd the hits just keep on coming. Sir Colin Davis and the LSO bring us a live recording of what may be the biggest tear jerker in classical music history, Mozart's Requiem (sorry, no link at the moment). Few would disagree that Davis is one of the premier Mozart interpreters around, having recorded more Mozart in his career than any other composer. If he puts out anything less than an absolutely exceptional performance my jaw will hit the floor.Nothing gets my pulse racing like an eclectic pairing of pieces (I'm not sure why, they usually end up being awkward and strange) so needless to say, this new disc from Onyx has me salivating. The fantastic Christine Schäfer has chosen to pair up songs by the proper Brit, Mr. Henry Purcell, with American eccentric George Crumb on a disc called Apparition. Not only is she performing them together, but she's blending the twos compositions into one mass in order to help find parallels between the two. I can barely contain myself.And finally, we have one for fanatics only. Testament is finally releasing the 1955, premiere stereo recording (according to Testament) of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Now, the four separate operas have been available previously, but this is the first time it's been all in one box. Testament is the very definition of a full priced label, so it's a commitment.[...]

More on Roman's departure


The Seattle Times has an article up on Roman's departure from the Seattle Symphony. 

Moving on


The Seattle Symphony's principal cellist, Josh Roman, is moving on, leaving at the end of the current season.  Below is the text of the letter he sent out that was posted elsewhere.

Dear Friends and Family,

(image) I am writing to let you know of my decision to leave the Seattle Symphony following the current 07-08 season. I informed the orchestra management of this decision yesterday. I thought it would be nice to tell all of you myself, instead of you hearing the news from others. This email was the best way I could come up with. In any case: This decision comes at an exciting time for me. I have had so many opportunities since I came to the Seattle Symphony, and lately I have been taking more solo and chamber engagements here and elsewhere. I really appreciate the willingness of the Seattle Symphony to have placed so much faith in me at this critical point in my career.

I will miss many of the friends that I have made here, including two of the musicians that I sit next to almost every week; my stand partner, Susan Williams, and the charming man who sits next to me in the violins, John Weller. There are many more in the cello section, orchestra, staff, and around the city that I will remember fondly. My sincere hope is that our relationships will be lasting and flourish no matter where our roads take us.

As much as I have loved my time in Seattle, it is very important for me to keep a strong focus and commitment to my goals, and the foremost musical goal I have is to become the best cellist I can be. To that end, I will be doing tons of traveling over the next years, listening to many great musicians, practicing hard, performing a lot, and doing other cool stuff too. I plan to return to Seattle frequently and I already have several engagements here next season. Seattle is like a home to me; I love this place and the people I’ve met here!

I thank all of you for your support, especially my family, who has always thought that I was a bit nuts to want this life, but has supported me in everything nonetheless. It is because of this support that I am able to carry on and I hope to make the best of every opportunity and trust I am given.
All the best to all of you.

Joshua Roman

"I sit like Glen Gould"


For almost twenty years Judith Cohen has been the artistic director of the Governor’s Chamber Music Series. In a parlor off of the main entry of the mansion, musicians from Washington and elsewhere have dazzled packed rooms with performances of familiar classics and new favorites. In a series of firsts, last night was the first time I had been in the Washington Governor’s Mansion (which, when you consider my work as part of the legislative and political process in Olympia is lamentable), the first time I attended a Governor’s Chamber Music Series concert, and the first time I heard Seattle pianist Judith Cohen perform. In just over an hour, Cohen and her co-performers presented a concert that was more cohesive than I was expecting and well played. Surrounded by the elegance of the Governor’s Mansion it is easy to understand why the Governor’s Chamber Music Series has become so popular. Cohen was joined by the prominent and much loved George Shangrow. Shangrow has built a reputation in the Northwest and abroad as a fine interpreter of an enormous swath of music. Shangrow has also helped build Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers. But, Shangrow is also a well regarded pianist who has performed with the likes of the Seattle Symphony and the Kronos Quartet. It was Shangrow’s ability as a pianist that brought him to Olympia last night. To open the concert, Shangrow and Cohen performed Gershwin’s immediately recognizable Rhapsody in Blue. The version Shangrow and Cohen performed was a reduction, for two pianos, of the orchestral version Gershwin and composer Ferde Grofe assembled when Gershwin was a mere twenty six. The reduced Rhapsody was as enjoyable as the orchestral version audiences are familiar with. The two piano version, and Shangrow and Cohen’s performance portrayed the rhythm and buoyancy of the work in a way the richly orchestrated version sometimes does not. Gershwin’s most popular piece was a smartly chosen lead in for the rest of the concert. Jackson Berkey, a Juilliard trained musician, composer and pianist for Manheim Steamroller was the focus of the remaining two thirds of the program. Berkey’s music reminded me of a cross between the Neo-Romantics, John Adams, and Alan Hovhaness. Both Berkey’s Nocturne #22 and his Suite for Two Pianos were fairly tuneful, atmospheric and depended on a sustained feeling of movement and forward motion. I was surprised by the introspection in Berkey’s Suite for Two Pianos. The suite was commissioned to remember the death of a young woman who was killed by a drunk driver. In Berkey’s explanation, each movement illustrates a different aspect of life. The first movement, “Flying High,” crashes on itself depicting life’s onward march. The second movement, “Rainydark and Firelight” is dark and introspective. Cohen and Berkey’s pianos and fingers ruminated over the unexpected tragedy that too often interferes with life. The final movement, “Fading Memories,” was intentionally loose and inconclusive, ending with whispering chimes. Last night’s evening of firsts was a delightful change of pace for a city known primarily for politics and bureaucracy. Judith Cohen is doing Washington proud by bringing well played music into the Governor’s Mansion. Any trip to Washington’s capitol should endeavor to include a concert in the Governor’s Mansion in the itinerary. [...]

Just a reminder


Just a friendly reminder to readers that there are three contributors on this site.  Two Seattleites and one Chicagoan.  Sometimes our opinions converge and just as often they diverge.   

Feldman: museum soundtrack


In retrospect, I am not sure getting up bright and early to attend a day long Morton Feldman marathon was the best way to spend a Sunday.  One person contended my time would have been better spent tracking down another recording of Mozart's wind concertos. In any case, as I mentioned earlier this week, the Seattle Chamber Players ended their Icebreaker festival with a series of three lectures on Morton Feldman and a four hour marathon of Feldman's music in the Seattle Art Museum's contemporary galleries.  The goal of the festival and lectures was to tie Feldman to the inspiration he found in abstract expressionist painters.  The music would be surrounded by the vestiges of his inspiration.  The lectures explored Feldman in three ways.  Kyle Gann's lecture offered an expansive look at Feldman, his music and how the composer fits within the modernist and minimalist schools.  Alex Ross was more topical. Ross compared Feldman and the composers of the New Viennese school - Schoenberg and Berg in particular.  The middle presentation focused on Feldman's obtuse notation style.  After the second hour of the lectures, I had to wonder if the audience was really extracting anything useful from the presentations.  During the question and answer session, one women, who attested to her own unfamiliarity with Feldman and his music, asked a simple question about Feldman's graph notation and how if what is to be played is indeterminate how would anyone know if the music is being performed as intended.  The question elicited a curt response that probably made the subject of Feldman's notation more perplexing.  I appreciated the woman's question, her honesty and her willingness to struggle with the topic even though she didn't fully understand what she was hearing.  Even if others were having trouble wrapping their head around the subject, the substance of Gann's talk was the most interesting.  Gann attempted to place Feldman outside of all classifications, distinct from both the minimalists and advocates of noisy atonalists.  A composer who tried to embody nothing specific but something uniquely profound.  In an intriguing line of thought, Feldman was linked to generations of classical composers who had come before because Feldman had rediscovered the value of intuition.  The result,Gann argued, was music that was sparse but overflowing with meaning and complexity.  This simplicity contrasts with the minimalist trends of the 70's and 80's, in that Feldman's music follows an evolutionary process that demands the listener's attention.  According to Gann, If my attention wavered for even a moment, I would miss a valuable insight.  Nothing short of rapt attention will do for one of Morton Feldman's pieces.  Gann's vigorous defense of Feldman readied me for the afternoon's performances.  Feldman's music doesn't come naturally to my ears.  In rare instances, as is the case with Rothko Chapel, I do find myself opening up to the music.  However, over the entirety of the Feldman music I have heard, my openness is rare.  Ross' honesty on this point was a relief.  Ross admitted to admiring Feldman's music because of the emotional response he feels.  To conclude his own talk, Ross treated the audience to a recording he made for college radio.  In the recording, Ross poignantly juxtaposed an interview with Feldman over Rothko Chapel.  Feldman is heard wondering out loud a[...]

Get the Picture?



Although Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra escaped a legal peccadillo recently, the reality still remains that something smells bad over there. In fact, if you read the Seattle Weekly's article summarizing the case, the symphony's argument to dismiss the harassment case by violinist Peter Kaman was based on the fact that it couldn't be harassment against the violinist in particular because "the declarations from other SSO members suggest the maestro dishes it out pretty widely." If that is a victory for the Seattle Symphony, then there is something wrong there too. And now Alex Ross has gotten into the mix in his recent conversation with Jen Graves. According to Ross, the West Coast has always been this pioneering area of the country that confronts its myths about what classical music is and what it's supposed to be. When Graves asked if Seattle can join San Francisco and Los Angeles in that effort, here is what Ross said:

"I think there could be an amazing effect if Seattle had a music director who was following that same kind of recipe. Gerard Schwarz doesn't seem to be on the cutting edge of anything. I can just imagine a whole lot more energy and conviction in that direction, and I think Seattle instantly could become one of the leading orchestras in terms of setting the agenda for classical music, because I think there's this great potential audience there."

Such a stern indictment. Then again, what does Alex Ross know? Or the musicians of the Seattle Symphony? Or the New York Times? Or some blogger from Chicago? In the end, Seattle will have to make the ultimate decision, and as long as the Seattle Symphony board thinks that Schwarz has something to contribute, then I guess he will be allowed to. In the mean time Seattlites, continue to enjoy whatever you can from the symphony and keep your hopes alive about what the Symphony could be in the future.

Interrogation: Alex Ross


This week's Stranger has a Q&A with Alex Ross. The article is pretty tame. Although, Graves and Ross slightly pan the Messiaen and Radio Head concert at Town Hall earlier this month and the artistic direction of the Seattle Symphony.

Morton Feldman and the Seattle Art Museum


This weekend is packed with music. The Seattle Chamber Players and On the Boards are featuring a festival of new music from American composers. Commentary and insights are coming from Alex Ross and Kyle Gann, two people who know the most about composers making waves in new music circles. At the same time Seattle Chamber Music will be wowing crowds at Benaroya Hall with more traditional offerings - Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn. Pianist and part time blogger Jeremy Denk, is performing Bach's Goldberg Variations. Denk's thoughts on the Variations are well documented in a post from earlier this month. The Goldberg Variations are (intake of breath, flip of hair, reluctantuprise of gesturing arm) … is there any way out of this? … the GoldbergVariations are … wait, hold on a moment, we needn’t bother to say, ittranscends saying, it’s effing ineffable! and don’t you know that inplace of speech we should roll our bloodshot eyes at the infinities wereceive through our retinae and via vibrations rammed up our ear canals… does anyone have a Q-tip? … but here we go, out with it now, theGoldberg Variations are (don’t just say it you idiot, slight pompouslift to tone, now, give it some heft, some vavoom!): sublime, perfect, divine, magnificent. Whew. Don’t you feel better, now? Pat me on the back, I may have burped meanwhile.But an event that has been overlooked is Sunday's all day Morton Feldman marathon at the Seattle Art Museum. Just like the events at On the Boards, new music expert, author and New Yorker critic Alex Ross will participate in a discussion on Morton Feldman's music. Later in the day, surrounded by paintings by Feldman's contemporaries, the Seattle Chamber Players perform Feldman pieces inspired by paintings and painters.For instance, De Kooning, a piece for violin, piano, horn, percussion and cello, was inspired by watching William De Kooning paint. As is typical of Feldman's music the piece unfolds quietly and purposefully. Feldman's affinity for the abstract expressionists significantly influenced many of Feldman's longer works from the 1970's including Rothko Chapel and Piano Piece to Philip Guston.All the pieces on the program span Feldman's compositional output. Nature Pieces, a collection of short piano pieces was written in 1951 not too long after Feldman's first encounter with Anton Webern's Symphony and John Cage. Shortly after this meeting, Feldman moved into an apartment below Cage and began experimenting with Cage inspired musical formulas that cast off standard notation, harmony and even serial technique. Nature Pieces confirms the influence John Cage had on Feldman's music. By contrast, one of Feldman's last pieces Palais de Mari, synthesizes the qualities of his longer compositions into a much shorter form. Coming in at around twenty four minutes, the work uses all of the elements that make up Feldman's mature style, which closely follows the minimalist sounds of the late 1980's.Feldman's music and the Seattle Art Museum are perfectly matched. The Seattle Art Museum boasts one of the best collections of modern American art. Less than a year ago, "SAM" reopened sporting a new addition of understated beauty. The architecture's subtlety will surely compliment Feldman's penchant for pianissimo and ethereal dimensions. [...]



The discrimination suit against the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz was dismissed