Even as the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Lakeside Festival was wrapping up, organizers and audience members were busy evaluating the festival’s future home – Nordstrom Recital Hall. After 28 years, the Seattle festival is moving from the Lakeside School on the Shoreline/Seattle border to downtown.
If the summer festival were exactly like SCMS’s winter festival there wouldn’t be as much uncertainty about the location. SCMS has successfully used the Nordstrom Recital Hall for a number of years now. Musicians mostly like the venue. Opinions, however, are mixed on the hall’s acoustics. And the audience appreciates the proximity to parking and other downtown amenities. But that is for the winter festival, when Seattle’s weather tends to be unpleasant and dark.
For 28 years, the summer festival has been different. Picnicking is encouraged. Loudspeakers bring festival performances to the outside for the lawn audience to enjoy. Dining is in a bucolic setting. Lingering is tolerated and casualness is the norm.
The challenge for festival planners is figuring out a way to transfer the familiar Lakeside experience to a new venue while also creating a new festival experience that builds on the Nordstrom Recital Hall’s urban attributes.
This past Monday, SCMS invited patrons (and bloggers) to try out the new venue with a meal from Wolfgang Pucks and a rehearsal of Charles Martin Loeffler’s Two Rhapsodies for Piano, Viola, and Oboe.
Generally, I think the new location will work out well for the festival. Dining was held in the Garden of Remembrance – the tree lined green space on the 2nd Avenue side of Benaroya Hall. The previous week’s record setting temperatures had subsided and once you moved away from the street and towards the dining area I easily forgot I was in Seattle’s urban center.
I didn’t try the food or the wine. I was running late to the Nordstrom try-out, but unlike Lakeside, where there were few alternative options for food and drink, I was able to cross the street and have a still drink and Tuna Tartar at the Brooklyn. I was able to eat and drink in less than 30 minutes and still had time to make the rehearsal. The proximity to other eating and drinking establishments is a big plus in my book.
Having heard concerts in Nordstrom Recital Hall many times, the hall didn’t hold any surprises. From a listener’s point of view, pianos can sound hard-edged and this was the case as the group practiced Loeffler’s music. Everything else – from the comfortable seats to the climate control – were uniformly predictable.
If next year’s festival is limited to only those people who tried out the venue on Monday I think it would be safe to say the venue will be successful. However, next summer there will be hundreds more people who come to Benaroya Hall to hear the chamber festival; some with tickets and others with blankets, lawn chairs, and baskets of picnic foods. It’s unclear where picnickers will picnic. Right now I am having a hard time imagining people spreading their blankets out on Benaroya Hall’s cement perimeter. There is also the pesky problem of panhandlers. Will panhandlers descend on the hall when they learn there are a few hundred, well appointed people milling around outside? They are definitely prominent on nights when the Seattle Symphony performs.
It was smart, right after the Lakeside festival ended, to preview next summer’s new venue. The preview helped retire Lakeside memories and launch the festival’s future. Staff will likely be working through questions and challenges as they arise. Monday’s venue preview left me optimistic about the new location for the 2010 Seattle Chamber Music Festival. And for those people who need lawns, trees, and ambience there is always the Overlake School.