The best concerts of 2009

In no particular order, the top ten concerts of 2009 — according to me.

Seattle Opera, Richard Wagner’s Ring

Every four years, just like the Olympics, Seattle turns into the Wagner capital of North America. Each production of the Ring is different. This year a dramatic Janice Baird as Brunhilde, smooth toned Stephanie Blythe, and an impetuous Stig Andersen were the focus of the 2009 Ring.

Seattle Symphony, World Premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Symphony of Meditations

Kernis’s Symphony of Meditations was a multi-year project intended to be premiered in the 2007-2008 SSO season. A little long-winded here and there, Kernis’ symphony, demonstrated on a large-scale symphonic composition isn’t dead in America.

Seattle Chamber Players, Night in Galicia and Voices of a Frozen Land

The acclaimed, Russian vocal group, the Pokrovsky Ensemble joined the Seattle Chamber Players for a concert featuring avant garde music by Alexander Raskatov and Vladimir Martynov. Night in Galicia and Voices of a Frozen Land straddle musical genres. Chamber music sensibilities blended with folk inspired yelps and shouts, yielding interesting but unusual results.

Seattle Opera, Erwartung and Bluebeard’s Castle

Erwartung and Bluebeard’s Castle are the 20th Century “Pag’” and “Cav.” Seattle Opera tucked these two operas in the middle of the season when most people in Seattle are trying to stay warm and dry, recruited a talented conductor in Evan Rogister to lead the orchestra through the tangled scores, and garnered positive critical press in the process.

Cornish College, Drums Along the Pacific

The Cornish College of the Arts made us remember Seattle used to be an experimental music hub when composers like Lou Harrison and John Cage were faculty members. Large, devoted audiences reconnected with the area’s experimental roots, as musicians from Seattle and elsewhere presented small ensemble music by Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, and John Cage over the course of three nights.

Seattle Symphony, World Premiere of Sam Jones’ Trombone Concerto “Vita Accademia”

Sam Jones has been the Seattle Symphony’s composer in residence for a number of years now, producing pieces with populist appeal. Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto, the SSO’s principal trombone premiered Jones’s Trombone Concerto last spring. With Gerard Schwarz ending his tenure next season, I hope we will get to hear a few more pieces by Jones before a new music director begins to put his own stamp on the orchestra.

Early Music Guild/Venexiana, L’Orfeo

L’Orfeo is the baroque opera that changed everything and Monteverdi deserves more credit than he usually gets for his influence on music. In Venexiana’s hands, L’Orfeo, felt new again and matched nicely with the Moore Theater’s classic aesthetic.

Seattle Chamber Music Society, Ives, D’Indy, Prokofiev, and Brahms

Over the six weeks of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s summer festival there are memorable performances on just about every program. One concert for me was the most memorable, however. It was a late July performance of Charles Ives’ Third Violin Sonata (Jeremy Denk and Soovin Kim); d’Indy’s Piano Trio (Soovin Kim, Ronald Thomas, and Adam Nieman); Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins (Stefan Jackiw and Erin Keefe); and Brahms’ Op. 101 Piano Trio (Stephen Rose, Robert deMaine, and Ran Dank).

James Garlick and Judith Cohen, Ives, Debussy, Bartok, Bach

This was one of Garlick’s first solo recital attempts in Seattle. He was assisted by Judith Cohen, a pianist he has worked with in the past. Garlick is one of the busiest part-time musicians in Seattle. He plays with a number of groups in town and seems (based on the number of friendly emails and press releases I receive from him) to always have a project or two in the works. I will remember Garlick’s recital at the Good Shepherd Center because of its ambitious program.

Steven Schick and Christina Valdes, John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams might have been unable to make it to Seattle because of the flu, but his absence didn’t stop Christina Valdes and Steven Schick from presenting the most enjoyable contemporary music concert of the fall. The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies was the featured piece on the program, a percussion work known to Schick.  This recital was a well played and atmospheric introduction to Adams’s music.

Honorable Mentions

The San Francisco Symphony’s two concert residency in February; the Tchaikovsky Fifth was one of the finest I have heard.  Joshua Roman, James DePriest and the premiere of David Stock’s Cello Concerto at the Seattle Symphony.  Anton Batagov’s piano recital at the Good Shepherd Center.  The Marian Andersen String Quartet’s spring recital at the University of Washington.  How often do we see an African American string ensemble?


2 thoughts on “The best concerts of 2009

  1. I’m just catching up on some of your posts, Zach, but I find it odd that you chose the Orfeo by La Venexiana over the local (and far superior, IMHO) production of Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria, by Pacific Operaworks (dir. Stephen Stubbs; now Pacific Musicworks). I attended both, as they both appeared within weeks of one another.

    Il Ritorno di Ulisse was a far superior production, and it featured local talent. EMG paid dearly for that Orfeo, but their money would have been much better spent had they looked closer to home. Kudos to Stephen Stubbs for this venture.

  2. Hi Matt. Good question. I didn’t go. If I had, I might have come to a different conclusion. I based the picks on the concerts I attended in 2009. There were many good/excellent events I couldn’t attend — the Pacific Music Works opera is a great example.

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