Seattle’s memorable concerts of 2010

Andrew Wan

With 2010 nearly over it is time for my annual list of the ten most memorable concerts of the year. In no particular order here are my favorite concerts from 2010.

Seattle Youth Symphony and Mahler’s Second
The Seattle Youth Symphony’s viscerally powerful performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony would have been in the top ten. Stephen Radcliffe and his orchestra of young musicians played with more conviction than orchestras with more stature and more seasoned veteran musicians. This concert, was hands down one of the best concerts of the year.

Seattle Opera: Daron Hagen’s Amelia
Last spring Seattle Opera marked another milestone by premiering Amelia: a new opera from the pen of Daron Hagen, the first commissioned by the company. New opera’s aren’t exactly commonplace, but in 2010 a bumper crop of new operas found their way to the stage. Hagen’s scoring, a poetic libretto by Gardner McFall, and convincing stage direction from Seattle Opera veteran Stephen Wadsworth combined to create an unforgettable series of performances at McCaw Hall.

Eric Banks’ choral opera Haptadama, which tells the Persian creation story, forces audiences to re consider how they think of opera. This is the piece’s greatest strength. There is no pit orchestra; the piece is written entirely for a cappella chorus. It is set to ancient texts translated by Banks; in this light, Haptadama could be consider a piece of sacred music. However one classifies Haptadama, The Esoterics are one of the area’s most exciting choral companies and this was one of their most interesting performances of the year.

May Day, May Day!
The brain child of Paul Taub, May Day, May Day gathered the best musicians from our region together for a twelve hour new music festival. Homegrown new music mingled with contemporary masters like Andriessen and Reich. Musicians from all backgrounds — percussionists to violinists and everything in between — were given equal billing. Among the many acts were memorable performances of Andriessen’s Workers’ Union, Steve Reich’s Tehillim, and the premiere of Nat Evans’ Candy Cigarettes.

Thomas Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony
Picking only one memorable SSO concert from the last year is difficult for me. 2010 started with Kurt Masur’s revelatory reading of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Robert Spano was brilliant with the orchestra in John Adams’ Harmonielehre. Gerard Schwarz closed out last season in convincing fashion with Bernstein’s Second Symphony and William Schuman’s Third Symphony. But, if I had to pick one concert (and I didn’t as you will read below) Thomas Dausgaard’s guest appearance with the SSO and his program of Lutoslawski and Sibelius is that one that resonated with me the most on a purely musical level. Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony filled Benaroya with tangible nobility. His keen sense of structure and trust in the orchestra paid off in Lutoslawski’s Fourth Symphony.

Songs of Wars I’ve Seen
Seattle’s theater and music scene broke free from Seattle’s provincial trappings with a Heiner Goebbels‘ theater/music piece Songs of Wars I’ve Seen. With its seamless integration of Baroque instruments, spoken text, and theatrical staging, Songs introduced Seattle to avant garde sights and sounds more common in Europe than in Seattle. The performance also marked a productive collaboration between Pacific Musicworks, Seattle Chamber Players, and On the Boards.

Andrew Wan: Cesar Franck Violin Sonata
Now and then a musician comes along who turns a performance of  an often played piece of music into something close to a spiritual, if not a religious experience. Violinist Andrew Wan did precisely this with Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata last summer. It was Wan’s first summer with the Seattle Chamber Music Society and although he played in a number of concerts, I remember his blissful performance of the Franck Sonata most of all.

Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot
This wasn’t the best played or even most interesting concert performed by the Seattle Symphony in 2010, but his spring return engagement after Roberto Abbado’s cancelation and the chaos caused by Iceland’s erupting volcano, cemented his rapport with the orchestra and ultimately helped the music director search committee settle on Morlot as Gerard Schwarz’s successor.

World Premiere of Dan Visconti’s Americana
When cellist Joshua Roman first emerged on the local scene, audiences swooned over his boyish looks, marveled at his still developing technique, and went along with his haphazard programing ideas. These days Roman’s poise, curiosity, and refined velvety sound are what grip audiences. His partnership with friend and composer Dan Visconti is long standing and Americana was the first major piece he wrote for Roman. Visconti’s use of American ballads, songs, and effects are sure to keep it firmly in cellist’s repertory.

Frank Ferko’s Stabat Mater
Frank Ferko’s Stabat Mater should have received its West Coast premiere years ago. The piece is a contemporary, thoroughly captivating, and personal interpretation of the Stabat Mater setting. Robert Bode and Choral Arts were perfect exponents of Ferko’s piece.

One other concert deserves to be mentioned.Seattle lost a towering figure in the local classical music community last summer. George Shangrow founded Orchestra Seattle and helmed the band for decades. He brought Seattle a steady supply of works he loved, composers he believed in, and enthusiasm for his craft. He died too soon. His untimely death still stings. Last fall, his orchestra paid tribute to him by playing music George loved.


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