Quarter notes

Last night it was the University of Washington Symphony conducted by Jonathan Pasternack. On Friday, it will be Julia Tai and the Seattle Modern Orchestra. Both are developing into two of the area’s more interesting orchestras. What distinguishes these two orchestra’s isn’t necessarily the precision of their playing. Neither is flawless, but both have created moments of inspired beauty on stage.

Tai’s orchestra — a rotating cast of local musicians — has established itself firmly as champions of 20th and 21st century new music masterpieces. For example, their Friday concert at Meany Hall features a parade of contemporary concerti including: Scelsi’s Anahit, Berio’s Circles, and Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto. Her soloists are some of the area’s best too: Michael Lim, Clifford Dunn, Valerie Muzzolini Gordon, Matthew Kocmieroski and Gunnar Folsom.

Pasternack, the newish director of the UW Symphony, is no slouch when it comes to 20th century music, his focus is just different. This season he’s dug out Penderecki’s Viola Concerto (which gets played next month by Melia Watras); loaded the stage with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, and last night combined Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, and Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question and Central Park in the Dark. Elisa Barston, as always oozed poetry as the violin soloist, and the student ensemble made good by Ives’ two short pieces. Nielsen’s symphony ran into occasional problems; sections got twisted in Nielsen’s leaping and thrusting music. But, what the performance lacked in execution it more than made for in raw power. Timpanists Lacey Brown and Brian Pfeiffer roared, the orchestra’s violins harnessed the energy of the night to great effect, and principal cello Sonja Myklebust offered bold, assured statements of her own. All in all, the performance was a welcome change from the tepid concerts that seem to be on the rise around town. Nielsen’s symphony was played and conducted as if it mattered.

The Fourth Symphony’s glorious finale.

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