The summer festival season starts in earnest tomorrow with the commencement of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s 6 week long festival. This year’s festival marks the 30 year anniversary of Toby Saks’ affiliation with the festival. She founded the series, played an integral part in recruiting top-shelf talent for the festival, and after this summer she will be stepping down as artistic director, making way for James Ehnes to take up the role. Concerts do sell out, but there are always free recitals an hour before the official concert begins. One (of many) highlights from the recitals this summer will no doubt be Johannes Moser’s performance of Lutoslawski’s Sacher Variations.
Up north in Bellingham, the Bellingham Festival of Music started on July 1 and continues through the rest of the month. Two Seattle favorites — pianist Jeremy Denk and violinist Stefan Jackiw — appear with the festival orchestra this year. Denk will play Liszt’s Second Concerto and Jackiw will play Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. Both Denk and Jackiw play with extreme intelligence and undoubtedly will invigorate both pieces. Britten’s Serenade for Tenor Horn and Strings (a favorite of mine) will also be played on the same program as Denk’s Liszt and there is a concert performance of Fidelio on July 17th to close the festival out.
Local composer Nat Evans is putting on a festival of sorts of his own by taking his music and love of site-specific experiences on the road to Chicago, DC, NYC, and elsewhere. Evans is also featured in this month’s Believer magazine too.
One of the Gathering Note’s occasional contributors — Ozni Torres — needs your help. He is a finalist in Chicago Classical Music’s “public critic” contest. Oz introduced me to classical music in college. He was a valuable tutor in those early years. His review is the first one, a insightful, fair assessment of Ricardo Muti’s debut as music director of the CSO. I hope you vote for his “fantastique” review.
I’m back from a short visit to Chicago. While I was there I had the chance to hear Maestro Muti lead the Chicago Symphony in their first subscription concert of the season. The buzz around Muti and the CSO is intense. Banners with Muti’s mug hang on just about every light pole in the Loop. Bus stop shelters have either audio or video advertisements for the CSO. A week prior 30,000 people ventured downtown to hear Muti lead the CSO in a public concert. All of this attention is expected of course. The CSO is a world class symphony with a world class conductor. The bar for this new partnership is set so high, one wonders whether the CSO and Muti and can meet expectations.
For the first subscription concert Muti reached deep into the bin of neglected scores. What he found was Hector Berlioz’s Lelio or (Return to Life). Lelio is the sequel to Symphonie Fantastique. It is the composer’s story of overcoming unhappiness and a “return to life.” At a basic level, Lelio is Berlioz’s rumination on art, society, and life. In between seemingly random musical interludes are wayward monologues. The monologues themselves are nearly as long as the piece’s music. Compared to Fantastique, Lelio is incongruous, episodic, rambling, and wildly self indulgent.
Sunday, April 26th, at Evanston’s Music Institute of Chicago, was the concluding day for this year’s Bach Week Festival, although really a weekend. The first concert was held on Friday and was a harpsichord affair. The concert on Sunday seemed to have representative works from the rest of Bach’s oeuvre, featuring a cantata, a motet, two concerti and a suite for solo cello. Excellent performances abounded, but the MVP awards went to David Schrader on harpsichord and Katinka Kleijn, cello. Their contributions, together with the passion and commitment of everyone involved, made this concert a true highlight of the music season.
For the past 36 years, there has been a heralding of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in the Chicagoland area. Spanning a full week and comprising as many as four programs, the Bach Week provides Bach fans with the opportunity to hear wonderful renditions of his best music in intimate and immediate settings. This year’s Bach Week Festival, reduced to two concerts this weekend because of the precarious economy, continues that strong legacy of fine music making. The opening concert featured works for harpsichord, chosen carefully and smartly programmed by the featured soloist, David Schrader.
On April 19, as part of Symphony Center Presents, world-renown violinist Itzhak Perlman graced the large stage of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, without the orchestra. He was there to perform chamber music and he brought along no less than eight of his talented mentees from the Perlman Music Program. Started at the instigation of Perlman’s wife Toby, and realized in 1993, the Perlman Music Program provides young musicians with year long training and performance opportunities. The works chosen to perform were all within the confines of easy listening, but that just brought more focus to the contribution of the musicians. Once your focus is set, you realize quickly that there are a lot of superb artists out there, made even greater by Itzhak’s calm and committed tutelage.
Handel’s Messiah has been a personal favorite for a long time. At any time of year, I have no trepidation giving up two and half hours of my life to experience the wondrous sound and spiritual world that Handel created. Needless to say, when Baroque Band announced the ambitious plan to perform this masterpiece with the ensemble’s customary intimacy in Symphony Center’s Grainger Ballroom I was thrilled. I looked forward to it despite having bad experiences in the past with live performance of the work. Several years ago, I attended a performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Schreier, in which he excised several numbers from both Parts II and III to reduce the amount of time it took to perform the piece to within union stipulations. I was not pleased. That would certainly not be the case here. Baroque Band is a small group of devoted musicians. They would never cherry pick Messiah to make it fit. Alas, on Wednesday, they did, this time I presume to make the music fit the space rental agreement. Despite this, director Garry Clarke, along with his committed group of players, together with members of the Chicago Chorale and able soloists, was able to put together a performance of the work that was so intimate, I felt it was a command performance just for me.