Quarter notes: broke

The Detroit Symphony comes out of a damaging strike with a new outreach initiative aimed at suburban audiences. New York City Opera is on the ropes as deficits continue to mount, ticket sales drag, and musicians are calling for the company to do Carmen. By now we know the Philadelphia Orchestras has filed for bankruptcy. How bad is it in Philly? The fact that so many of their top shelf musicians are taking auditions elsewhere should be a hint. Need more proof just read this.


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.

Quarter notes: Golijov retrospective at Cornish

Since his arrival in Seattle two years ago, Kent Devereaux’s impact on Cornish’s music department has been tangible and welcome. The credit doesn’t go to Devereaux entirely of course. Cornish is lucky to have faculty who appreciate the new and aren’t afraid of exploring the unknown. Equally as important in my mind, Cornish isn’t afraid to share their Capitol Hill stage with other talented musicians in the community. The Seattle Modern Orchestra has taken up a residency of sorts at Cornish presenting a full season of modern orchestral music.

In the same spirit, the Odeonquartet presents an entire program of Osvaldo Golijov’s music. Golijov’s polyglot musical style — which mixes Jewish, Western classical music, South American, and folk influences — is understandable given Golijov’s own upbringing. Golijov was born in Argentina; his parents were Russian Jews via Romania; he studied music in the United States with George Crumb and before this studied in Israel.

Tonight’s performance includes Golijov’s Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind with Laurie DeLuca on clarinet. Below is a but a taste of this magically somber piece. If you want to hear it live, the Odeon Quartet plays tonight Poncho Recital Hall starting at 8 pm. Do catch this show if you can.

Also in the news, Julia Tai, founder of the Seattle Modern Orchestra, has been named the new director of Philharmonia Northwest. Philharmonia Northwest will no doubt challenge and complement this young but talented conductor. She now heads two local orchestras: the Modern Orchestra which surveys the outer limits of contemporary orchestral music and now the Philharmonia with a repertory that tends to stick closer to Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and the rest of the Austro-Germans.

Quarter notes: Louis Andriessen and Handel

Louis Andriessen

Lot’s of interesting stuff happening this week in Seattle.  Dutch minimalist started a short residency at Cornish on Monday.  Andriessen’s Seattle stop concludes Wednesday with a recital where six pieces by the composer will receive their Seattle debut.  This weekend Jan Harty continues her Music Northwest series.  Her programs are always some of the most interesting around.  Saturday’s performance is no different.  The French horn takes center stage with a program anchored by Brahms but surrounded by pieces by Francaix, Feldman, and Amram.  A more traditional program accompanies the Onyx Chamber Players on Sunday; it’s all Beethoven for James Garlick, Meg Brennard, and David White.

The American Handel Festival starts this week too.  It starts with  Seattle Symphony concert of Handel arias led by Nicholas McGeegan.  The festival ends 16 days later with a performance by Ingrid Matthews and her Seattle Baroque Orchestra.  In between is a Handel smorgasbord.  A new one man opera — the Man in the Mirror — gets its premiere during the festival.  Composer Ben Bernstein holds a master class today at Seattle University (1:30 pm in the Vashon Room).  Evening Prayer, a piece Handel wrote for the Catholic Church, will fill the air at Our Lady of Fatima church.  Melvin Butler and Alan DuPey will warm the pipes of St. James’ organ with Handel organ concerti. Pro Musica does the Dixit Dominus, Early Music Guild puts on Bach’s St. John Passion, and Pacific Musicworks stages Esther.

I forgot a concert. Seattle Chamber Player concerts always look good to me and their upcoming performance is no exceptions. The group is bringing back Polish soprano Agata Zubel for a performance Thursday evening at the Good Shepherd Center.  You might remember Zubel from her performance of Gyorgy Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments during last year’s Ice Breaker festival. Among the pieces on the program this year, Zubel will sing Kaija Saariaho’s Changing Light for soprano and flute and Laura Deluca and Mikhail Shmidt will play Estonian composer Helena Tulve’s work Island for clarinet and violin.

Quarter notes: SSO concertmaster steps down

Seattle Symphony concertmaster Maria Larionoff plans to step down as the orchestra’s concertmaster at the end of this season. The move isn’t exactly surprising.  Larionoff was picked to be the SSO’s concertmaster after the position went unfilled for a number of years.  She was also one of four concertmasters for a time; an experiment unique to American orchestras. Her selection coincided with the end of the SSO’s rotating concertmaster.

Larionoff plans to stick around Seattle.  She will devote more time to the American Strong Project, teaching, and outreach.  She returns next season to the SSO as the violin soloist for Petris Vask’s violin concerto Distant Light.

Quarter notes: James Levine steps down as director

James Levine

The Boston Symphony sent out this press release today. Does this mean Ricardo Chailly is packing his bags?

BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe announced today that as of September 1, 2011, James Levine will step down from his current role as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since 2004. Discussions between the BSO and Maestro Levine are underway to define an ongoing new role for Mr. Levine. Mr. Volpe has also announced that the BSO will immediately form a search committee to begin the process of appointing the next Boston Symphony Music Director.

“The BSO has been incredibly fortunate to have had one of the greatest conductors of our time at its helm since 2004,” said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe. “That being said, given Maestro Levine’s health issues, this has been a challenging time for all of us in the Boston Symphony Orchestra family, especially our beloved orchestra and devoted audiences.”

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Quarter notes

Lots going on this weekend.  The Seattle Modern Orchestra — Julia Tai’s creation — gears up for a concert tomorrow night at Cornish.  Then on Sunday there is a free George Shangrow memorial concert at Benaroya Hall.  The concert program itself is a mix of various pieces organizers knew Shangrow adored.  This is the second memorial concert for Shangrow.  The first one happened this summer, after Shangrow’s untimely death.  Memorial concerts are nice testaments and this one will be no different. I do wonder if all of this memorializing is obscuring Shangrow’s legacy as a renegade force in the music community who had no problem thumbing his nose at authority and accepted conventions.  Every time the establishment came down on Shangrow he found a new way to survive and thrive. Adam Stern leads the Philharmonia Northwest this weekend in another concert that highlights Vaughan Williams.  Its his last (for the time being) with the orchestra.  other guest conductors will take the podium for the remaining programs this season.

Two classical music legends passed away this week: Rudolph Barshai and Henryk Groecki.  Gorecki will be remembered for his 3rd Symphony and Barshai for his orchestrations of Shostakovich’s string quartets.

Update: I forgot a performance.  The Thalia Symphony kicks off their new season after considerable uncertainty.  Stephen Radcliffe has taken over as music director.   Musicians are in high spirits.  The orchestra even has a new home at Town Hall.