An increasingly enlightened audience at Seattle Chamber Music Festival

By Philippa Kiraly

Time was, maybe 17 years ago, when Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival was full of well known classics. We could confidently expect to hear Brahms, Beethoven, and Schumann, Mozart and Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. Sure there was, is, plenty to choose from among much-loved works. Some amongst us grew restless, wanting to be more challenged by the music and have our minds expanded, and SCMS responded by building a program one year full of these more adventurous work. The audience stayed away in droves.

What a change nowadays!
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More superb chamber music: Bridge, Stravinsky, and Schubert

Ran Dank

By Philippa Kiraly

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival is a joy in the midst of July’s usual musical dearth. Concerts come up three times a week, each with stellar performances and programs which are never boring. Even very familiar pieces receive illuminating performances which bring out facets not perceived before.

Friday’s performance at Nordstrom Recital Hall was a case in point. Frank Bridge is a composer we don’t often hear. He worked at the beginning of the 20th century in England, at a time when the only towering figure in English music was Edward Elgar. Bridge’s chamber music is well worth a hearing.
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Andrew Wan

Without a doubt, hearing new musicians perform is the best part of the Seattle Chamber Music Society festival. We might be hearing them for the first time, but others, especially the musicians in the festival and Toby Saks are already familiar with their talents.  Over the years, Saks has plucked players out of the musical hinterlands, at the start of their careers (Jeremy Denk and Adam Neiman are good examples), and given them a chance to network, hone their skills, and play chamber music with other supremely talented colleagues at the festival.

This year, two musicians have captured my attention. I honestly can’t remember when I was this enthralled with a performer, let alone two performers. Andrew Wan won my favor a few nights back with a gorgeous performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op. 30, No. 1. Ran Dank, a pianist who made his debut at the festival last year sparked my curiosity then with an ardent Bach performance. He returned to the festival this year and has been playing in a number of chamber pieces. He stirred my ears again the other night in Dvorak’s First Piano Trio. His playing was empathetic, not showy, and attuned to the violin and cello (at least from where I was sitting).

Earlier tonight, Wan and Dank made their debut on stage together playing Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata for the pre-concert recital. This was a performance that had had to be heard to believed. Wan’s tone – which is light and smooth – was a good match for Franck. Phrases slide off his bow easily. Behind him, Dank pushed, prodded, and soaked up every moment of his part. Franck’s piano part gives keyboardists opportunities for bombast, Dank didn’t overdue his playing; there was no thundering but he was assertive when he needed to be.

I’ll remember this recital for a long time. This was the best recital I have heard so far this year. Interpretation, playing, acoustics, audience, and musicians synchronized in such a way that musical bliss was the only outcome possible.

Unfortunately, Wan played his last festival concert last night.  Dank is sticking around and will be playing some killer pieces.  Pick a concert (any concert, they’re all good) with Dank on the bill, and I am sure (I hope) you’ll agree with me.

Must hear Martin, Kodaly and Dvorak at Wednesday’s SCMS concert

Edward Arron

In an alternate (maybe even perfect) universe unfamiliar composers and works would be cat nip for curious ears looking to expand their musical horizons. Dissonances would pleasantly shake listeners. We’d tap our toes to awkward rhythms and take pleasure in sorting out difficult melodies. Seats would be filled. People would be turned away at the door only to hear an enlivened retelling of the experience from their friends luck enough to get inside the concert hall. An excited audience reaction would launch outlying repertory into the mainstream.

Judging by Wednesday’s Seattle Chamber Music Society concert – which featured Zoltan Kodaly’s Op. 7 Duo for Violin and Cello and Frank Martin’s Piano Quintet – the alternate universe I proposed is still a long way off. Too many seats sat empty and the audience’s response, while effusive (a standing ovation after every piece) seemed obligatory – polite.
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Borodin and Ravel start week two of the SCMS summer festival; Armstrong returns to the piano

Andrew Armstrong

The second week of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s summer festival began with Andrew Armstrong’s return to the piano. An infection caused by a bug bite or some other intruder sidelined the pianist, putting him in the hospital even. Although Armstrong was missed by the loyal festival attendees, other pianists, including the incomparable Craig Sheppard, filled in for their ailing colleague.

Armstrong made his return playing the piano at the pre-concert recital tackling Bela Bartok’s demanding Second Sonata for Violin and Piano with James Ehnes.  Armstrong followed this performance by playing the piano part for another violin sonata — Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op. 30, No. 1. Violinist Andrew Wan, a festival newcomer, joined him in the performance.
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SCMS Summer Festival at Benaroya: Mendelssohn’s Octet and Grieg’s Cello Sonata

Adam Neiman

By Philippa Kiraly

It seemed odd to go to Benaroya Hall, specifically the smaller Nordstrom Recital Hall, for a Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival concert but, well, we will get used to it. The Society was no longer allowed to use the Lakeside campus with its lovely grounds and peaceful ambience, but it also needed a larger auditorium to accommodate the increasing numbers of people who have flocked to the festival each year.

Judging by Friday’s packed audience at Nordstrom—the first festival performance I’ve attended this summer—the change is working. There were new faces among the many regulars, and executive director Connie Cooper said that some were tourists coming in off the streets after seeing notices of performances. (The outdoor ambience continues at The Overlake School in Redmond in August.)
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Winter Festival closes its 2010 season Sunday

By R.M. Campbell

Just as the summer festival of the Seattle Chamber Music Society has taken a quantum leap in excellence over the past few years, so has the winter festival. The four-day event, which concluded Sunday afternoon with a splendid concert, gave evidence to that claim. This is the first year in nearly 30 in which both festivals will be held in the same place — Nordstrom Recital Hall. Home to summer event for most of its life, Lakeside School, and its pastoral calm, is no longer available to the festival. After a long search, Nordstrom was selected for its size, excellent acoustical properties and central location. There is room to grow in this hall, where there was none in St. Nicholas Hall, a smaller, less commodious and acoustically deficient venue. Officials have already been working on improving the extra-concert hall accommodations. I have no doubt that will be accomplished by summer — the festival opens July 5 — I believe people will readily embrace the new facility. If they want a bucolic ambience, they can attend concerts at Overlake School in Redmond, a summer Eastside branch of the main festival. Not only is there a handsome campus, the acoustics of its hall are superb.

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