Igor meets Edgard


Ludovic Morlot impressed again this week with a program that featured the smartly chosen Ameriques of Edgard Varese and Stravinsky’s classic ballet the Rite of Spring. As Morlot pointed out in the open rehearsal earlier in the week — Varese is to Stravinsky the way Beethoven is to Haydn. Ameriques’s homage to the Rite is overt, borrowing themes, rhythms, and mimicking solos. The Rite opens with a bassoon solo, Ameriques opens with a flute solo (bravo Seth Krimsky and Judy Kriewall).

Morlot seems to be focusing the orchestra on the fundamentals of their craft: rhythmic precision, dynamic range, color, and above all else the idea of an orchestra as a musical team. Ear splitting climaxes were a signature of the Schwarz era. Morlot’s climaxes in Ameriques were forceful without being painful to hear.

When the big moments came during Ameriques, there was always room for more sound, more energy. This paid huge dividends at the piece’s conclusion when Morlot pulled a massive, driving crescendo out of the orchestra. Chailly, Boulez, Dohnanyi, none of them in their recordings of the piece, achieve the same humongous sound and none of them match the drama of the work’s final bars.

Some might have thought pegging Ameriques at the end of the program created an anticlimactic concert experience. They would be wrong. The Rite of Spring is a popular piece and its rhythms, harmonies, and violence are part of the vocabulary of most classical music lovers.  Putting a popular piece last always leaves the crowd satisfied. Varese’s vocabulary, however, isn’t far removed from Stravinsky.  There are enough interesting fragments and repeated ideas to keep the piece interesting.  As far as visceral listening experiences go, Varese wins easily. Hearing Varese and Stravinsky side-by-side I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t hear Varese more often especially placed in the context of more familiar and warmly accepted contemporaries like Gershwin and Stravinsky.

If you like the Rite of Spring shaped by pathos, fury, and romantic fire then Morlot’s view of the piece probably wouldn’t have caused you to riot. Morlot’s performance was perhaps too tame for the piece, but just the right approach for an orchestra playing with the renewed clarity, focus, and shared musical goals of the SSO.

I hope Morlot gives the Rite another go in a few seasons. I’d be interested to hear if the conductor can generate more heat once he and the orchestra are more familiar with one another.


Listen boldly

Listen boldly. This is the new motto for the Seattle Symphony. In only two concerts with his new orchestra, Ludovic Morlot is challenging audiences to do exactly that.

Last weekend he began this season’s survey of Henri Dutilleux’s orchestral music with the composer’s violin concerto — Tree of Dreams. Violinist Renaud Capucon made his Seattle Symphony debut with a performance of the concerto that was painted with vivid orchestral colors uncommon for Seattle’s orchestra.

But, the night’s closing piece — Beethoven’s ground breaking Third Symphony — was the most memorable piece on the program. In part, this has to do with how foreign Tree of Dreams and Frank Zappa’s Dupree’s Paradise are to audiences (including myself). They are seldom played and seldom recorded. Pierre Boulez’s recording of Zappa’s orchestral music is only available as an import and to my knowledge there are only two recordings of Dutilleux’s concerto. Both pieces are rare in the concert hall. I won’t try to guess how rare. Juxtaposed against the Eroica Symphony, these two pieces underscored how revolutionary the symphony truly is, even today.

Morlot’s Beethoven was memorable for another, more important reason. In very little time, Morlot has turned the SSO into an orchestra that plays with clarity, precision and color. Morlot’s interpretation missed the grand arc of the piece. His focus on details, perfectly executed solos, controlled dynamics, and a plethora of orchestral colors I don’t usually associate with the Austro-German symphonic tradition made up for any interpretative oversights.

It may very well be that Morlot is making the calculated decision that before he can start imposing his own artistic license on Beethoven his orchestra needs to brush up on the fundamentals. I will be listening closely to see how his style develops over the rest of the season.

Paul Schiavo’s program notes have always bothered me. They are either too topical, too obtuse, and always dull. Schiavo’s note for Dupree’s Paradise was especially bad. I am not sure someone should get an author credit for a program note that block quotes paragraphs from Zappa’s memoir. Schiavo’s original contribution to the edification of anyone who read the note was limited at best. If as an audience member I am expected to listen boldly, then I expect Schiavo to write boldly. This season is filled to the brim with pieces that are hard for audiences to hear and comprehend. Schiavo can do a lot by providing a road map for audiences.

Dupree’s Paradise

Mozart’s Magic Flute closes out Seattle Opera season in superb fashion

By R.M. Campbell

Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is a fairy-tale set in an exotic land with good and evil clearly laid out and all sorts of magic generously sprinkled throughout the piece. It has held the stage steadily since its premiere in Vienna in 1791. The production closes the company’s current season.

The first two performances this weekend at McCaw Hall were sold-out. The remaining seven should be, for the production is a comic book version rich in comedy, philosophy, strongly-drawn characters dressed fantastically, everything and everyone popping out in the usual places but not quite in the usual manner, thanks to stage direcor Chris Alexander, set designer Robert Dahlstrom with Robert Schaub, costume designer Zandra Rhodes and lighting designer Duane Schuler.

And, of course, there is some of Mozart’s most sublime and expressive music.
Continue reading

Golijov tribute concludes Cornish’s 2010-2011 season

Osvaldo Golijov

Cornish College is fast becoming Seattle’s center of daring, modern classical music performances. It is a rapid turn around for a college and a music program which identifies itself readily with John Cage, a composer critical to the growth of avant garde music in the United States. The school doesn’t boast a resident student orchestra like the University of Washington, but it has brought the Seattle Modern Orchestra to the school to perform as part of its music season. It’s talented and busy faculty routinely perform in recitals at the school and around town. In addition, more than a few of them are involved in curating programs and events of their own — like tomorrow’s May Day, May Day new music festival at Town Hall.

Cornish’s 2010-2011 season ended last Friday with a retrospective concert of Argentinian, American, Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov. Anchored by the Odeonquartet, the program included a line up of  musicians that included Joseph Kauffman (bass with the Seattle Symphony); Laurie DeLuca (clarinet with the Seattle Symphony); and Paul Taub (flute and Cornish faculty member).

Two of Golijov’s more popular pieces — the string quartet version of Tenebrae and Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind — along with three lesser known works filled out the program.
Continue reading

Restaging “Giselle,” a revealing, exciting adventure

A page from the choreographic notation of the ballet Giselle in the Stepanov notation system. Courtesy Harvard Theatre Collection.

By Philippa Kiraly

For the past year, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s artistic director, Peter Boal, dance historian Marian Smith, and Boal’s assistant and choreographic decipherer Doug Fullington, have been working on a restaging of the romantic ballet “Giselle” which goes back to the original score of composer Adolph Adam, original and extensive 1842 rehearsal notes, a detailed choreographic notation from 1860 and the Stepanov choreographic notation of 1899-1903.

“It’s a bit like cleaning the Sistine Chapel ceiling,” says Fullington, commenting that the ceiling was beautiful as was, but cleaning brought into the light bright colors and many areas not particularly noticeable before. “The ballet is more dense, secondary characters are fleshed out. Some of the work that has been simplified over time, we find is more complex.”

“Giselle,” a famous story ballet which has remained in the repertoire and performed all over the ballet world since its premiere in Paris in 1841, took a long time to establish itself in the U.S.
Continue reading

Hans-Jurgen Schnoor takes up St. Matthew Passion with OSSCS

Hans-Jurgen Schnoor

Orchestra Seattle will mount one of the classical music highlights of the spring – Bach’s epic St. Matthew Passion – this Sunday at First Free Methodist Church. As has been the case all season, a guest conductor will helm the orchestra. This week it is noted Bach specialist Hans-Jurgen Schnoor. Earlier in the week, I asked Schnoor about the piece and his approach to a large scale work like the Matthew Passion.
Continue reading

Balanchine’s summer magic is revived at McCaw Hall

By R.M. Campbell

George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of the most enduring, and magical, ballets in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s repertory. It never wears out its welcome. And so it was revived this weekend at McCaw Hall.

The ballet had its local premiere in 1985 and over the next decade was frequently performed. In 1997, the ballet was given an entirely new look, and what a splendid look it was with Martin Pakledinaz in control of the set and costumes. Astonishingly, the new design was the first for a Balanchine story ballet, this one dating to 1962. Dozens of dance critics held their annual meeting for the Seattle premiere. The next year the company took it on tour as its calling card for its European debut at the Edinburgh Festival, and the next season to London where it was filmed by BBC, with Istanbul, Hong Kong and the Hollywood Bowl over the next few years. Wherever the production went it received fulsome praise.
Continue reading