Victor Ewald - Brass Quintet No.3, Op.7
Vince Guaraldi (arr. Starobin) Christmastime is Here
Nikolai Medtner Prelude, Op.54/7
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart The Marriage of Figaro (hosted by Aidan Lang: part 3)
Henry Dutilleux Symphony No.1
David Parsons Freeline

The Classical Notebook

Classical KING FM announcers and featured musicians share their thoughts on local concerts, seasonal music and evergreen classical favorites.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Nov 25 2015 9:44AM
The frost is on the pumpkin, the turkey is in the oven, and music lovers' thoughts turn to … Christmas concerts? Yes, it's that time of year already, and you will shortly be hearing the sounds of the holidays emanating from (ahem!) your favorite classical radio station on our Christmas Channel.

And there are live concerts, too -- are there ever! Instead of trying to list them all (an almost impossible process), we're focusing on a few top recommendations for especially interesting holiday musical events. So it's time to make your concert list, and check it twice, and hit the box office in quest of tickets to your favorites. Happy listening!

-- "Messiah," The Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, Benaroya Hall, Dec. 18-20: This year the orchestra offers a different take on Handel's classic oratorio, with guest conductor who also will be the tenor soloist: Paul Agnew, Joint Music Director (alongside William Christie) of the famous ensemble "Les Arts Florissants." Agnew will be joined by soprano Anna Devin, countertenor Benno Schlachtner, and bass Matthew Burns.

-- "Messiah," Pacific MusicWorks, Dec. 10-13. Edmonds United Methodist Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Mercer Island, and (on Dec. 12-13) Meany Theater: Music director and conductor Stephen Stubbs promises "a revolutionary approach, as practiced by Handel, of embedding the soloists in the choir." Those soloists include Teresa Wakim, soprano; Reginald Mobley, counter-tenor; Zachary Wilder; and Kevin Deas, bass-baritone. With the University of Washington Chamber Singers and Pacific MusicWorks Orchestra.

-- Northwest Boychoir: A Festival of Lessons and Carols, Dec. 11-22 (churches from downtown to Lynnwood; and Benaroya Hall on Dec. 22): For many music lovers, it wouldn't be Christmas without the 90-minute traditional English program (traditional in Seattle, too) of scripture readings and carols. Joseph Crnko conducts.

-- Seattle Pro Musica presents Northern Lights, music of the Baltics and Scandinavia; Dec. 12, 19, Seattle First Baptist Church and Bastyr University in Kenmore: The centerpiece of artistic director Karen P. Thomas's holiday program is "Northern Lights," by Estonian composer Ä’riks Ešenvalds. This work employs choir, handchimes, and tuned water glasses to evoke the aurora borealis. (There's also the traditional Family Christmas Concert at 3 p.m. Dec. 12 in Seattle First Baptist Church.)

-- Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, Music for the Feast of Saint Nicholas, Dec. 6, St. James Cathedral: Loren Pontén leads the resident ensembles/musicians of St. James, including Opus 7, orchestra, organist Paul Thornock, and children's choirs in Britten's festive cantata, "Saint Nicolas."

-- Seattle Men's Chorus: "Home for the Holidays", Nov. 28-29, , Dec. 5, 6, 13, 20, 21, Benaroya Hall (also Dec. 3 in Tacoma's Pantages Theater, and Dec. 19 in the Everett Civic Auditorium: This is the last season for the SMC's great founding conductor Dennis Coleman, and these shows – with their joyful mixture of the sublime and the moderately outrageous -- are likely to sell even faster than usual.

-- Seattle Symphony presents "The Snowman," Dec. 5, Benaroya Hall: The charming animated film tells the story of a young boy's friendship with a magical snowman who comes to life. The Seattle Symphony performs Howard Blake's award-winning soundtrack, including the famous song "Walking in the Air," sung by the Seattle Opera Youth Chorus. (For kids of all ages, but especially ages 6 to 11.)

-- Seattle Choral Company: Peace on Earth, Dec. 11-12, St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle: Freddie Coleman's chorus presents holiday music by Rutter, Finzi, Pärt, and that famous composer "Traditional," for choir, strings, harp, and guest soloists. (The annual carol sing-along with the Flentrop pipe organ will take place before the concert.)

-- Carol of the Angels: A Choral Arts Christmas, Dec. 12 and 14, St. Joseph Parish, Seattle, and Dec. 13, Trinity Parish Episcopal Church, Seattle: This now-famous holiday program, pioneered by conductor Robert Bode, varies from year to year, but always offers an uninterrupted hour-plus of serene choral beauty in a frazzled time.

-- Bellevue Chamber Chorus, "Season of Wonder," Dec. 12, 19, 20, in Bothell United Methodist Church, St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Bellevue, and Prospect United Church of Christ in Seattle, respectively: Guitarist Michael Nicolella joins artistic director Fredrick Lokken and his chorus for a varied program including Alf Houkum's gorgeous "The Rune of Hospitality" and Jeffrey Van's "O Be Joyful."
by Melinda Bargreen posted Nov 9 2015 9:21AM
Concert programming is a complex art, as exemplified in the Seattle Symphony's recent subscription program bearing the title "Brahms Violin Concerto." From the program notes, it appears that conductor Ludovic Morlot must have changed the order of the program after the notes had been written: originally it was to have opened with Giya Kancheli's "Nu.Mu.Zu." in its American premiere, followed by the Brahms Violin Concerto and finally Martinu's 1945 Symphony No. 4.

Possibly the SSO concluded that if the concerto was played before intermission, many in the audience would not have stayed to hear an unfamiliar contemporary work in the last half. (If so, that is probably an accurate assumption.) And what an unusual work that Martinu symphony is! Richly scored, picturesque, often cinematic, it is dominated by a lurching, long-short triple rhythmic figure (think "Sorcerer's Apprentice"). Nearly every section in the orchestra gets a workout, with intriguing, dense, and often beautiful sonorities piling up. Occasionally there's a spacious, Copland-like feeling to the score. Morlot and the orchestra gave the Martinu a rousing, energetic reading.

The Kancheli piece, a clear hit with the audience, sounds a bit like Ravel might have sounded if he had lived into the 21st century and was seriously unhappy. A wistful, mournful piano theme is countered by episodes of increasing urgency and lots of brass as the music grows more anguished; then there's a crashing climax, and then a retreat brings back the wistful theme over again. And over and over again.

The score, very tonal and maybe a bit commercial, sounds almost like a movie score as this rise and fall continues over the course of some 22 minutes. Jointly commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and the National Orchestra of Belgium, the work bears a title taken from three words in ancient Sumerian that reportedly translate as "I don't know." Neither do we, but the music – approachable and affecting – found a receptive audience in Seattle.

The finale was the Brahms Violin Concerto – one of the most popular concerti for that instrument — with French-born soloist Renaud Capucon. There are many precedents for using various orchestral forces in the accompaniment to this concerto; Morlot chose a big orchestra, and Capucon worked hard to be heard. This led to a certain loud sameness of tone and to occasional forcing. Yes, it's Brahms and a big Romantic-era piece, but sometimes a soloist is better served by some adjustments in orchestra volume levels. Capucon is a fine player, and except for some minor misjudgments in intonation, he did well, though those hoping to be thrilled may have hoped in vain. That this view was a minority opinion was evident in Capucon's rousing ovation.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Oct 29 2015 9:03AM
You don’t often get to hear these players as soloists; usually they are inside the Seattle Symphony, contributing to the orchestra’s overall sound. But the Symphony’s Chamber Series is a welcome reminder that talent in the orchestra is not the sole province of the first-chair players.

The most recent program in that series was a substantial concert of wide-ranging works: a trio by a teenaged Leonard Bernstein, a surprisingly jolly woodwind quintet by the usually thorny Elliott Carter; a Romanian-accented violin sonata by Georges Enescu; and Prokofiev’s tricky but lovely Sonata for Two Violins. The evening’s dessert was one of the undisputed masterworks of the chamber repertoire, the Shostakovich Op. 67 Piano Trio (No. 2), with the piano soloist from the recent Masterworks Series concerts (Feb. 21 and 25), Alexander Melnikov.

This big, varied lineup drew a good-sized and enthusiastic audience to Benaroya Hall’s smaller venue, the 540-seat Nordstrom Recital Hall. It’s easy to see why these programs prove popular: there is an up-close-and-personal aspect to chamber music, where the artistic capacity of the player can communicate more directly to the audience. In the case of the opening work on this program, Bernstein’s Piano Trio, violinist Cordula Merks and cellist Meeka Quan DiLorenzo found an immediate accord with guest pianist Jessica Choe. This trio was an adroit, tightly knit ensemble, equally effective in the jaunty skipping figures of the first movement and the witty surprise ending of the second.

Elliott Carter’s 1948 Woodwind Quintet, a complex and challenging piece that is both tricky and rather charming, interweaves the five instruments in complicated ways while keeping their voices quite distinct. The score sends all five instruments to extremes of their compass, but the performance made it all sound easy. Featured here were Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby (flute), Dan Williams (oboe), Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Jonathan Karschney (French horn), and Paul Rafanelli (bassoon), all of them excellent right down to the wry, understated finale.

The evening’s biggest surprise was the performance of Mikhail Shmidt, a member of the Symphony’s first violin section, in Enescu’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in A Minor (with pianist Oana Rusu Tomei). Played with a lot of freedom and the maximum passion, this sonata is a “dance in the popular Romanian character,” and the expressive Shmidt was dancing and stomping as well as playing – at some points, almost levitating off the ground. The gypsy melodies emerged expertly with soulful verve, and fine partnership from the pianist.

A late addition to the program was Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins, with the excellent Merks joined by her violinist colleague Jeannie Wells Yablonsky. Well matched in terms of tone and style, the duo played the circling, arching lines of the sonata with considerable verve and expertise.

The program’s finale was the Shostakovich trio, a great piece and a perennial showstopper on chamber-festival programs around the world. The pianist and linchpin of the piece was Alexander Melnikov (a protégé of the great Sviatoslav Richter), who went on to establish himself first as a competition winner in the early 1990s, then as a soloist and as an award-winning duo partner (with violinist Isabelle Faust). In the Shostakovich, Melnikov was a mighty presence at the keyboard, with well characterized and strongly accented passages that were sometimes achieved at the expense of strict accuracy: neighboring keys were occasionally struck along with the intended ones. Melnikov’s sonority in the big, bell-like chords of the third movement was particularly impressive; in the fourth movement, he lunged like a panther into the music, attacking the keyboard with highly expressive results.

Performing with Melnikov in the Shostakovich were two SSO players, violinist Artur Girsky and cellist Walter Gray. Both are good musicians who had trouble with the tricky, eerie sustained harmonics in crucial passages, particularly the one that opens the first movement. Pitch and tonal intensity wavered where they needed to be steadily sustained. The finale found all three players in fine form for an enthusiastic ovation.
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