Frederic Curzon - Galavant
Claude Debussy Etude No.8 "Pour les agrements"
Modest Mussorgsky Commentary: Boris Godunov: Act IV: Final Scene
Sergei Rachmaninoff Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Missy Mazzoli Tooth and Nail

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 Sep 1 2015 1:00PM
You music lovers know what Labor Day weekend means: cookouts, traffic, and some serious planning for the fall concert season.

Yes, the Seattle Symphony's Opening Night doesn't kick things off until September 19th. But tickets to some of the fall concerts are going to go really fast, and it's time for a serious heads-up on those.

Here are a few don't-miss evenings that should sell out quickly, for your early consideration. Many of them present some pianists that should be big draws in this keyboard-fancying city:

-- September 19: Opening Night at the Seattle Symphony will pair music director Ludovic Morlot with this season's SSO artist in residence, French-born pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. On the program: Saint-Saëns' final piano concerto, the "Egyptian," along with some Americana: Copland's famous "Appalachian Spring," and Bernstein's "Wonderful Town" Overture. (Party-going fans can attend a gala formal dinner afterwards, at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.) Thibaudet also appears in recital on November 8.

-- October 11 and 12: The Seattle Symphony has a one-two punch of keyboard giants at Benaroya Hall. On October 11 it's mega-pianist Lang Lang, who performs two concerti with the Seattle Symphony under the baton of guest maestro Jakub Hr%u016Fša: Mozart's C Minor Piano Concerto No. 24, and the Grieg Concerto.

And the very next day, the great Andras Schiff comes to Benaroya Hall to play a solo recital with the intriguing title, "The Last Sonatas." These are the "last keyboard words" of such legendary composers as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. The Hungarian-born pianist may not have the celebrity cachet of Lang Lang, but this multiple Grammy winner is revered for exactly the sort of repertoire he'll play in his recital here. Hearing the two pianists back to back should make for some fascinating comparisons!

-- Haven't had enough piano yet? How about the young and highly regarded Jonathan Biss, who visits the President's Piano Series at Meany Theater on October 20. And what an interesting program: two Mozart Sonatas, Schumann's tuneful "Kreisleriana," and Schoenberg's "Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke." The series also presents the 2010 winner of the Chopin International Piano Competition, Yulianna Ardeeva, on Dec. 1 – lots of enticing Chopin pieces, plus Prokofiev's gripping Piano Sonata No. 8.

-- Is it possible that you missed Thomas Dausgaard's thrilling Sibelius cycle at Seattle Symphony earlier this year? Don't make that mistake again! The great Danish conductor (principal guest conductor of the SSO) returns November 12-14 for works of his countryman Carl Nielsen, plus the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 performed by Henning Kraggerud. Expect fireworks. And there's another opportunity to hear Dausgaard on November 19-22, in rare performances of Mahler's towering, unfinished Symphony No. 10 (completed by the late Deryck Cooke).

-- We know it's a long way off. But we have three magical syllables for you: "Yo-Yo Ma." The cello legend and all-around musical genius returns to Meany Theater December 8. They're already posting "limited ticket availability" on the UW World Series website. Don't delay.

Four days earlier (December 4) is the farewell concert of the great vocal quartet Anonymous 4, beloved to audiences for nearly three decades. Meany Theater should be the ideal setting for these terrific singers, who will perform ancient, traditional and modern works from each of their 20 critically acclaimed recordings. It should be an evening of great music … and an outpouring of love from the audience.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Aug 20 2015 10:41AM
Photos: Elise Bakketun for Seattle Opera
                                                                                                                                                            (Photos: Elise Bakketun for Seattle Opera)

A uniquely homegrown opera will be unveiled this weekend in a Friday premiere, and a Sunday repeat: Seattle Opera’s new An American Dream. Inspired by the stories told by local residents about their most prized possessions, filmed by Seattle Opera in the company’s 2011 “Belonging(s)” project, this 90-minute opera by composer Jack Perla is set in our region during World War II.
The idea of a community-related opera arising from those stories came from the Opera’s former education director Sue Elliott, who asked the company’s communications editor Jessica Murphy Moo if she would write the libretto.

“She knew I wrote fiction, so she asked me to submit my work,” Moo remembers. “After some time went by—enough that I thought I didn’t have a prayer—she hired me. It didn’t seem to bother her that I hadn’t written a libretto. She had worked with Jack Perla before for new works at Houston Grand Opera, and with the approval of Seattle Opera, she hired him to be the composer. My understanding is that she had shown him my writing as well to be sure he was on board with working with me.”

Classical KING FM broadcasts An American Dream on air Saturday, August 22 at 8pm. Tune in at 98.1 FM or stream online at

Moo and Perla watched all the “Belonging(s)” stories and ultimately decided to focus on two intersecting ones from the same time period for this intimate, small-scale opera set in 1942 on an unnamed island in Puget Sound.

“One was the story from a Japanese American woman (Mary Matsuda Gruenewald) who, as a child in one of the Japanese American detention centers during World War II, had collected hundreds of thousands of shells. She made them into jewelry to keep herself busy and focused. The other story was from a woman (Marianne Weltmann, a well-known singer and voice teacher) who had left Germany as a six-year-old in order to escape the Nazis. Her possession was a book about her hometown of Stettin.”

Interviews with these two fascinating women, now in their 80s, gave Moo a wealth of detail for the fictional story about an American and his German-Jewish immigrant wife, who move into the farmhouse unwillingly vacated by a Japanese-American family who are interned in a detention camp. Distilling all this into a libretto, however, wasn’t easy.

“Writing a libretto is very, very tricky,” Moo explains. “You have very few words on the page to move the story forward. You have to find those high-emotion spots where it makes sense for an aria or a duet or an ensemble. Choosing the words was tricky too. I found you need to balance the literal—the story needs to make sense—with the opportunity to go lyrical (we don’t sing to each other in real life, so there’s room to be more lyrical with the language in some moments).

“The other added challenge is that opera is a collaborative endeavor, so the language had to make musical sense to the composer.  Something about the words had to inspire Jack to put them to music.”

It took many drafts, a lot of tweaking and workshopping, to shape An American Dream into its current form. Moo says that even in the last few weeks of rehearsal, the collaborators have been “changing a few moments here and there as the singers get deeper into their roles, and as stage director Peter Kazaras defines his interpretation of the piece. After the workshop we realized that the mother character needed an aria, so we created that.”

But the results have been more than worth the effort.

“So many moments are far more powerful than I could have imagined them,” Moo muses. “I couldn’t sleep the night after the first time I heard the singers and the orchestra together. I’m not making that up. I couldn’t go to sleep!”

Operagoers can get deeper into the An American Dream experience with hour-long pre-performance educational programs, including documentary film, comments from Japanese Americans who were interned during the war, and historical exhibits (from such sources as the Wing Luke Museum and Washington State Jewish Historical Society).

And, as always at Seattle Opera, there are post-show talks. The performances start at 8 p.m. Aug. 21 and 2:30 p.m. Aug. 23, in McCaw Hall; tickets are $50-$125. It’s an opportunity to see and hear local history unfold in a brand-new way.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Aug 5 2015 9:57AM
Seattle Opera audiences know that the August season-opening show is likely to be something quite special: if it’s not the Wagnerian “Ring,” it’s a blockbuster production of a surefire classic.

This year, it’s something entirely different: a new take on an early Verdi opera, Nabucco (Italian for the Babylonian tyrant “Nebuchadnezzar”), a work that the company has never performed before. Composed before Verdi fully understood what was possible for the voice, Nabucco is famously difficult to sing and to stage.  Just 28 when he finished the opera (which was premiered the following year in 1842), the composer had been so devastated by the death of his wife and two children that he had vowed never to compose another note.

Luckily for posterity, Verdi changed his mind when presented with a libretto featuring the famous prisoners’ chorus, “Va, pensiero.” The opera he produced “little by little,” as he later wrote, proved enormously popular – at least partly because its theme of ancient oppression of the Hebrews by Nebuchadnezzar resonated with Italian patriots whose country was partly ruled by Austria.

Today, Nabucco has its staunch defenders and its firm detractors, but it remains one of the lesser-performed Verdi operas, and it has never been staged in Seattle before. New general director Aidan Lang is determined to give this challenging show a new life in Seattle. To do that, he is not only drawing on the kind of stagecraft – video, projections, spectacular visuals of all kinds – that made last season’s Semele so beautiful to behold.

Lang and his creative team also are trying something completely new: extending the McCaw Hall stage outward over the top of the orchestra pit, to create a “thrust stage” that will bring the singers and the action closer to the audience. Seattle audiences have never experienced anything quite like this in the hall.

Will it work? Will the orchestra, now situated on the stage in back of the singers, overwhelm the cast, or will the instrumentalists be so far back that their sound will be muffled? A lot depends on the onstage acoustical properties of the hall as they are modified by the placement of sets and singers.

Luckily, the production has the experienced and popular opera conductor Carlos Montanaro to advocate for both orchestra and vocalists in the quest for balance. Two powerhouse singers – Gordon Hawkins and Mary Elizabeth Williams, who earlier starred in Seattle Opera’s Porgy and Bess – take on the roles of the deranged Nebuchadnezzar and the power-mad Abigaille, daughter of one of his wives. The Sunday/Friday cast will feature Weston Hurt and Raffaella Angeletti in those roles. Christian Van Horn and Andreas Bauer will alternate as Zaccaria: Russell Thomas appears as Ismaele.

And one of today’s hottest young stars, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, will appear as Fenena, the “good” daughter who fights for the freedom of the Hebrews. Barton recently added the highly regarded Richard Tucker Award to her list of major international honors (including the BBC/Cardiff Singer of the World in 2013). She also will sing a recital August 10 in the more intimate surroundings of the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall: Highlights from the evening's diverse program include Turina's Homenaje a Lope de Vega, selections from Rachmaninoff's 12 Romances, and works by contemporary American composer Libby Larsen.
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