Georg Druschetzky - Partita in C
John Dowland Orlando Sleepeth
NOW PLAYING JANACEK: Jenufa; WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde; R. STRAUSS: Salome
Pancho Vladigerov Bulgarian Dances, Op.23
William Brittelle Heiroglyphics Baby

The Classical Notebook

Classical KING FM announcers and featured musicians share their thoughts on local concerts, seasonal music and evergreen classical favorites.
by Jill Kimball posted Jul 30 2014 9:51AM

Leslie Katz, a violinist with the L.A. Opera orchestra, leads a group of young violinists as they walk and play in the PAC Plaza Friday afternoon, July 29, 2011. Photo by Matthew Anderson | Western Washington University

When young people and seasoned professionals come together to make music, it's a beautiful thing. That's what happens for two weeks every summer at the Marrowstone Music Festival, presented by the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras. At the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham, high school and college students from all over the region learn the tricks of the trade from nationally-recognized professional musicians in intensive master classes, private lessons and group rehearsal.

Both weeks of the festival culminate in entire weekends of impressive concerts from the students and from the festival's faculty members. From large-scale works to chamber music, and from the greatest hits to the more esoteric, this festival has it all.

The opening faculty concert on Thursday, July 31 at 7:30pm is a fascinating mix of chamber music not often heard in performance. It takes a journey around the world, from Russia (Prokofiev's Quintet) to Germany (Hindemith's Kammermusik No. 1) to Japan (Takamitsu's "Rain Spell") to the Czech Republic (Nelhybel's Trio for Brass) all the way to Brazil (Villa-Lobos' Quintet). The performance is sure to be top-notch, as the musicians in this and all other faculty concerts teach at nationally-respected universities such as Manhattan and Eastman Schools of Music and Oberlin Conservatory, and they play in major orchestras all over the country, including the Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and our own Seattle Symphony.

The other faculty concert on Thursday, August 7 at 7:30pm contains some of the familiar, such as Stravinsky's A Solider's Tale and Ravel's Introduction and Allegro. There are also some sunny, upbeat surprises, such as Revueltas' Ocho por radio and Barber's Summer Music for Woodwind Quartet. Plus, we'll hear some rare pieces, including a chamber selection composed by Maurice Duruflé and a sextet by Glinka.

In the first Sunday matinee of the festival, on August 3 at 3pm, conductor Stephen Rogers Radcliffe hands his podium over to Gerard Schwarz, the Seattle Symphony's conductor emeritus. Schwarz conducts all the Marrowstone students in a performance of Stravinksy's beloved ballet Petrushka and Elgar's intense, moving Enigma Variations.

For the festival's closing concert on Sunday, August 10 at 3pm, there's a change in venue: rather than the usual performances at Western Washington University's Performing Arts Center, the Marrowstone students come together for a last hurrah at the historic Mt. Baker Theatre in beautiful downtown Bellingham. Stephen Rogers Radcliffe conducts a handful of audience favorites, including An American in Paris, The Pines of Rome, and Dvorak's Slavonic Dances.

There are many more excellent concerts to hear, and a full festival schedule is available on Marrowstone's website. If you're coming to the festival from out of town, visit the Bellingham Visitors Bureau website for a few tips on other things to see and do in town.

by Jill Kimball posted Jul 21 2014 2:38PM

Christophe Chagnard, the Northwest Sinfonietta's co-founder and music director, has announced he will step down in February 2015. We asked Chagnard a few questions about his time with the Sinfonietta, the season ahead, and his musical future.


Q; You've been conducting the Northwest Sinfonietta for 23 years. What events during that tenure stand out most in your memory? What makes you most proud?

I have always felt that sharing music with the Northwest Sinfonietta was a special occasion. There have been plenty of iconic moments: Mozart's Clarinet Concerto with Richard Stoltzman the weekend following 9/11 played to a packed Pantages Theater (I had been told that no one would come and we should cancel); conducting Mozart's Requiem for the first time and every time since; an all-Stravinsky program with dancers among us on stage and brilliant choreography by Donald Byrd; Beethoven's 9th Symphony at Benaroya Hall with eleven Cubans playing with us, received by a standing ovation from 1500 enthused supporters; and most recently, the spiritual transcendence of Bach's St. John Passion. I am most proud of Kathryn Habedank, the NS co-founder, for her courage, resilience, and complete dedication in the early years, when few believed that we would thrive beyond two or three seasons.

Q: Tell us about the last season you'll be conducting with the Sinfonietta.

I will be conducting three very special concert cycles in October, November, and February. The October program, Gypsy Nights 2,, was inspired by our first exploration of the Bohemian style in April 2010. Those concerts were the second-best attended (only after Beethoven's 9th) and the energy was irresistible. This year we will feature Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova, whose Slavic passion will ignite this dramatic music!

The second program will also be dear to me as we will present two new works composed by Greg Youtz and Samuel Jones. The Youtz piece is written for NS and is based on Mozart's "Paris" Symphony and the music of Gluck, to honor his 300th anniversary. My dear friends Sam Jones and Julian Schwarz will be formidable partners with the performance of Sam's Cello Concerto.

It was Mozart who inspired the creation of NS in 1991, so it is fitting to conclude my NS journey with his music. Mozart is the only composer I know who excelled at all musical forms, and I find that he is at the apex of his art in opera. I have selected some of his finest arias and overtures, and three marvelous singers to celebrate my 24 years and say goodbye through music.

The Northwest Sinfonietta.

Q: In the future, the Northwest Sinfonietta will rotate through a handful of conductors each season. What do you think that will be like?

It is essential for orchestras to get different perspectives from the podium, a practice which is the norm for full-time orchestras. With a smaller season, NS has had fewer opportunities to host guest conductors, so having multiple Artistic Partners each year will be an all-new adventure. I expect great excitement and commitment from NS members who will have adjust to each personality, technique, and vision while keeping the orchestra's identity that has made NS so special. NS has always been very adventurous, and this change marks a new and welcome leap of faith. There are very few orchestras that have adopted this leadership model, so this is uncharted territory and one that holds great promise.

Q: In addition to conducting and performing classical music, you also play jazz. What do you think are the biggest differences between these two genres?

Improvisation. It is interesting that improvisation, which used to be an integral part of classical musical training until the late 19th century is now associated with genres such as jazz and traditional music. The ability to react and create the music of the moment over any given harmonic structure is one of the most challenging and fulfilling creative acts I know. When I came to the U.S. in 1983, I studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music and quickly focused my interest on composing and conducting. I left my guitar in the closet for more than 15 years. When I picked it up again, it was more generous than ever and immensely gratifying. I realized how much I had missed that spontaneous freedom. With improvisation back in my life, I feel complete as a musician.

Q: What's next for you?

Since composing and conducting Opre Roma in 2010 and Embargo, Suite Cubana in 2012, I have felt a creative thrust in me that I can barely keep up with! I am currently working on Terra Nostra, a commissioned piece for symphony orchestra to be premiered in June 2015. The stipulation was that it has to be about climate change, so what a challenge! I just renewed my contract with the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, and I feel immensely proud of that partnership and the steadfast growth of its musical path. My band TOUCHÉ (an eclectic music sextet) just finished recording a new CD which is very good, particularly the original compositions which define our style. I also plan to guest conduct, and pursue non-musical, global interests, which in Seattle are plentiful. I have always greatly admired the unique ability that Americans have to re-invent themselves with such an insatiable optimism, and now it's my turn!

by Geoffrey Larson posted Jul 7 2014 9:12AM
Ralph Vaughan Williams and London.

The Seattle Chamber Music Society presents Ralph Vaughan Williams' Quintet in D major on July 16, On Wenlock Edge for Tenor, Piano and String Quartet on July 18, and How Cold the Wind Doth Blow and selections from Along the Field on July 23 at Nordstrom Recital Hall.

Does the traditional music of your country have a characteristic sound? Do composers of the same nationality write music that has a typical sound, or common traits? Like every budding composer, a young Ralph Vaughan Williams (pronounced Rayf) was fascinated by these questions as he searched for his own musical identity. Raised in London in the late 19th century, Vaughan Williams created works of music that grew out of the sounds of traditional British culture and merged with the forward-thinking aesthetic of the 20th century, creating a sound that is proud, dignified, and deeply personal. To understand why this music sounds quintessentially British, one must consider Vaughan Williams' compositional journey and the elements of the nation's culture that he cared so deeply about.

Vaughan Williams' early struggles to find his own voice as a composer were largely affected by the state of the contemporary English musical scene at the turn of the century, which he regarded as somewhat stagnant. He sought out a more diverse education than his peers, traveling to Berlin in 1897 to study with Max Bruch and Paris in 1908 for studies with Maurice Ravel. Rather than assimilate these foreign musical influences, however, Vaughan Williams turned to traditional English music to guide his inspiration. In his 1912 essay "Who Wants the English Composer?" he lamented the status of his fellow countrymen in the profession and the general lack of "Englishness" of English composers:

"Nobody wants the young English composer; he is unappreciated at home and unknown abroad. Indeed, the composer who is not wanted in England can hardly desire to be known abroad, for though his appeal should be in the long run universal, art, like charity, should begin at home. If it is to be of any value it must grow out of the very life of himself, the community in which he lives, the nation to which he belongs."

It was this idea of "musical citizenship" that drove Vaughan Williams' creation, in the same manner of composers of the Romantic nationalist period such as Czech composer Bedřich Smetana and Polish composer Frederic Chopin. He was distinguished by his supreme reverence of folk tradition. On Wenlock Edge, a six-song cylcle for tenor, string quartet, and piano completed in 1909, is an early example of the emergence of Vaughan Williams' confident personal voice. Though the piece's compositional techniques bear impressionistic echoes of Ravel, the work draws on music of Tudor England. A setting of text from A.E. Housman's 1896 book of prose, A Shropshire Lad, the work has an honest, straightforward beauty. A work of around the same time, the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, pays homage to the famous English church composer of the 16th century, revered for the supreme grace and distinctly British sound of his music.

Vaughan Williams was active on the English political scene, and was a highly social composer; he was intimately concerned with the layman's reaction to his work. He shared these ideals with Gustav Holst, and they met on regular "field days" to discuss and critique each other's work until Holst's death in 1934. Vaughan Williams was interested in every musical occasion: large or small, amateur or professional. The large amateur choral system remains a massive part of British musical culture to this day, and adaptations of traditional British folk songs are a large part of Vaughan Williams' choral catalog. His musical legacy encompasses everything from his extensive vocal output to chamber music, operas, symphonies, and large-scale orchestral depictions of life and nature in Britain.

In Hungary, Béla Bartók and Zoltan Kodály recorded and collected folk songs sung by primary sources as early as 1906, some of the first folk musicological research. The influence of this work is pervasive in their music. In the United States, Brooklyn-born city boy Aaron Copland toured the country in the 1930s and 1940s experiencing forms of folk music that were largely foreign to him. Just as this music fascinated his ears, it found its way into his famous populist music. Many composers venerated traditional music of their home country through their own personal aesthetic, and Ralph Vaughan Williams was one of the most passionate among them. Though great works like the Sea Symphony and The Lark Ascending are popular all over the world, they are especially revered in Great Britain, where they have become an essential part of the fabric of British culture. They represent the development of a characteristic modern British sound grown from traditional music, created with the unhurried, dignified, fervent purpose with which Vaughan Williams composed.

Geoffrey Larson is the Music Director of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.

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