If you’re lucky, there’s still time to catch the “swan song” of this year’s Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival: a “Brahms in Vienna” concert (7:30 p.m. this Friday, August 22, in the Orcas Center). The repertoire, which ranges from songs and Hungarian Dances to a Clarinet Trio and String Sextet, is sumptuous indeed, and the festival’s artist roster is stellar.
This year’s festival, judging from the “European Interlude” concert on August 15, is hitting new highs on several fronts. There was a sensuous performance of the seldom-heard Turina sextet “Scène Andalouse,” with Aloysia Friedmann taking center stage with a luscious viola solo. An eloquent set of six Schubert songs, featuring baritone Philip Cutlip and pianist Jon Kimura Parker, finished with an “Erlkönig” of such incendiary power that the audience was gasping: this adrenaline-fired performance belongs on disc. Violinist Chee-Yun turned in a fleet and vivid Saint-Saëns Sonata No. 1 with pianist Ian Parker, and the finale – the great Schumann Piano Quintet – got a mighty performance by Friedmann, Parker, and the ensemble.
Sometimes August is a relatively quiet month (in non-“Ring” years, anyway) on the concert calendar, but not this time. Seattle Opera provided two spectacular evenings that will be long remembered among regional music lovers. The first of the events, the International Wagner Competition on August 7, brought in nine young and resplendently good Wagnerian singers from as far afield as Germany and Australia for a riveting evening of arias from “der Meister’s” output, complete with full orchestra and a beautiful stage set. The audience and the orchestra voted, as well as a panel of distinguished judges, with complete concurrence in one of the two First Prizes awarded: the tenor Issachah (“Issa-KY-ah”) Savage, who won all three votes. His fellow tenor, the Danish David Danholt, won the other First Prize. Both are already at an imposingly high level that bodes well for their future careers, but the other contenders also made powerful impressions (particularly the Seattle-based soprano Marcy Stonikas).
Two nights later, Seattle Opera and its many fans celebrated the 31-year tenure of retiring general director Speight Jenkins with an unforgettable evening of song and celebration that Jenkins later called “the greatest night of my life.” On the stage were many internationally renowned singers whom he had featured earlier in productions including the Wagnerian “Ring”: Stephanie Blythe, Greer Grimsley, Alwyn Mellor, Christiane Libor, Brett Polegato, William Burden, Antonello Palombi, Peter Rose, Arthur Woodley, Nuccia Focile, and Gordon Hawkins, with the participation of the full orchestra, conductors Sebastian Lang-Lessing and Carlos Montanaro, and the Seattle Opera Chorus. Joyce Castle was the emcee; Issachah Savage reprised his gorgeous aria “Mein lieber Schwan” from the earlier competition.
It was a starry evening, planned to the tiniest detail, and followed by a festive dinner party beneath tents arranged along the Kreielsheimer Promenade outside McCaw Hall. What a great way to celebrate the long and distinguished tenure of Jenkins, who has done so much for the good of this region – and for opera lovers worldwide.