Classical Notebook

Top 10 Reasons to Play Piano

by Maggie Molloy

The benefits of playing the piano are vast: increased literacy, intellectual and creative growth, improved social skills and confidence—the list goes on and on! Here are just a few of the top reasons to study piano:

  1. Piano-playing improves cognitive development.

Piano students learn to read two lines of music while also using both ears, arms, legs, feet, and all 10 fingers simultaneously. This promotes full use of both left and right sides of the brain, creating new neurological pathways which can be utilized in other disciplines such as mathematics, science, and engineering. These neural connections can also have a profound impact on speech, language, memory, attention, and more.

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  1. Playing music improves academic skills.

By understanding beat, rhythm, measures, scales, and other unique musical concepts, piano students learn to to count beats, add and subtract, divide and multiply, create fractions, and recognize repeating patterns both aurally and visually. Studying music also teaches students more abstract concepts such as phrasing, structure, form, and artistic analysis, making lessons a valuable supplement to traditional schooling. Developing these musical skills early on can help lead to higher academic achievement in math, science, and language arts, and can even help increase students’ test scores.

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  1. Playing piano heightens coordination and motor skills.

Consistent piano practice trains a student’s fingers to be quick, agile, and precise—plus piano-playing requires both hands to work independently of each other, helping to increase the student’s dexterity. Reading sheet music also improves hand-eye coordination and reaction-time.

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  1. Learning to play piano enhances language skills and literacy.

Playing an instrument engages students’ visual, tactile, and aural skills. This multi-sensory process of learning music enhances the same communication skills needed for speaking and reading, and can be especially valuable for students with developmental dyslexia or learning disabilities.

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  1. Playing an instrument can help breed future success.

Learning an instrument teaches students critical thinking skills, time-management, and attention to detail, plus it lends structure to their time spent outside of traditional schooling. Studying music also allows students to develop patience, discipline, diligence, and dedication—character traits which will serve them both within and beyond their musical studies, regardless of what career path they pursue.

©VanHouten Photography, Inc.


  1. Playing music builds self-esteem.

Music lessons encourage students to accept and learn from constructive criticism. Turning negative feedback into positive change helps build confidence and strong self-esteem. Furthermore, performing for family, friends, and peers at piano recitals can help them build grace and poise both onstage and off.

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  1. Piano-playing fosters creativity and an appreciation for art.

Playing an instrument gives students an emotional and creative outlet where they can express themselves freely. It also fosters an appreciation for other artistic media, forms, and styles by teaching students how to think both critically and creatively in their artistic analysis.

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  1. Playing the piano helps reduce stress.

Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to help reduce stress levels and improve mood. Over time, consistent musical study can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

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  1. Studying music helps introduce children to other cultures.

True, the piano is a Western instrument—however, learning to play piano can still help expose children to other cultures from an early age. A well-rounded piano education will expose students to unfamiliar scales, folk melodies, musical philosophies, religious customs, and unique harmonic languages from around the world. Learning and playing music from other countries gives students intimate insight into the traditions, customs, and creative spirits of other cultures.

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  1. Playing piano helps students engage with history.

Studying piano gives students a unique opportunity to physically engage with the ideas and emotions of composers, musicians, and artists from across history. It teaches them to recognize different movements in art and music and, by extension, allows them to better understand the depth, complexity, and lasting influence of historical events. And as a versatile keyboard instrument backed by over 300 years of history, the piano has a whole lot to teach us.

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©VanHouten Photography, Inc.


Classical KING FM Spring 2017 Fund Drive

Help us raise $168,000!

It’s time for the KING FM Spring Drive, we’ll be on-the-air and online Friday, March 3rd – Friday, March 10th asking for your help to fund all the great music and programs you love.

KING FM is a community endeavor. It’s public radio. That means it’s funded by you… and even better, it means it belongs to you. All of this music belongs to our community—but it relies on the community to pay for it. That’s how it works. Make sure KING FM keeps working long into the future with your important contribution today. Your support matters so much.

Becoming a sustainer makes your gift even more affordable. Ongoing monthly giving breaks your donation into smaller, easy monthly amounts. Just $5, $10, or $15 a month may seem small… but it all adds up to a big impact over time. It helps KING FM thrive. It makes a big difference.




Marionettes, Hip-Hop Mozart and “In the Mists”: The Musical Adventures of Orion Weiss

by Dave Beck

Since 2012 the Seattle Chamber Music Society and Classical KING FM have been collaborating on a series of podcast with SCMS Festival artists. These 45-minute programs are musically illustrated with recordings by our podcast guest artists and with repertory performed at the SCMS Winter Festival. The lively and wide-ranging conversations that ensue are recorded in front of a live audience in Soundbridge at Benaroya Hall.

Our guest on the January 26, 2017 session was Orion Weiss. The pianist has long been a favorite performer at the Seattle Chamber Music Society, presenting memorable solo performances, ensemble collaborations, and acrobatic four-hands piano performances with his wife, SCMS artist Anna Polonsky. Our conversation ranged from Orion’s deep regard for the sense of hospitality SCMS provides for its musicians, to his fascination for composers writing around the time of the First World War, to his unusual experience as touring pianist with a troupe of Austrian marionettes!

Orion appears as soloist with orchestras the like the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony—he performs with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and at distinguished international festivals. His impressive catalogue of recordings runs from baroque to 21st century repertory. Our podcast session features an exclusive preview of music by Granados, Janacek and Scriabin that will be featured on Orion’s upcoming recording.

Listen to Dave Beck’s interview with Orion below:

Hungry for more?
Click here to listen to Dave Beck’s interview with Seattle Chamber Music Society Artistic Director James Ehnes.

American Chamber Classics with a Canadian Accent

by Dave Beck

Violinist and Seattle Chamber Music Society Artistic Director James Ehnes inaugurated our Classical KING FM/SCMS podcast series with us five years ago.  This extraordinary instrumentalist and recording artist returns to speak with Classical KING FM’s Dave Beck about the repertory at this 2017 Winter Festival.

In this podcast, James Ehnes shares his thoughts about (and his recordings of) music by Aaron Jay Kernis and Paul Schoenfield, and also talks with Dave about preparing the John Corigliano Violin Sonata in Seattle and presenting works by Jennifer Higdon, Steve Reich, and John Adams.

James Ehnes also knows how to throw a birthday party in grand style: to celebrate his 40th birthday on January 27th last year, he headed out on a grand national tour of his native Canada—commissioning new music for the occasion and bringing along his brilliant pianist partner and SCMS artist Andrew Armstrong for the journey.  They travelled from Brandon to Whitehorse to Yellowknife and Sackville, visiting every province and territory in Canada.

These podcasts are recorded in front of a live audience at Soundbridge in Benaroya Hall.

The Seattle Chamber Music Society Winter Festival runs through January 29th at Nordstrom Recital Hall, and Classical KING FM brings you live broadcasts of their concerts all weekend long! Click here for a list of broadcasts.

The Magic Flute in Cat GIFs

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera was a grand collaboration with librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, premiering just two months before the composer’s death at the age of 35. The plot of The Magic Flute is a fascinating mix of magic, love, spirituality, and good vs evil. We present a slightly simplified version here, told by the internet’s finest felines.

Listen to 98.1 Classical KING FM all throughout the month of January for 31 Days of Mozart.
All GIFs via

Act I

In a mythical land, Prince Tamino is pursued by a great serpent. (“Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!“)

dragon and cat






Three ladies in the service of the Queen of the Night appear and save the fainting Prince Tamino, who they find very attractive.

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After arguing over him, the three women leave and Papageno enters as Tamino wakes up. Papageno introduces himself as a bird-catcher, who has no wife. (“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja“)

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The three ladies reappear and give Tamino a portrait of Pamina, the queen’s daughter who they say has been captured by the sorcerer Sarastro. Gazing at the portrait, Tamino falls in love.

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The Queen of the Night appears in a burst of thunder, commanding Tamino to rescue her daughter from Sarastro’s confinement.

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The three ladies give a magic flute to Tamino and silver bells to Papageno. The ladies appoint three young spirits to guide them on their journey.

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In the next scene, we find Pamina in her confinement in Sarastro’s palace.

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Pamina rejects the advances of Sarastro’s slave leader, Monostatos.

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Having been sent ahead into the palace by Tamino, Papageno arrives and frightens off Monostatos.

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Tamino is led by the three spirits to the temple of Sarastro, but is barred entrance. A high priest greets the prince, telling him that it is the Queen of the Night, not Sarastro, who is evil. Urged by the high priest to approach the temple as a friend, Tamino plays the magic flute.

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Animals appear, enraptured by the music, and Tamino enters the temple.

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Hearing that Pamina is safe, Tamino rushes off into the temple to find her and Papageno.

Monostatos and his men chase Papageno and Pamina through the temple but are left helpless when Papageno plays his magic bells. The sorcerer Sarastro makes a grand entrance.

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Sarastro punishes Monostatos, promising Pamina that he will eventually set her free. Pamina catches her first glimpse of Tamino, who is led in with Papageno. Sarastro announces that Tamino must undergo trials of wisdom in order to become a worthy husband to Pamina. A chorus of priests declare that virtue and righteousness will make mortals like gods. (“Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit“)

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Act II

Sarastro tells the priests that Tamino will undergo trials to enter the brotherhood, and invokes the gods Isis and Osiris, asking them to protect Tamino and Pamina (“O Isis und Osiris”).

Tamino and Papageno are led to the first trial by two priests, who swear them to silence. The three ladies appear and try to frighten Tamino and Papageno into speaking. Papageno cannot resist answering them, but Tamino remains aloof, angrily instructing Papageno not to listen to the ladies’ threats and to keep quiet. Having failed to get Tamino to speak, the three ladies withdraw.

Monostatos tries to kiss the sleeping Pamina, but the appearance of the Queen of the Night interrupts him. The Queen gives her daughter a dagger and orders her to murder Sarastro, singing the famous “Queen of the Night Aria” (“Der Hölle Rache“).

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After the Queen of the Night leaves, Sarastro finds a distrought Pamina and consoles her, explaining that he is not interested in vengeance and she is safe. (“In diesen heil’gen Hallen”)

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In the second trial, a thirsty Papageno fails when he takes a glass of water from a flirtatious old lady. When he asks her name, she disappears. The three young guardian spirits bring Tamino and Papageno food, the magic flute, and the bells. Tamino begins to play the flute, which summons Pamina. She tries to speak with Tamino but he refuses her, bound by his vow of silence.

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Pamina begins to believe that Tamino no longer loves her, singing her aria “Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden.” She leaves in despair.

The priests inform Tamino that he has only two more trials to complete his initiation. Papageno has given up on entering the brotherhood, and now longs for a wife instead. The old lady reappears, and demands he marry her or face eternal imprisonment. When he promises to be faithful, the old woman is transformed into the beautiful young Papagena.

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However, as Papageno rushes towards Papagena, she disappears and the priests tell Papageno that he is not yet worthy of her.

After a suicidal Pamina is reassured by the three young spirits, she is soon reunited with Tamino. They are allowed to speak, and with the protection of the magic flute, they successfully pass through the remaining trials of water and fire.

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Papageno despairs at having lost Papagena and decides to hang himself, but is stopped by the three spirits. They advise him to play his magic bells to summon Papagena.

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When Papagena appears, the happy couple are united and make family plans in a stammering duet. (“Pa-pa-pa-pagena!”)

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The Queen of the Night appears with the three ladies and the traitorous Monostatos, plotting to destroy the temple.

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However, before the Queen of the Night and her conspirators can enter the temple, they are cast out into eternal night.

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Sarastro announces the sun’s triumph over the night, and blesses Tamino and Pamina. All praise their courage and hail the triumph of virtue, wisdom, and brotherhood.

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Lisa Bergman’s Top 5 Favorite Piano Concertos

Classical KING FM’s Great Concertos Series runs through Sunday, June 5.


Pianist Lisa Bergman, host of Explore Music and middays on KING FM (10 AM-1 PM Mon.-Sat. and 11 AM-1 PM Sun.), shares her most beloved works for piano and orchestra.

Emil von Sauer: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor

Lisa says: Passionate and soulful – with an amazing blend of flavors – a touch of Massenet, a soupçon of Chopin, and dashes of Grieg, Franck and Wagner…it is simply indescribably beautiful.


Cesar Franck: Symphonic Variations

Lisa says: A veritable showcase of mood changes – one theme transformed into a progression of emotion and changes of keys – all the while is as if we are eavesdropping on an intimate and sometimes boisterous conversation between pianist and orchestra…


Maurice Ravel: Concerto for the Left Hand

Lisa says: Composed for a famed pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in combat in World War I fighting on the Russian Front, yet performed by many a pianist with both hands who must struggle mightily to resist helping the left hand from time to time with the idle right hand – but no cheating is allowed!


Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor

Lisa says: Composed when he was but 25 years old, brought him international recognition before any other Norwegian composer!   This concerto has become a one-hit wonder as one of the most often performed piano concerti in the repertoire – and rightfully so!   Perhaps this is why Grieg composed only one?


Manuel de Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Lisa says: An atmospheric masterpiece, complete with the musical scents of Andalusia — jasmine and citrus, a trickling of fountains, castanets and warm breezes.

The Favorite Foods of Famous Composers

Seven gastronomical preferences of the greats, followed by careful analysis.
By Geoffrey Larson

Mozarts Favorite Foods

1.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s letters preserve many mundane facts about his life, including his daily schedule and love of billiards and fart jokes. We know that Mozart loved his food, particularly liver dumplings with sauerkraut. If you were an Austrian in the Classical and Baroque eras, you were not a light eater. A cheap common meal in Vienna in 1786 consisted of two large meat dishes with soup, vegetables, bread, and a quarter liter of wine, while the court dinners of Viennese aristocrats rivaled those of Louis XIV. Vienna’s cake game is unstoppable to this day.

What this tells us: W.A.M. was a red-blooded Austrian all the way. Though most modern performances take a light approach to his music, he is said to have enjoyed an orchestration as full-bodied as one of those Viennese feasts, even with instrumental forces that would seem unheard of today in concerts of his music. As the composer wrote to his father of a performance of the 34th Symphony in Vienna in April 1781, “The symphony was magnifique and had a great success. Forty violins played, the winds were doubled, there were 10 violas, 10 double basses, eight cellos, and six bassoons.”

Gioacchino Rossinis Favorite FOods
2.  Gioacchino Rossini
We love Rossini for the charm of his operas and his bad hair. We also know Rossini to be a huge fan of gourmet food. You know that you have a thing for eating when dishes such as Tournedos RossiniChicken alla RossiniFilet of Sole alla Rossini, and Eggs Rossini are being named after you (the latter is especially appropriate, given the fact Rossini literally looks like an egg). The composer famously retired with a huge fortune in 1829 at the age of 37, and devoted the last 39 years of his life to eating. His favorite treat? A whole turkey stuffed with truffles.

What this tells us: Like Don Magnifico, the great gastronome of La Cenerentola, Rossini did not hold back. The extravagance of his orchestration and virtuosic vocal writing is a feast for the ears – and we’re always ready to pig out.

Erik Saties Favorite Foods
3.  Erik Satie
We know a lot about Erik Satie’s eccentric, mono-chromatic lifestyle. He would only wear gray suits, and insisted on consuming food that was exclusively white. Examples included eggs, sugar, animal fat, salt, coconuts, rice, turnips, pastry, white cheese, white fish and shredded bones.

What this tells us: Being undeniably weirder than everyone else was (and is) a strong trait for a composer; Satie’s enigmatic Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes are among his invaluable additions to the repertoire. And he really was out there: when friends entered his tiny one-room apartment in Arcueil after his death in 1925, they found his collection of umbrellas (over 100), a piano with strips of paper threaded through the strings (some that read “My name is Erik Satie, like everybody else”), and drawings of fantasy castles (similar to ones that someone had mysteriously advertised for rent in a Parisian newspaper).

igor stravinskys favorite food
4.  Igor Stravinsky
Stravinsky was very particular about his love of honey: royal jelly honey, to be precise. He went to great lengths to ensure his access to this particular honey in his tea, even carrying jars of it with him to restaurants (“As you can imagine, honey fit for a queen bee, is best honey of all”). After running out in a visit to Tel Aviv in 1962, one of his hosts managed to procure a jar of it, causing a jubilant Stravinsky to exclaim, “You’ll see. This’ll bring back my youth.”

What this tells us: Though Stravinsky gave us some of the thorniest moments of music in the early 20th Century, it’s no wonder that the spiciest moments of his music are often contrasted by the sweetest passages of dolce melody. The lullaby that follows the Infernal Dance of King Katschei in Firebird is pure honey to the ears.

frederic chopins favorite foods

5.  Frederic Chopin
After growing up in Warsaw, Chopin moved to Paris in 1831 and would never return to his native Poland. He missed many things dearly about his childhood home, particularly Polish cuisine. Zrazy is said to be his favorite, a braised Polish roulade dish made of thin slices of beef rolled around any variety of fillings, such as vegetables and eggs.

What this tells us: Chopin’s nationalism is present throughout his music, including his seminal works written as a resident of Vienna and Paris. He composed piano works that wrapped Polish folk music forms and militaristic fervor together with influences of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Field in a mouth-watering mix of musical innovation.


6.  Richard Wagner
Numerous writings of Richard Wagner advocate vegetarianism, and recount multiple formative occasions where the composer witnessed the suffering of animals, such as an instance where Wagner accidentally wounded the leg of a hare while firing squeamishly on a hunting trip. But carnivorous, buffet-busting low brass players everywhere can rejoice: apparently, Wagner wasn’t very good at sticking to his own vegetarian principles. According to his second wife Cosima, Wagner was “in principle” a vegetarian, but “in practice, however, neither his health nor the orders of his physician allowed him to be a vegetarian.”

What this tells us: Though Wagner’s vegetarian proclivities manifested themselves in opinion rather than in practice, we can recognize veg influence in some of his operatic writing. In Parsifal, Gurnemanz remonstrates the titular young protagonist for shooting a swan in Act I:

So you could murder in this sacred forest,
Where gentle peace enfolded you?
The woodland beasts came close and trusted you,
Greeting you, friendly and tame.
From their branches, what warbled the birds to you?
What harm did the faithful swan?

Here, see here! You pierced him here.
All is blood, his wings are lifeless,
His snowy plumage crimson defaced.
Quite broken his glance – look at his eyes!
Now does your evil action haunt you?


7.  Gustav Mahler
The vegetarianism that Wagner hypocritically espoused had a real effect on the young Gustav Mahler, who genuinely adopted it. On an outing to a local bar in Moravia in 1883, he supposedly shocked his colleagues by rejecting the numerous meat options on the menu for an order of spinach and apples. Like every true Viennese resident, Mahler also had a significant love of sweets and pastries, which continued after health problems forced him to relinquish his vegetarianism later in life. His sister Justine apparently had a killer recipe for Marillenknödel. On hearing that a friend wasn’t a fan of the Viennese apricot dumplings, Mahler exclaimed: “What! Is there a Viennese to whom Marillenknödel means nothing? You will come with me right away to eat the heavenly dish. My sister Justi has her own recipe for it, and we will see if you remain indifferent.”

What this tells us: Always thinking on a broad scale, Mahler once proclaimed to a friend that as a result of his vegetarianism, “I expect nothing less than the regeneration of mankind.” Similarly, with his symphonic writing, the composer expected to achieve something universal: “A symphony must be like the world,” he said. “It must embrace everything.” His epic symphonies represent musical creation on its largest scale, and resound with higher purpose. Echoes of vegetarianism can be found in his constant obsession with the natural world, portrayed so clearly in the first and third symphonies. But his works also hold a gooey core of tenderness and personal feeling, and moments like the soulful Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony are sweeter than any apricot filling.

Geoffrey Larson is Music Director of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra and a contributor to KING FM.

Seattle Opera 2016-17 Season Preview

By Melinda Bargreen

The grand opening of Seattle Opera’s season is always an exciting event. Scheduled for the height of summer in August, this opener slot is often used as a showcase for a “really big show” – sometimes a Wagnerian opera, or a spectacular like Puccini’s “Turandot.”

This year, get ready for something completely different: a rollicking Rossini rarity called The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory. The company is marketing this high-spirited piece with descriptors like “Monty Python” and “Broadway musical,” neither of which you usually associate with opera.

But it’s summer, and company general director Aidan Lang wanted to open the season with a work that has the breezy high spirits and sense of fun we associate with Seattle in August (Ory, more formally titled Count d’Ory, runs August 6-20; tickets start at $25). Added to this is the lure of presenting a major composer’s work that has never been heard here before – certainly not in this incarnation. Because few operagoers will have any familiarity with the opera, Lang and his production team decided to add the “Wicked Adventures” to the title to “give a sense of the fun the show offers” right from the get-go – including some animation to accompany the overture.

“It’s a glorious confection,” says Lang of the work he has chosen to launch Seattle Opera’s 2016-17 season.

“We wanted an opera that would start off the season with great word of mouth. And Ory is one of the few operas that is genuinely funny, not just ‘opera funny.’ It’s not slapstick, but it has a sort of mad energy that is there in the score. I’d call it ‘Monty Python meets Blackadder meets the Love Guru’.”

But Lang didn’t choose this Rossini rarity just because it’s one of his own favorites. He focuses on the likely audience reaction: “What sort of an evening do I want the audience to have? What is the desired impact of the piece? It’s summer, and I want people to have a good laugh with some glorious music.”

Although Lang feels “it’s the impact of this opera that is the driver, not who is in it,” it doesn’t hurt that this season-opener will present Seattle favorite and reigning international bel canto star Lawrence Brownlee as the naughty Count. Brownlee will alternate with the well-known tenor Barry Banks in that role; Sarah Coburn, another popular Seattle Opera guest, will share the role of Adele with company-debuting artist Lauren Snouffer. Hanna Hipp and Stephanie Lauricella will sing the “pants role” of Isolier.

Giacomo Sagripanti (who led the company’s La Cenerentola in 2013) will conduct. Stage director Lindy Hume and production designer Dan Potra have created what the company calls “a mashup of medieval France and psychedelic ‘70s flower power.”

The plot is set in the 1200s in France, where the men are off fighting in the Crusades – except for Count Ory, a party boy who wants to seduce the wives left at home. His attempts, and those of his adolescent page Isolier, lead to strange disguises and stratagems (first Ory appears as a “love guru” dispensing advice to the wives whose husbands are away, and finally he and his men appear at the castle of the beauteous Adele in nuns’ habits).

Choosing this upbeat opener was only part of the challenge of assembling an opera season. Opera directors consider many angles – including the desirability of a popular opera in May, when it’s subscription time and they want large audiences and lots of positive buzz. So in May of 2017 we’ll get Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in a revival of a spectacular production featuring the colorful work of designer Zandra Rhodes. Julia Jones will conduct, in her Seattle Opera debut.

“Then we ask ourselves, ‘What haven’t we done recently … or at all?’” Lang observes. “Hansel and Gretel was definitely due.

“And we have never presented Janacek’s Katya Kabanova before. For people today who are going to the opera for the first time, and who are maybe a bit opera-wary, the last thing they should go to is a big costume drama. Katya Kabanova is so immediate and so realistic. It’s sort of a ‘Breaking Bad’ opera, with so much raw emotion.”

In January, another crucial period for audience development, the company will present a well-loved classic: Verdi’s La Traviata, in Peter Konwitschny’s “five star” (Sunday Telegraph) production. Corinne Winters and Angel Blue will share the role of Violetta, the courtesan with the heart of gold; Stefano Secca and Zach Borichevsky will appear as her Alfredo.

For the season as a whole, Lang says, he is aiming for “a variety of experiences, thought-provoking and intense. These pieces entertain but they also ask people to think, and they encourage discussion. You may not agree with every production, but it will be put on with artistry and with thought.”

Every Saturday night on KING FM, experience the best opera recordings in the world with hosts Aidan Lang and Jonathan Dean of Seattle Opera. Plus, hear LIVE broadcasts of Seattle Opera productions straight from McCaw Hall throughout the season.

The Seattle Opera Channel is back! Click here to stream The Seattle Opera Channel now.

Jennifer Koh on her “Unexpected” Tchaikovsky and Love of Russian Literature

KING FM’s Dave Beck (Weekdays & Saturdays 1pm – 5pm, Sundays 1pm – 4pm) chatted with violinist Jennifer Koh about her new release of Tchaikovsky’s complete works for violin and orchestra with Alexander Vedernikov and the Odense Symphony.

Dave Beck: Congratulations on the new recording! 

Jennifer Koh: Thank you so much.

DB: We so enjoyed your performance in Seattle with the Seattle Symphony of the Esa-Pekka Salonen concerto, just about two years ago now. What a contrast with the Tchaikovsky!

JK: Ah, I think there might be weird connections!

DB: Tell me about that.

JK: I think Esa-Pekka’s very…he’s still a performer, he’s a conductor, and Tchaikovsky’s very much a part of our musical consciousness as performers of older music and also contemporary music, so I think everything informs the other.

DB: That’s a great interest of yours from a number of your recording projects and interesting commissioning projects, thinking of Tchaikovsky alongside Esa-Pekka Salonen, or Bach or Beethoven alongside a contemporary composer – that’s a great area of fascination with you.

JK: Yeah, and I love working with fellow artists and fellow composers and I love being part of this community, so I feel very lucky. But I am thrilled about doing Tchaikovsky. I feel like it’s a little unexpected.

DB: Yeah, exactly. One of the unexpected aspects of it is that you’re just now getting around to recording the composer’s music. I’m sure this a piece that has been a part of your repertory and your experience since you were very young – but [you are] just now recording it.

JK: It’s kind of an interesting return to when I was younger. The conductor and the orchestra – the Odense Symphony and Alexander Vedernikov – I met them both and I worked with them both even before my career started. I met them within one month of each other I think when I was fifteen years old, and with Alexander it was really special. First of all he was very kind to me, and I was just a little kid at that time. But I think we felt this very strong musical connection [to] Tchaikovsky because we did the Tchaikovsky concerto together and then the only other time we met was twenty-something years later, which was a few years ago, and we did Tchaikovsky concerto again with NHK Symphony. And it was so fascinating because we’ve changed so much as musicians, and yet that musical bond was still there. Then we just said to each other, “we should record this!” And that’s kind of how this project came about.

DB: So you were in your teen years, playing this international violin competition, playing it in this city where Tchaikovsky worked and taught and walked…what does that experience feel like, and how does it connect you to the composer and that tradition in a deep way?

JK: I’ve always had a love of Russian literature and poetry, and even now, one of my favorite novels is Anna Karenina, and one of my favorite poets is Anna Akhmatova, and at that time I was really truly obsessed with everything Russian, like Russian history, Russian literature, going all the way into Soviet satirists, and the entire history…it’s such a fascinating country. I think Tchaikovsky was part of that obsession as well.

DB: I look at your career and all the work you do – even in this conversation, talking about Tchaikovsky and the [Russian] literature – you’re really committed to contextualizing music, to give people a sense of why these artists matter, and why this music matters. I’m not so sure that your studies at Oberlin weren’t an important step in that direction.

JK: Maybe. I loved Oberlin; I think it really gave me the space to learn all the things I was curious about at the time, and essentially by the time I left college that experience gave me the tools to teach myself in the future. I wouldn’t replace that time period with anything else, for sure. The kinds of friends I made there have been lifelong friends, so that was incredibly important. Musically speaking, I think a lot of programs and ideas come out of this concept because when I was a kid, everyone was always saying classical music was dying and dead. For me, just even in terms of being a human being aside from being a musician, it’s always been interesting and for some reason important to me to always shorten distances, whether it’s between the present and the past, by programming contemporary music with older music, or if it’s in the relationship between composers and performers in terms of performing traditions. I think the thing that really interests me about music and art in general is its ability to connect us as human beings.

DB: I love all the little interpretive touches, the slides and the rubato in this new recording. You don’t only do the Tchaikovsky Violin concerto, but there’s the Sérénade mélancolique, the Valse Scherzo, a piece that translates to Memory of a Dear Place. There’s some Tchaikovsky violin literature that we don’t hear all that much in this recording.

JK: I love all of these pieces. I open with Sérénade mélancolique, which I think is just one of the most expressive pieces ever. For me at least, the way I approach it is all about expressivity. It’s not necessary about beauty, it’s about expressivity. Although it is funny, because I played with Philly Orchestra and I did a Bruch concerto with them, and of course I went to school with most of that orchestra because I went to Curtis, and I remember they came up to me afterwards and they were like “You sound like this old Jewish guy put into an Asian female body.” I was like that’s so nice of you, thank you! When I play that kind of repertoire I’m super old-school I think.

DB: What sorts of insights does that pairing of composers of different times produce for you? If you now go out and put one of these little Tchaikovsky pieces on the program with another composer, what will that be like or what will that process yield for you?

JK: You know what’s funny? I never thought of pairing Tchaikovsky with something else. I was thinking, I actually have no idea what I would pair with Tchaikovsky. It would be very normal, I guess, for people to pair Prokofiev or Shostakovich or maybe even Gubaidulina for people who listen to new music, but for some reason that wouldn’t feel right to me. So I’m going to have to think about that question.

Visit KING FM on YouTube for fantastic solo violin performances.

KING FM’s First Five Years of Public Radio

Classical KING FM moved to the public broadcasting model in 2011, eliminating commercials on air and beginning a new era of increased community involvement and highly varied programming. Acting as a hub for great musical art in the Northwest, KING FM has expanded the number of organizations featured in Northwest Focus programming, and now broadcasts over 70 local performances every year. With an average weekly cume of over 300,000 radio listeners and 20,000 streaming listeners, KING FM is connecting with a larger audience than ever before. Adding in social media impressions and interactions, nearly half a million people are reached by KING FM programming and content each week.

As a listener-supported public station, the core of KING FM’s mission is to actively grow, diversify, and enrich the love of classical music in our community. KING FM is reaching more of the young members of this community now more than ever before, and is instilling a love of great music in a new generation of listeners with new education programs. Starting in 2015, KING partnered with the Seattle Symphony to present the Classical KING FM Family Concerts, where children participate in special craft activities and instrument petting zoos before a special Seattle Symphony performance.

Families enjoy free admission to the SoundBridge Music Discovery Center following the concert. Online, KING FM now offers expanded Family Resources, including guides for how to listen to music with young children, educational concert listings, and episodes of Lisa Bergman’s Gracie Award-winning Explore Music series. This content is also presented on KING FM’s new iPads in the lobby of a variety of performances, offering inspirational content to young people that augment the SSO concert experience. KING FM presents its fifth annual Young Artist Awards this year, a competition in collaboration with the Seattle Chamber Music Society that brings the work of our region’s finest young classical talent to a larger stage and connects young performers with world-class SCMS artists.

2011’s transition to the listener-supporter model wasn’t just about removing on-air commercials and ensuring the station’s future financial viability; it was about serving the musical organizations of our Northwest community more comprehensively. By featuring local arts personalities on Musical Chairs with Mike Brooks, the Arts Channel with Marta Zekan, and in live performances directly from KING FM studios on Northwest Focus Live with Sean MacLean, KING has given the arts a voice in the Pacific Northwest. Our region’s arts scene is dynamic and vibrant. KING FM has created a platform that is equally vital, enabling arts organizations to reach a much wider audience.

An especially exciting development was the launch of the first season of On Stage with KING FM in 2015, a series of concerts at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue. Featuring curation and special concert appearances by the musician members of KING FM’s staff, this unique and intimate concert series is already making an impact on the Eastside, attracting nearly 2,500 listeners in its first season.

Striving to provide great listening options for every musical taste, KING FM has continued to develop its streaming channels over the past five years of public support. Second Inversion, an online channel streaming new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre, was launched in 2012 and has flourished under significant grant support and the leadership of Maggie Stapleton, winner of Edison Research’s Audio 30 Under 30 Award. Second Inversion is hosted and curated by performers, composers, and advocates of new music. Renowned cello soloist Joshua Roman became Second Inversion’s Artistic Advisor in 2015. With a dedicated mobile app, Second Inversion will continue to inspire, engage, and cultivate the next generation of classical music audiences.

The Symphonic Favorites Channel became the KING FM Seattle Symphony Channel, HD3 in March 2015, offering listeners unprecedented access to the SSO through spotlight interviews with Dave Beck and showcases of upcoming programming with insights from Seattle Symphony musicians. The KING FM Seattle Opera Channel was also launched in 2015, offering a larger variety of curated short works and opera broadcasts hosted by Seattle Opera personalities. In 2016, KING’s online streaming bitrate was increased, providing enhanced audio quality for all channels.

Without the generous contributions of KING FM’s Listener Members, none of this would be possible. It is your support that enables the huge variety of concert broadcasts, weekly programs, and community outreach that places Classical KING FM at the center of our area’s classical music scene. you make it happen: you affirm the value of great classical radio, and you ensure that it continues to serve our community and stream to listeners all over the world. From all of us at Classical KING FM, thank you!