Schenkman and Friends

By Melinda Bargreen

Reviewers and fans have compared Seattle’s Byron Schenkman to everyone from Vladimir Horowitz to Jimi Hendrix. Schenkman is equally at home with a world premiere and an obscure work for early keyboards, but everything he plays has a common denominator: it has to be something he loves.

There’s a lot of music Schenkman loves, and Seattle listeners will get to hear a surprising variety of it as his brand-new series, “Byron Schenkman & Friends,” continues its run at the Nordstrom Recital Hall in Benaroya Hall. The opening program on October 6 had all the hallmarks of Schenkman’s chamber music: fresh and vital performances, solid ensemble playing, and a sense of spontaneity that fit well with the early and little-known Beethoven quartets on the program.

“My starting point is really picking my favorite music,” Schenkman reflected after the opening concert. “I’m most excited about finding players who will make it come to life. I want them to share my aesthetic sensibilities – and a sense of fun. After all, as the saying goes, we don’t work the piano, we play the piano.”

The pianist (who also is a harpsichordist and fortepianist) was delighted when two friends who are not regular concertgoers showed up for the October 6 series opener, and expressed their surprise that the concert was so much fun.

“There’s still this concept that classical music is supposed to be serious,” muses Schenkman. “I think of it as music I am on this planet to play.”

The opening concert, which included violinist Liza Zurlinden, violist Jason Fisher, and cellist Nathan Whittaker (all excellent), offered buoyant performances of three early Beethoven piano quartets, plus sonatas of Haydn (for solo piano) and Boccherini (for piano and strings). Up next: a November 24 program of Bach sonatas with Schenkman’s longtime duo partner Ingrid Matthews, a violinist whose wholehearted, richly nuanced performance style meshes particularly well with his.

Woodwinds will join in for the December 29 concert of Vivaldi concertos, also featuring works of Boismortier and Telemann.

In March, Schenkman and friends present a program of mostly Rameau works; the finale, on June 15, leaps more than a century forward with Schubert’s beloved “Trout” Quintet and “Arpeggione” Sonata.

What’s up for the second season? Schenkman hasn’t finalized his plans yet (check his website for future details), but he’s thinking about an evening of Robert and Clara Schumann, perhaps a program of Bach harpsichord concertos (and a Brandenburg). And a double-harpsichord concert whose intriguing title might be “Harpsichord Follies.” Hold onto your hats.

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