You know it’s really summer when the lights dim inside the Nordstrom Recital Hall and the music starts. On Monday evening, the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival swung into its 2014 season — the first one since the 1982 opener without the late founding director Toby Saks in the house. She is greatly missed, but the quality of music making surely does credit to her vision and that of her successor, violinist/director James Ehnes.
The hero of the evening unquestionably was Augustin Hadelich, the German-born violinist who played the pre-concert recital and the opening performance in the main concert that followed. One of today’s brightest string stars, Hadelich combines technical brilliance with stylistic assurance and supple, pliant artistry; he is fascinating to hear and to watch. In the pre-concert recital, he performed five of the seven movements of David Lang’s “Mystery Sonatas” — angular, challenging solo pieces that Hadelich premiered last April in New York to rapturous acclaim.
From an opening movement in eerie harmonics to one recalling hints of country fiddling, Hadelich played with a big-hearted intensity that gave the insistent, arching lines the best possible hearing. It was his first time playing from an iPad instead of a conventional score, with foot pedals to advance the page turns (he confessed the presence of a second iPad backstage in case something went awry).
Hadelich returned to the stage for an exquisite reading of Saint-Saens’ Fantaisie in A Major with harpist Valerie Muzzolini Gordon (of the Seattle Symphony) — all delicious tone, refined and shaped and impossibly fluid against the shimmering context of the mercurial, virtuoso harp. The audience was enraptured, but there was more to come.
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Cellist Robert deMaine found an ideal partner in pianist Jon Kimura Parker for the familiar Rachmaninov Cello Sonata, in a performance full of power and conviction. DeMaine gave a big-scale, impassioned reading of the four movements, though the tone could have been a bit more pliant and more varied; Parker sailed through the virtuoso accompaniment with careful attention to balances. It was a remarkable partnership.
The finale, Schubert’s huge Octet in F Major, brought together five virtuoso string players (Ehnes, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Richard O’Neill, Efe Baltacigil and Jordan Anderson) with clarinetist Anthony McGill, bassoonist Stéphane Lévesque and Jeffrey Fair, horn. The performance had everything: refinement, gracefulness, boisterous energy and crisply incisive leadership from Ehnes. McGill, the brother of greatly missed former Seattle Symphony principal flutist Demarre McGill, was a particular standout.
This year’s festival is appropriately dedicated to the memory of the late Gladys Rubinstein, a founding board member of the festival and longtime supporter. Today’s audiences owe a lasting debt to the enlightened patronage and advocacy of people we never see on the stage, but whose influence makes everything we hear possible.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.