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Even though every classical presenter in town wants you all to get back in the concertgoing habit ASAP, no one’s timidly sticking with tried-and-true comfort food just to lure you in (even the familiar “La Bohème,” an opera about respiratory illness, seems like front-page news). There’s plenty of the new and adventurous on deck this autumn, from a premiere by the Seattle Symphony’s composer in residence to a daring composer/pianist collaboration.

Seattle Symphony opening weekend

It’s not just an opening night but an opening weekend for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. While the Sept. 18 opening night gala fundraiser — featuring a new, commissioned work by Reena Esmail, SSO’s 2020-21 composer in residence, and orchestral showpieces by Strauss and Stravinsky — starts at $1,000 per ticket (though it streams for free at Seattle Symphony Live and is viewable for a week afterward), the Sept. 19 offerings are all free. They include a 12:30 p.m. concert (kicking off the SSO’s initiative to front-burner music by women and composers of color with works by George Walker and Amy Beach, in addition to the pieces by Esmail and Strauss), ensemble performances from Seattle Symphony musicians, plus the unveiling of an Indigenous art installation.

Sept. 18-19; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; Saturday gala fundraiser tickets from $1,000 (free concert livestream starting at 6:30 p.m. at live.seattlesymphony.org); Sunday events free; 206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org


Why doesn’t every instrument have a celebration like this (Piccolissimo, perhaps)? Because not every instrument has a Sean Osborn — teacher, freelancer, composer and evangelist, who since 2001 has organized this annual autumn minifestival of vendors, master classes and concerts for clarinet players of all ages. Busy local musicians Mary Kantor, Florie Rothenberg and Jennifer Nelson join Osborn for the day, culminating in a concert of works old and new spotlighting this versatile instrument.


Oct. 2 (recital 7 p.m.); Seattle Pacific University, 3307 Third Ave. W.; free; clarinettissimo.org

Harmonia: Jubilation

Naturally, given the nature of COVID-19 spread, choral groups are the wariest about returning to concertizing, but this group is still on board for its Oct. 9 season opener — not only a return, but a rebirth. Sister ensembles Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers have chosen a much less unwieldy umbrella to gather under, and Harmonia’s celebrating its new name with a concert of opera favorites, new works by Quinn Mason and music director William White, and — to send everyone home inspired — the uplifting chorus “Make Our Garden Grow” from Bernstein’s “Candide.”

7:30 p.m. Oct. 9; First Free Methodist Church, 3200 Third Ave. W., Seattle; tickets from $10; 206-682-5208, harmoniaseattle.org. Harmonia’s main stage programs this season will be simulcast online; all in-person ticket holders will receive a streaming link.

Conrad Tao

Up until about 100 years ago, most virtuoso instrumentalists were composers, and many composers were able instrumentalists (or at the very least, conductors). But then specialization became the rule, and today it’s rare for any classical musician to be equally well known as a performer and a composer. Pianist Conrad Tao is one, as acclaimed for his own works as for his mastery of the classics. He opens the University of Washington’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts’ Piano Series with music by Beethoven and Schumann, Ruth Crawford Seeger and 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner Tania León, and a new work of his own.

7:30 p.m. Oct. 13; Meany Hall, University of Washington, 4040 George Washington Lane N.E., Seattle; $65; 206-543-4880, meanycenter.org

Seattle Opera: ‘La Bohème’

Yes, it’s the world’s most popular opera, but I’ll never complain about seeing it, and Seattle Opera’s heartfelt productions have never felt like they’re just throwing it on the stage for the box office’s sake. Puccini’s tragedy about artist poverty, love and chronic illness will never feel more timely, no matter how long ago and far away the story is set. If you’re new to opera, by the way, this is the place to start: ravishing music in a movie-length package.


Oct. 16-30; Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; tickets from $35; 206-389-7676, seattleopera.org. May be streamed; details still being worked out as of press time.

Emerald City Music: ‘What You Are to Me’

With a name like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, he was probably destined to be a composer. A child prodigy who stunned Europe in his teens with his opulent operas, he moved to Hollywood in 1934 — the rise of the Third Reich was further incentive — where he created some of Warner Bros.’ most swashbuckling film scores. (The Seattle Symphony’s playing his luscious “Violin Concerto” in March.) Emerald City Music opens its sixth season of chamber music concerts with Korngold’s 1930 Suite for two violins, cello and piano, alongside a premiere by composer Patrick Castillo.

8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Oct. 22; 415 Westlake Ave., Seattle; tickets from $55; 206-250-5510, emeraldcitymusic.org. Concerts are also streamed via its Emerald TV service (emeraldcitymusic.org/register; those subscribing before Oct. 15 get one month free; $12.99 thereafter).

Seattle Symphony: Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky

Though nominally inspired by the Moscow uprising of 1905 — in which a peaceful protest in front of Nicholas II’s Winter Palace was met with gunfire by Tsarist troops — Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 premiered in 1957, just after the crushing Soviet response to Hungary’s struggles to break free from its control. The hourlong symphony’s extremes of bleakness and violence must have made many listeners think of that more recent clash. And of course, fresh examples of the protest/brutality cycle, anywhere in the world, will always give listeners new tragedies to contemplate every time the symphony is performed.

7:30 p.m. Nov. 4, 8 p.m. Nov. 6, 2 p.m. Nov. 7; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets from $24; 206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org. Also streams at Seattle Symphony Live, for which subscriptions ($12.99/month, $129.99/year) go on sale mid-September; live.seattlesymphony.org.

GraceANN Cummings plays Garrett Fisher

When this intrepid pianist and searching composer first collaborated in the fall of 2019 — on Fisher’s “Raga Etudes,” improvisatory frameworks for a pianist to elaborate upon — the result was a 45-minute suite of overwhelming textural richness, rhythmic freedom and sonic grandeur that made it the most immersive and beautiful new piano music I’d heard in years. “Blueprints” is the pair’s next meeting of minds; no piano lover should miss it.

8 p.m. Nov. 12; Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle; tickets from $5; waywardmusic.org