For a lot of aspiring professional classical musicians, a full-time gig with a top-flight orchestra is the brass ring to strive for — but of course symphonic works aren’t all there is to music. Most players who make a living as part of a large collective still crave the intimate camaraderie of chamber music or the spotlight of solo recitals. And though the Seattle Symphony has established strong chamber-music and new-music series to showcase its musicians, and the Seattle Chamber Music Society often features local performers, there’s still room to expand performance opportunities for Seattle’s wealth of excellent artists.
Sensing this need, Mary Ransdell launched The Seattle Series, closing its first season on May 6 with a recital by Seattle Symphony flutist Demarre McGill and Los Angeles-based Italian pianist Rodolfo Leone. It’s something of a reboot of a recital series Ransdell co-managed at Shoreline’s Florence Henry Memorial Chapel, with a new focus on top local performers and their invited colleagues.
Launched a year later than planned due to the pandemic, it’s been another step in Seattle’s slow return to normalcy, communal as well as musical. Ransdell chose the Women’s University Club as the new venue due to its charm and conviviality, hoping, like many classical-music presenters these days, to enhance the concert experience as a social event in ways that even the prettiest churches aren’t quite suited for.
This is one of the things that drew McGill to participate in the series. “Coming out of the past two years of uncertainty in the arts community,” McGill said, he’s energized by “Mary’s desire to find additional ways to connect music to music lovers, especially when it’s been so easy to retreat.”
McGill also relishes the chance to introduce a wider audience to music he feels personally close to (Ransdell curates the programming just lightly enough to avoid repertory duplication, otherwise it’s the artists’ choice). “I wanted to find great and beautiful works by composers who in a different era may not have had opportunities,” says McGill, namely gay composers and composers of color.
“Every piece is a mood-setter,” he says of his selections, which he describes as “very accessible” and “full of nostalgia.” His May 6 recital will open with Valerie Coleman’s rhapsodic, rhythmically vibrant “Fanmi Imèn” (Haitian Creole for “human family,” named after a Maya Angelou lyric) and continue with songs by pioneering African American composer William Grant Still and sonatas by Lowell Liebermann and Yuko Uebayashi.
Born and raised in Chicago and trained at Curtis and Juilliard, McGill now balances his SSO responsibilities with those of an assistant professor at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati: giving 14 lessons a semester, mostly in person, to each of 18 to 20 students. Many are the weekends in which he has to dash directly from a Saturday-night SSO performance at Benaroya Hall to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to catch a red-eye to Cincinnati for a full Sunday and Monday of teaching before jetting back here for weekday orchestra rehearsals. Despite the grueling schedule, McGill says, “I can’t imagine my performance existence without my teaching existence.”
The Seattle Series’ 2022-23 season is already largely in place, with Ransdell bringing SSO concertmaster Noah Geller and first-chair cellist Efe Baltacigil, both featured earlier this season, together again for an evening of piano quartets, and violinist Rachel Barton Pine for a Baroque program.