The Seattle Chamber Music Society's indoor/outdoor summer festivals offer something for chamber-music newbies and longtime fans.
When word got out that I had tickets to the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, I suddenly became very popular. Everyone I asked was eager to attend a concert with me. Friends of friends politely fished for an invitation. Even my husband — who I didn’t know could tell the difference between Bach and Brahms — put first dibs on opening night.
It’s that big a deal.
Now in its 27th year, the festival has become one of the most anticipated summer arts events in the Northwest. Fans find irresistible the combination of artistic director Toby Saks’ pitch-perfect programming and the long roster of world-class talent.
“What makes the quality of the concerts so exceptional,” says Saks, a cellist and University of Washington music professor, “is that the artists are renowned musicians. Many of them have significant solo careers but are also outstanding chamber players.”
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Like associate artistic director James Ehnes, who is also a Grammy-winning violinist. And Cynthia Phelps, longtime principal violist of the New York Philharmonic. Or 22-year-old violinist Stefan Jackiw, whose recent solo performances with the Seattle Symphony put local critics into an ecstatic swoon. The list goes on, some 37 names deep. Suffice it to say it’s the equivalent of an all-star lineup. A dream team of chamber players.
For many devotees, the festival offers a chance to hear chamber music as it’s meant to be heard: up close and personal. Audience members can often see every facial expression, hear every intake of breath and, most important, feel the energy radiating from the musicians as they commune with each other, with their instruments and with their listeners.
The Lakeside School, where the July series is held, and the Overlake School, where the festival concludes in August, both offer gracious settings for this kind of musical close encounter. Concerts are held most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (plus a few additional days; see info box), and you can choose to buy a ticket and sit inside or to camp outdoors for free on the lawn, where the music is piped. Some people swear by the intimacy offered indoors. Others find the experience of listening outside under the evening sky just as magical. Either way, pack a picnic dinner and get there early enough for the free 7 p.m. recitals that precede the main concerts.
There’s only one rub: It’s hard to choose which concerts to attend. So here’s a little help for everyone feeling overwhelmed by the schedule. Out of this year’s tempting candy box of classics and crowd-pleasers, Saks, the artistic director, good-naturedly agreed to categorize a handful:
Most likely to make you rush out and buy a recording
Arensky’s Quartet for Violin, Viola and Two Celli in A minor, Op. 35. “I don’t know of a single other piece of music with that combination of instruments. Because of the two cellos, there’s a melancholy about it that’s haunting,” says Saks. 8 p.m. Monday, Lakeside School
Most likely background for a marriage proposal
Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19. “If you’re not already married, you’ll want to get married after listening to the slow movement.” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Lakeside School
Most likely to inspire a neophyte to fall in love with chamber music
Schubert’s Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Major, D. 667 “Trout.” “This was one of the first chamber-music pieces I ever heard — a recording of Pablo Casals playing at the Prades Festival in Spain. It made me fall in love with chamber music when I was 10 years old.” 8 p.m. Friday, Lakeside School
Technically most challenging piece
Mozart’s Piano Concerto (arr. for Piano and String Quartet by W.A. Mozart) in A Major, K. 414. “People think Mozart’s easy. This piece is technically difficult because it needs a sparkling lucidity, clarity, and the utmost subtlety.” (Check out pianist Alon Goldstein’s blog on the piece, www.alongoldstein.com.) 8 p.m. July 14, Lakeside School
Best suited for
with your sweetie
Dvorák’s Quintet for Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 97. “It evokes a starry, summer night. In fact, this concert is perfect for the lawn, because it’s already sold out.” 8 p.m. July 16, Lakeside School
the most buzz
World premiere of Jeffery Cotton’s Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp. “Definitely the most buzz.” That’s all Saks would say about this eagerly anticipated surprise from the American composer and the second piece commissioned by the SCMS Commissioning Club. 8 p.m. July 21, Lakeside School, with free recital introduction at 7 p.m.
to inspire you to take
Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Schumann for Piano, Four Hands in E-flat Major, Op. 23. “Everyone would want to bring their level up to be able to play this piece. It’s one of the most lush, satisfying pieces to play and listen to.” 8 p.m. July 25, Lakeside School
Most likely to make you cry, in a good way
Schumann’s Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 47. “The other movements are very exhilarating, but the slow one is very tender. I always get tears in my eyes.” 8 p.m. July 28, Lakeside School
Composer most likely to turn you into a groupie
Shostakovich’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano in C minor, Op. 8. “Shostakovich has the groupie effect; people rush out to hear his music. It has charisma.” 8 p.m. Aug. 8, Overlake School. There’s also the Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57. 8 p.m. July 30, Lakeside School.
Sumi Hahn: Sumi@bewodo.org