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The Amazing Seattle Symphony

In the last few weeks, our Grammy award-winning Seattle Symphony has outdone itself performing difficult contemporary music and presenting FOUR world premieres!

The Chamber Music concert featured Tessa Lark in a preconcert (they always have a free recital before the main concert.) Lark is a violinist, but she played fiddle inspired violin music. Her humorous dialog explained the intersections of the blue grass music of Appalachia with classical music. She also played pieces of her own and an impossibly difficult contemporary work by John Corigiano. Then in the main concert the highlight was Leoš Janáček String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” led by Grammy award nominated violin player (and artistic director of the Seattle Chamber Music Festivals) James Ehnes. This intense piece of music featured crashing conflicts played by the two violins, cello and viola, inspired by a Tolstoy novella about infidelity sparked by a violinist falling in love with a pianist while performing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Violin Sonata. That was thrilling!

We were so fortunate to go to “Celebrate Asia,” friends gave us their fabulous center of the orchestra tickets. It included a stunning succession of Asia related and/or composed pieces including a world premiere by Chia-Ying Lin, a 28 year old Chinese composer who won a competition for young composers sponsored by the Seattle Symphony. The highly experimental work Ascolsia, featured instruments and musical tones inspired by folk music of Taiwan. Shiyeon Sung, a South Korean born conductor, dynamically led the orchestra. A brilliant piano player, Seong-Jin Cho, also originally from Korea, played Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It was stupendous. Katherine Kim then sang a wildly contemporary song cycle by Unsuk Chin, also Korean, based on Alice in Wonderland. Then the undauntable Symphony gave us Pubbanimitta for Orchestra by Thailand’s most famous composer, Narong Prangcharoen. Wow!

But there is even more. Later that week we heard another amazing pianist, Jonathan Biss, who had commissioned contemporary composers to create works inspired by Beethoven concertos. First he played Beethoven’s third concerto and then a SECOND concerto, the World Premiere by Caroline Shaw, inspired by the Beethoven, but totally avant-garde of course.