Category Archives: Audience encounters

A Concert for All

RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park
(RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park. Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

Chamber music is music written for friends to play together: two, or three, or four instruments talking to each other. It is intimate music, not meant for big concert halls that perform symphonies. It is that contented feeling of being with friends, expressed in music.

So when the Russian Chamber Music Federation of Seattle put on a summer concert in the park a few weeks ago, they extended this familiar and intimate feeling to the community. There was a palpable welcoming: an inviting aroma of seasoned hot dogs stirred happy feelings of food-sharing, and a face-painter was hard at work at the periphery of the seated crowd. In the audience, the eager (decorated) faces of young children made it clear that this was a concert for them, too.

RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park
(Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

The music choices were varied and winsome: a tango, waltzes (three young siblings sitting together at the piano), a world-class performance of Beethoven’s 11th string quartet, the theme song from Schindler’s List, Rachmaninoff art songs in his native Russian tongue, Liszt and Rachmaninoff piano works – and at the evening’s end, a delightful surprise cello duet with two players, two bows, and one cello. Bows crossed during the playing, and the two tangled players traded positions on the fingerboard. This finale was a surprise full of delight, and another boost to the warm community outreach of this chamber group.

All of the performances were excellent, and many of the pieces were virtuosic. It was so right for whole family to get to experience the exuberant, outstanding Beethoven quartet together.

RCMFS community concert at Luther Burbank Park
(Photo: Shaya Lyon/The Live Music Project)

Mikhail Shmidt’s presentation of the theme song from Schindler’s List was expressive, but with a dignified restraint that upheld the somber beauty of the music. I often imagine the story music might be telling, and Mikhail’s playing encouraged this; it was as though he was telling a story with his bow. The deliberate emphasis of his bowing gave the impression that he was sharing an important message, one that was beautiful in spite of its dark historical context.

And as I listened to the young, accomplished pianists perform beautifully prepared and polished works by Rachmaninoff and Liszt, I imagined their parents’ pride and sense of accomplishment.

It was impossible not to smile often at everyone around me throughout the hour-long concert. This was, indeed, intimate music shared warmly and inclusively by and for our community.

Guest contributor Roberta Kanive performs with the Ravenna String Orchestra. This RCMFS community concert took place at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island on August 15, 2015 (see full program details).

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A Musical Juxtaposition of Exuberance and Isolation

Seattle Symphony
Beethoven – Egmont Overture, Op. 84
Anderson – Poem for Violin and Orchestra
Brahms – Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Benaroya Hall, June 2015

In Lovely Blue

The inspiration for English composer Julian Anderson’s Poem for Violin and Orchestra is In Lovely Blue, by mid-19th-century French poet Friedrich Holderlin. According to the program notes, the poem’s theme is the yearning to transcend worldly existence for a life of purity and beauty. Maestro Ludovic Morlot introduced the piece, explaining that the author (and hero) of the poem turns his back on the world and is eventually proclaimed to be so mentally ill as to be institutionalized. Morlot’s instinct for making art accessible is predictably on target: he provided a narrative from which to interpret the often clamorous and highly variable soundscape the piece would soon produce.

Poem for Violin and Orchestra opened with a pleasant mixture of repeated bells and sudden low pitches, some honking, grating and traditional tympani suggestive perhaps of noisy city sounds. With each new introduction of sound, the novelty and kind of sound was increased, with fewer familiar noises. There were violin phrases to break the intensity of these interjections, but even the violin played hollow-pitched harmonics and thin-voiced sounds with the wooden side of the bow. The composer’s lack of regular rhythm or regularity of pitch and timbre suggested complete disorganization. The auditory episodes persisted longer through time, eventually leading to a climactic phrase.

There was a short pause before the violin melody became more dominant, and I expected to hear some melodic phrasing – a relief of tension – but even the violin “song” was variable, not soothing, and almost continuously novel as the piece proceeded. I could not recognize any distinct melody (though I suspect a second or third thoughtful listening might surface some patterns), but certainly the energy and mood of the violin were that of solitude and pensive loneliness.

I imagined this music as strange, unwanted interjections into the hero’s world. There were a few moments when I felt temporary relief from the tension so effectively conveyed, but they were truly momentary. I experienced the final phrases as a loss of energy – a submission to, rather than resolution and acceptance of. There was no hero’s confidence, no “I willingly accept this” – nothing of the sort. The music could not be described as resolved in any way.

What struck me about what would seem to be such a sad musical expression is that I didn’t feel empathy. The nature of this music left me uninvested: there was wonder and intellectual consternation, but no warmth, almost no feeling at all. In Lovely Blue was grounded in one human’s isolation; so too was Anderson’s Poem.


To leave this music and move to Brahms’ First Symphony is a lesson in contrast. As composers, Anderson and Brahms are more clearly defined when we hear them together.

Brahms’ music is full of intricate chords and melody that express a richness and beauty. As in Anderson’s piece, many instruments play at one time, but now I am comforted as I listen. There is continuity of sound, there is a richness that feels confident and inviting, there are melodies, but they do not dominate. This symphony is like a tapestry, its multiple threads and forms coming together into one beautiful picture.

Brahms’ symphony had minimal solo lines, with pleasant meshing of pitches and instruments – a chorus of music. Anderson chose the concerto, characterized by solitary threads and accompaniment.

Brahms communicated exuberance in all things; he could embrace the world in his music. Anderson showed us isolation in a strident intellectual world full of meaningless activity and noise. Can one imagine a greater human contrast?


This was a concert to remember for its statement of breadth and depth of idea expressed in music. Much credit to Maestro Morlot for his presentation of these two oppositional pieces. He gave us a new perspective from which to experience these works, leaving room to think about what each composer was communicating and why Anderson and Brahms – two composers from very different circumstances – were placed side by side. I look forward to more of this.

Guest contributor Roberta Kanive is a Seattle-based nurse practitioner and violinist.

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The Sound of The Academy Chamber Orchestra

The Academy Chamber Orchestra played on a recent Saturday night in the rectangular, concert-hall shaped Haller Lake United Methodist Church, under a northwest timbered ceiling. The pews were filled.

Looking at the orchestra before the concert, you knew their sound would be big. There were 45 musicians: bass, violins, percussion, some winds and brass. However, the size still did not prepare me for the rich, full sounds of the opening chords of Schubert’s Quintet. It was a moment akin to hearing your very favorite piece after turning up the volume so you can hear every single note. We were all captivated by the opening sounds.

I was somewhat distracted during this first piece, trying to understand: How did they manage this fullness?

I found some explanation when I looked at the players. Young and very confident, with full and controlled bowing, they were into the music. The conductor, Alan Futterman, was the enhancing, directing element, and with his choices for programming, the performance was all good taste, style and panache – a real treat.

Futterman’s placement of Prokofiev’s “Midnight at the Ball” from Cinderella at the center of the concert was perfect. Paired with this orchestra, the energy and dance rhythms, as well as Prokofiev’s swagger and humor, were more than convincing – they were fun. We were at the ball.

Another notable feature of this concert was Futterman’s rapport with the audience. The maestro introduced each piece with just enough backstory and engaged the audience with questions – sometimes rhetorical, other times expecting an answer – and made us curious about the piece we were about to hear.

The end of the program was dedicated to the music of living composers: Romanze by Werner Kaminsky and Turkish Dervish/Casbah Music by Futterman himself. The Romanze, with its tender melody, allowed the orchestra to perform the beautiful sonorous tone of the strings. The Dervish, with prominent and lively rhythms – slow, slow to as fast as the instruments could be bowed – gave the musicians one last opportunity to demonstrate their mettle.

The concert was over too soon. Entertaining and at times dramatic, this was a program that would captivate even a preteen. It sent a clear message: classical music is alive, fun and doing very well, thank you.

The Academy Chamber Orchestra performed at Haller Lake United Methodist Church on June 6, 2015. Guest contributor Roberta Kanive performs with the Ravenna String Orchestra.

The Academy Chamber Orchestr
The Academy Chamber Orchestra (Photo courtesy of the ACO)

The Versatile Trio Andromeda

Trio Andromeda
Trio Andromeda (Photo: Hong-Ren Lin)

Trio Andromeda is Allion Salvador (violin), Hye Jung Yang (cello), and Li-Cheng Hung (piano). They performed at Brechemin auditorium, University of Washington School of music, on May 30, 2015.

This very young trio maintains the intensity required for chamber music, clearly coming into their own cohesiveness, and at their recent concert showed us that they are artistically and technically versatile.

The first piece, Kaley Eaton’s Sacred Geometry, was a musical presentation on perspective. At first startling, the piece became intriguing and then enjoyable. Many varying sounds were produced in coordinating ways but with few singing tones of strings, chords and arpeggios, and the composer’s description – given right before the performance – of what she was expressing conceptually through her music gave the audience many “I get it” moments. The music remained abstract, but she made it more accessible: one had an idea, instead of a melody, to carry one through the complete composition. Sacred Geometry is fresh, thoughtful and, importantly in the nova music area, pleasant on first hearing. It prompts one to explore what else Eaton has composed.

The Shostakovich and Beethoven pieces provided their challenging harmonies and rhythms but with more subtle emotional range than we usually hear from these two composers. In these nuanced compositions – a challenge for the most experienced small ensemble – the trio gave voice to both musical identities. For those of us who favor Shostakovich and Beethoven, the applause was a release for the appreciation and happiness the trio and their music generated.

Brechemin is an ideal chamber work venue, which contributed to the overall delight of the concert.

Guest contributor Roberta Kanive performs with the Ravenna String Orchestra.

The Golem

On Monday night, Music of Remembrance presented a screening of The Golem, a film by German director/actor Paul Wegener in 1920. This silent “horror” movie, filmed in the German expressionist tradition, was accompanied by a live klezmer-inspired score for string quartet and clarinet, composed by Betty Olivero in 1997.

Photo Mar 30, 8 44 32 PM

The program also included works by Joseph Achron (Hebrew Melody, 1911), Joel Engel (The Dybbuk Suite, 1922) and David Beigelman (Dybbuk Dances, Lodz Ghetto, 1941).

A highlight was 13-year-old violin soloist Takumi Taguchi, who played Hebrew Melody with feeling that seemed far beyond his years (and then took his bows with a delightfully dimpled grin).

The musical ensemble also played three pieces touching on stories of the mythological Dybbuk and other pre-WWII Jewish musical themes. Hebrew Melody (1911) was performed by 13-year-old violin soloist Takumi Taguchi, who played with feeling that seemed far beyond his years (and then took his bows with a delightfully dimpled grin).

After years of hearing the traditional story of the Golem, seeing the Wegener film was refreshing and thought-provoking.

On one level, this was entertainment, pure and simple: a classic Frankenstein story paired with a lively, suspenseful score whose folk styles and courtly themes complemented the on-screen drama exquisitely. And at the same time: the pre-Holocaust context, the visual and cultural messages, the caricature-like portrayals of Jews and Aryans.

What must it have been like to watch the film in that pre-WWII climate? Today’s audience laughed at the Golem’s goofy, leaden antics and the chest-heaving, swoony romance between the rabbi’s daughter (eyelash-batting Miriam) and the emperor’s emissary (elegant, confident, tights-wearing Knight Florian!).

Did the German audiences of the 1920s laugh at the same? Were Wegener’s melodramatic portrayal of Jewish prayer, the Ghetto’s constant state of panic or jubilation, the witchlike dress and cultish behavior a tribute to myth or a tribute to memory?

Check out Music of Remembrance for consistently excellent programming dedicated to ensuring that the voices of musical witness are heard.

Photo Mar 30, 9 16 45 PM
Music of Remembrance: The Golem (Photo by Shaya Lyon)