If you know Mussorgsky, Debussy or Gershwin, you’d normally think of their music as piano pieces, or the big orchestral versions with clanging bells, blasting brass and more. But for its concerts this weekend in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup, the Northwest Sinfonietta will play chamber-orchestra arrangements of all three composers: 20th-century masterpieces with an unusual twist.
Arrangers don’t normally get star treatment – these hard-working folk who take someone else’s music and score it for a completely different set of instruments are billed underneath the composer, and often ignored. But each piece in the Sinfonietta’s upcoming concert relies on a gifted arranger, each of whom is a composer in his own right. Julian Yu grew up in Beijing, but after compositional study in China, Japan and the U.S.A. settled in Australia in 1985, where his works combine Western and Eastern influences and are played by the likes of pianist Michael Kieran Harvey and the Melbourne Symphony. His arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” is inventive, giving this Russian suite of painting-inspired movements (the donkey cart, the great gate of Kiev and so on) an Asian touch.
Arnold Schoenberg is another arranger on the program: His version of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” so famous for its luxurious flute opening solo and large sound, transfers the lush Impressionist landscape into something more delicate.
The third item is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” another piece better known for its big orchestral arrangement backing a virtuosic jazz piano. Instead, the ensemble will be playing the original version written by Gershwin in 1924 for the Paul Whiteman Jazz Band, with dynamic soloist Joel Fan.
“20th-century Masterpieces” concludes the Northwest Sinfonietta’s 20th-anniversary season.
7:30 p.m. Apr. 15 at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; 7:30 p.m. Apr. 16 at Rialto Theater, 310 S. 9th St., Tacoma; 2 p.m. Apr. 17 at Pioneer Pavilion, 300 S. Meridian, Puyallup. $19-$49. 800-291-7593, www.nwsinfonietta.org