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Category: music – symphony


Big, dramatic Bruch and charming Mendelssohn with Mayuko Kamio and the Northwest Sinfonietta in Tacoma’s Rialto Theater

Those who came to last Saturday’s Northwest Sinfonietta concert at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater thinking they’d be hearing just another pleasant Bruch/Mendelssohn combination got a big surprise. Polite, petite Mayuko Kamio whipped out her 1727 Strad and played Bruch’s well-known first violin concerto with the volume of an orchestra section and the drama of an opera diva, before sitting demurely in the back of the first violins while Christophe Chagnard took the Sinfonietta through a reading of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony no. 3 that was both passionate and light-hearted – a fitting end to the ensemble’s 2012/13 season.

Kamio’s a Tchaikovsky gold medalist, and while rock-star soloists don’t always pay their way this one pulled out all her competition stops for Tacoma. After the orchestra played Kodály’s “Dances of Galanta” with verve, airy pianissimos and big, rich fortes (and many messy spots) the young Japanese soloist entered the Rialto stage with the grace and sparkly dress of a princess – the proceeded to belt the heck out of Bruch. With so much sound that she might have been an entire section, Kamio brought out every inch of Bruch’s Romanticism with bow strokes that pushed her gutsy-yet-smooth tone right to the very edge of every note and every beat. Using a wide, fast vibrato she sang like an opera diva, pulling phrases (literally) up and across to the audience – unfortunately only half-full – with vocal legato rather than violinistic portamenti. The second movement had subtle nuances from raw to gentle, and the third theme had the attack and drama of a musical theater torch song. In the finale Kamio’s double, triple and quadruple stops were fierce and lyrical, her virtuoso runs intensely musical and soaring to a triumphant climax.

Behind her, Chagnard and the orchestra followed sensitively through the surges and falls, though with too many mistuned woodwind chords. Read more »


Passionate Brahms, nimble Beethoven, a few surprises and plenty of charm from conductor Paul Haas at the Tacoma Symphony concert

It’s good to be surprised at a symphony concert. Too often we’re given the same old pieces delivered in the same old way – but not Saturday night at the Pantages Theater. Following conductor Paul Haas – the second candidate for the Tacoma Symphony’s musical director position – the orchestra pulled out surprise after surprise, from an unprogrammed piece to lushly unified strings in Brahms’ fourth symphony to Haas’ own debonair, rock band-style introductions.

“I like surprises,” said Haas, by way of introduction as the concert began, after laying on the flattery about Tacoma’s beautiful scenery and people – and then proceeded to show us just what he meant. Instead of the first piece on the program (“Strange Attractors,” by Tacoma native Alexandra Bryant) the audience was instead surrounded by a vaguely medieval, vaguely Vaughan Williams-esque soundscape, with woodwinds calling like birds from the stage, the balcony and the back of the audience. It was a piece by Haas himself, who’s a respected composer and also known for unconventional symphonic programming both in New York, where he’s the founding director of Sympho, and Northwest Arkansas, his other directorship position. The blurring and bending of Monteverdi fragments into a dreamlike whole was, in fact, a smart move: It showed off Haas’ composing chops plus his penchant for focusing on the “energy” of a program, and it also gave a soft, approachable opening to Bryant’s rather more awkward, aloof imagination.

“Strange Attractors” was actually premiered in Tacoma in 2010 by the youth symphony. The playing Saturday night was far more skillful, but the piece still sounds like a newly-fledged compositional grad student testing her wings. The wildness of the fluttery, opening motif soon launched into a Stravinsky-like pizzicato, with ominous Bartok brass. And while the unusually-colored wind solos were subtle and strong, the tuttis lacked good orchestration and sounded, despite the players’ efforts, weak.

Then came Stephanie Leon Shames for Beethoven’s symphony-like Third Piano Concerto. Shames does a lot of collaborative and chamber work, and it shows in her highly sensitive interpretations that fit perfectly in this piece where the orchestra is a whole lot more than just the back-up band. Read more »


Tacoma Symphony plays Brahms, Beethoven and work by young Tacoma-born composer Alexandra Bryant at the Pantages this weekend

Composer Alexandra Bryant. Courtesy photo.
Composer Alexandra Bryant. Courtesy photo.

You may have heard of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but this Saturday night it’s Brahms, Beethoven and Bryant – Alexandra Bryant, that is, a young Tacoma-born composer whose work “Strange Attractors” is getting a professional performance thanks to the Tacoma Symphony. The Pantages concert will be led by Paul Haas, the second of four candidates auditioning for the position of musical director, and will also feature Stephanie Leon Shames playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3, as well as the Brahms Fourth  Symphony.

To be headlining two of the other great “B” composers is an honor, but it’s one Bryant deserves. Daughter of TSO violinist Andrea Bryant and a good violinist in her own right, Bryant grew up in Tacoma leading the UPS and Tacoma Youth symphonies. She went on to study composition at the Cleveland Institute and Rice University, and is currently finishing up her Ph.D. in composition at the University of Maryland. Her review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “a promising young composer” was picked up by TSO director Harvey Felder, who’d also been told by various orchestra members that he should listen to her work. Bryant’s “Strange Attractors” had in fact been premiered by the Tacoma Youth Orchestra in 2010, and it was this that Felder chose for Saturday’s “See Change II” concert, following a mission in this season to offer new works that had only one or two previous performances.

“I’m definitely excited about it,” said Bryant, who’ll be in town this week to work with Haas on the piece (and visit family, of course). “It’s a good feeling that what you’re doing is considered worth hearing.”

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Northwest Sinfonietta strikes gold, playing live to Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” in Tacoma’s historic Temple Theater

Saturday night was a first for a lot of Tacoma folks: the first time many had watched a silent movie with live orchestral accompaniment, and the first time the 21-year-old Northwest Sinfonietta had played in the Temple Theater. And although the ensemble had done Charlie Chaplin before, it wasn’t a 2-hour feature film. So the effect was even more impressive as the chamber orchestra struck gold, playing for Chaplin’s 1925 “The Gold Rush” with warmth, delicacy and the kind of precise visual synchronization that made you occasionally forget they were even there.

Of course, playing live music for a film in a historic theater built just one year after the film was made is delightfully appropriate, and watching the orchestra tune up in front of a big screen on that enormous stage flanked by art deco Egyptian pillars of aqua and gold is enough to send shivers down your spine. But the tricky part of accompanying film music as a group is keeping together and keeping up with the images – and the Sinfonietta, under phenomenally precise direction from Christophe Chagnard, did this brilliantly.

Interestingly, the evening began with a peek into just how difficult the task is. Chagnard pulled up scans from his 500-page score on the screen, pointing out the verbal cues (characters standing up, fighting, leaving) and his own extremely highlighted notes on cueing his orchestra. Read more »


Charlie Chaplin takes the Northwest Sinfonietta to “The Gold Rush” in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup this weekend

Charlie Chaplin eating boots in "The Gold Rush." Courtesy image.
Charlie Chaplin eating boots in “The Gold Rush.” Courtesy image.

The Northwest Sinfonietta, whose usual domain is the classical chamber orchestra repertoire, had a brief flirtation with Charlie Chaplin four years ago, playing the score live to his silent films “A Dog’s Life” and “Shoulder Arms.” The affair was a success on all sides, and this weekend the ensemble is giving the silent movie maestro another chance to lead them into silliness and mayhem, playing live to a screening of Chaplin’s famous “The Gold Rush” in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup.

But they’re choosing different venues to do it. For Seattle they’ll stick with Benaroya Hall, but to give the film (and the audience) full capacity they’ll be playing in two historic theaters: Tacoma’s Temple and Puyallup’s Liberty, each built in exactly the same era as the Chaplin film.

By 1925, just one year before the Temple was built, Chaplin had seen great success with “Shoulder Arms” and “The Kid,” as well as dozens of short films. By then, too, the Klondike gold rush was turning from recent memory to romantic history. Chaplin was inspired by books, as well as a stereoscope card collection belonging to Douglas Fairbanks. Moving from elaborate on-location shooting at the Chilkoot Pass, with some 600 extras, to just-as-elaborate studio sets made of wood, burlap, chicken wire, plaster, salt and flour, Chaplin created his story of a Lone Prospector (Chaplin’s famous tramp character) who washes up in the Yukon and has every adventure from dance hall brawls to having to eat boots for sustenance, plus the famous scene of a fight in a cabin teetering on a precipice. Read more »


In “See Change I,” Tacoma Symphony’s first conductor finalist Sarah Ioannides takes the orchestra to new heights of skill and nuance

If its first finalist is anything to go by, the Tacoma Symphony won’t have a problem choosing a new artistic director that’ll take them to higher musical places. A nearly-full crowd showed up at the Pantages yesterday to watch Sarah Ioannides, the first of four finalists in the orchestra’s search for a new artistic director, blaze her way through an audition concert (“See Change I”) that combined sterling precision with deep, nuanced expression – and an excellent solo performance by the orchestra’s double bass principal Chris Burns.

Conducting mostly from memory – including Shostakovich’s epic Fifth Symphony – the British native showed obvious rapport with the orchestra, who were following as one her encouraging but uncompromising direction. But while her precision and thought-out structure was impressive – not for a while have the violins sounded so tight – the first half was a little lacking in drama. Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla” overture opened the show, and this Cossack dance with its bouncy theme and gleeful fast runs needed more wild abandon than Ioannides was going to indulge, going instead for lightness and spot-on unity. Facing the violins almost the entire time she also missed a few lower-string moments that could have made this a less refined, Mozartean experience.

Next in the spotlight, though, was an instrument that rarely gets the chance to shine but deserves it all the more: the double bass. TSO principal Chris Burns sailed through the Divertimento Concertante by Nino Rota – a mid-20th-century composer best known for his scores for Fellini, Coppola and Zeffirelli – with a calm virtuosity and thoughtful expression. Read more »


Northwest Sinfonietta takes reduced tour to Cuba

After the success of last January’s inaugural orchestral trip to Cuba and last September’s exchange of seven musicians from sister-city Cienfuegos here to Tacoma, the Northwest Sinfonietta has completed a second tour with greatly reduced forces.

Conductor Christophe Chagnard, concertmaster Brittany Boulding and pianist Joel Fan were the only musicians to travel with the Tacoma-based chamber orchestra this year, compared to last January when ten members went to play side-by-side concerts with the Orquesta de Cámara Concierto Sur in Tacoma’s sister-city Cienfuegos, along with 67 private patrons, who also took guided tours of other cultural sites. This year, only

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Tacoma Symphony launches new kids’ series with “Peter and the Wolf,” both in the Rialto Theater and at Joint Base Lewis McChord

Trying instruments at the petting zoo at a TSO family concert. Courtesy photo.
Trying instruments at the petting zoo at a TSO family concert. Courtesy photo.

Kids need classical music – we’re all familiar with the studies that repeatedly show how much it improves grades, test scores, teamwork, concentration and behavior. But sometimes it’s hard to get them to live concerts, due to programming, timing, location or cost. The Tacoma Symphony, in partnership with Ted Brown Music and the University of Puget Sound Community Music department, is taking up the challenge by developing its once-a-year family concert into a series of four weekend afternoon shows at various venues which explore the four different instrumental sections of the orchestra with music kids will love. And they begin this weekend.

First up is “Peter and the Wolf.” Yes, it’s an old chestnut for kids’ concerts, but that’s because the tale of a slightly disobedient boy who saves his bird friends from a wicked wolf is a perennial crowd-pleaser, together with the score by Sergei Prokofiev that perfectly caricatures Peter, the bird, the duck, the cat, the wolf, the grumpy grandpa and the ridiculous hunters who make up the story. Conductor Harvey Felder will also explain the different instruments that make up the wind section of the orchestra. Read more »