Music

Seattle Chamber Players sail their Icebreaker around the Mediterranean

[media-credit name=”Seattle Chamber Players” align=”alignnone” width=”600″][/media-credit]Back in the 90s, clarinetist Al Bloom used to sit with me to talk about contemporary music in the most brutal tones. Essentially his argument was that classical musicians spent far too much time in the “repertoire.” Like Ronald Reagan’s optic nerves in Garry Trudeau’s book In Search of Reagan’s Brain, they found themselves capable of looking only backward and to the right. I could not possibly refute this, particularly then, when the music was even more reactionary that it is now. Schoenberg was being vilified for destroying classical music and being “totalitarian atonality”–never mind that this is the same Schoenberg who said repeatedly to his students that there is still plenty of good music to be written in the key of C major. Composers like Sir John Tavener were filling the world with such bits of wisdom as “Complexity is the language of evil” and suggesting that music need be immediately and completely digestible on one listening, perhaps.

Al’s solution to combat this ignorance then was to form a group in Seattle dedicated to an eclectic kind of programming. His only two strictures were to be that 1) Performance pieces had to have a composition date within the past five years and 2) that the composer had to be still alive. “I’ve lost my interest in dead people,” he told me–and Al himself was far from young even then. He saw music just about the same way I do, and struck by our kindred inclinations he wanted me to be the artistic advisor and music researcher for the group. As I was on my way to India that year, I politely declined.

At about that same time the Seattle Chamber Players were forming. I’m glad I declined Al’s offer, because I could never have done for local music what Elena Dubinets has done for the Seattle Chamber Players. Before she came along, they were a fine performing group and well-respected around the region. Her presence, her drive, her impeccable taste have turned them from a very fine group into one of the finest in the world.

Among Ms. Dubinets’ many brilliant ideas was her vision of a showcase of new music from around the world. But not just a performance showcase: this would be a showcase where audiences could meet and discuss the music with the actual composers themselves. The goal was to “break the ice”: between the West and the East; between Europe, Asia and Africa; between academic concert music and folk music; between artist and audience; and between the world’s deep and ancient history and its colorful present. It was a brilliant idea that became Icebreaker I: Voices from New Russia. Since then, the Icebreaker series has moved from Russia through the Baltic across land to the Caucasus and America.

This weekend, Icebreaker VI brings Seattleites to the Mediterranean and not just the European border but all around the Maghreb and Turkey as well. Thirteen pieces over the weekend will introduce Seattleites to the diapason of styles throughout the entire area from the folk song arrangements of Luciano Berio to the free-jazz inspired composition of Yitzak Yedid, and all points between.

[media-credit name=”Courtesy Agata Zubel” align=”alignleft” width=”320″][/media-credit]The programmes for both Saturday and Sunday are so diverse and rich it is impossible to pick one highlight. Vocalist Agata Zubel joins the Seattle Chamber Players for both days and composer Yitzak Yedid himself will perform on piano for Sunday’s concert. I love all things Polish, of course, but I love Agata Zubel especially.  Her voice is beautiful but even more interesting is her approach to singing: simultaneously playful, powerful, ironic, emotional and witty. I ona jest coraz ładniejsza, if I may say po polsku. I always look forward to hearing her whether she sings Puccini or Lutosławski or her own songs inspired by Samuel Beckett.

Having already recorded with them before, Ms. Zubel seems to love working with the Seattle Chamber Players as much as they love her, after their collaborations in Seattle, San Francisco and Warsaw. Saturday night she will sing works La nuit en tête by Georges Aperghis and Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs. As she is no stranger to Berio’s work–her Sequenza III for solo voice is one of my favorite performances–this promises to be extraordinary.

Also truly thrilling is the prospect of hearing 26 year-old composer Mohammed Fairouz’s world premiere of Incantation and Dabkeh performed by the artist to whom it is dedicated: clarinetist Laura DeLuca. Mr. Fairouz is remarkably prolific, with an amazing array of pieces for voice as well as larger works in traditional forms of symphony and opera but his music has rarely found its way to the recording studio. Fortunately that seems about to change, with the release of Critical Models: Chamber Music of Mohammed Fairouz last November and an upcoming CD on the Naxos label.

Icebreaker VI promises to be a fine concert and a great opportunity to meet at least seven of the composers whose work is featured in the show. Elena Dubinets and the Seattle Chamber Players have created an ideal forum for listeners to realize that not all composers are dead and that classical music itself is very much alive, whether in the Mediterranean or anywhere else.

February 25 & 26th // Illsley Ball Auditorium at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, Seattle 98101 // Tickets $15-25, available here.

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net