âSometimes the idea for an entire festival will sprout out of one little seed,â says James Ehnes, the internationally renowned violinist and artistic director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society.
Now in its 36th season, SCMS launches the 2017 edition of its Summer Festival on July 3. It includes a total of 12 different concert programs at the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall â three each week â plus such free events as the closing open-air concert on July 29 at Volunteer Park.
Among the 46 musicians on this summerâs roster are such illustrious figures as Noah Bendix-Balgley (first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic); cellist Astrid Schween, newest member of the Juilliard Quartet; and Tchaikovsky Piano Competition silver medalist George Li.
Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival
July 3-29, with concerts at 8 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Benaroya Hall, Seattle (free prelude recitals at 7 p.m.); $16-$52 (seattlechambermusic.org).
â¢ âThe Emperorâs New Clothes,â a 40-minute family concert, is at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 22, at Benaroya Hall; $12.
â¢ The free outdoor concert at Volunteer Park is at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 29.
In a recent phone conversation from Nova Scotia, where he was finishing up an engagement as resident artist at the Scotia Festival of Music, Ehnes recalled noticing the Bastille Day celebrations last year at Luc, the French cafÃ©-bar in Madison Valley Park. âIt was such a fun scene, and it crossed my mind that we have a concert on that day, so why donât we make it a program of French music and include postcards from other stops throughout the festival?â
The idea expanded into a musical itinerary across Europe, with one of each weekâs three programs devoted to composers from an area known for its rich musical heritage: in addition to France on July 14, the destinations will be Russia (July 5), Bohemia (July 21) and Vienna (July 28).
While some festivals make a habit of tying programming into a different overall theme each season,âtraditionally we do little thematic programing,â Ehnes explains. âI believe thereâs much to be said for programs with lots of contrasts that include music of disparate periods and nationalities. So the idea of one postcard concert a week allows us to blend both approaches, without overloading the thematic idea.â
The festival also brings a world premiere (on July 10): âFictional Migrations,â a trio for flute, horn and piano by the American composer Lisa Bielawa. Her new work combines inspirations from âthe spirit of speculative fiction,â the Greek myth of Alcyone and the French composer Olivier Messiaen (to whose memory it is dedicated).
Bielawaâs piece points to another notable trend in Ehnesâ programming this summer: the proportion of chamber works whose scoring includes winds. Some other examples are Stravinskyâs âLâhistoire du Soldat Suiteâ (July 3), Samuel Barberâs âSummer Musicâ (July 12), and Saint-SaÃ«nsâ âCarnival of the Animalsâ (July 14).
âIâve been joking that itâs like weâve cornered the market on the worldâs greatest clarinet players,â Ehnes says, mentioning Anthony McGill and Ricardo Morales (principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra, respectively) and the Seattle-based Sean Osborn.
âThe notion that chamber music is only about strings and piano is so limiting. One of the funnest pieces to play and listen to is Beethovenâs Septet in E-flat for Strings and Winds.â An early work that scored Beethoven one of his biggest successes, the Septet will be featured in the free Volunteer Park concert.
That program is just one of the seven (plus a recital) in which Ehnes himself will perform. Recently named Instrumentalist of the Year by Londonâs Royal Philharmonic Society, the violinist points to two 20th-century landmarks heâll be playing with colleagues as special favorites: Olivier Messiaenâs âQuartet for the End of Timeâ (July 24) and Arnold Schoenbergâs âTransfigured Nightâ (part of the âViennaâ program on July 28).
The Schoenberg sextet, an early work in a lush, late-Romantic vein, was written in the same decade as Brahmsâs Op. 114 Clarinet Trio, which shares the program. âIâm always thinking about presenting music in different contexts so people can appreciate a piece not just for what it is but for how it fits with other things,â says Ehnes.
This summer also brings the first-ever invitation for local players to join festival musicians for a community performance of Bachâs Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 as a prelude to the Volunteer Park concert. (Registration is now open and can be found at www.seattlechambermusic.org/chamber-music-park/.)