Here's my annual love-hate rant about the Seattle Symphony. If it weren't for conductor Gerard Schwarz, I would still toe Stravinsky's line and disdain Gustav Mahler as malheur. Indeed, Schwarz & Co. are powerful, persuasive performers of Mahler's mammoth symphonies, and they admirably fulfill the basic duty of an orchestra, which is keeping meat-and-potatoes classical alive. As with any band, some nights are great, some not so hot, but generally the SSO delivers the goods.

What would make the SSO great? First, more musicians. When the St. Petersburg Philharmonic visited several years ago, the musicians, almost spilling over the stage, roared through Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony as if their lives depended on it. Sometimes the SSO sounds underpowered or unwilling to really hammer the climactic fff tuttis and finales. It's fine to preen and sigh in Mozart, but the great Beethoven symphonies and the Rite of Spring must tear time and space asunder.

Also, I'd like to hear a greater variety of contemporary music played well. This year, the Music of Our Time concerts have been farmed out to local ensembles. Unlike the fearful SSO musicians, who were obviously terrified by (and bungled) difficult pieces like Wolfgang Rihm's Chiffre IV, these specialist groups have a better sense of their abilities. To offer a well-rounded modern repertory, the SSO must perform Nono (a Carlo Scarpa), Stockhausen (Inori), Xenakis (Metastasis), and at least Varèse (Arcana) or Ruggles (Sun-treader). Maybe the legendary conductor/composer Pierre Boulez could be persuaded to come to town. Or for an authoritative Stravinsky festival, why not invite Stravinsky aide-de-camp Robert Craft? CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

The Seattle Symphony's season opener is Sat Sept 13 at 8 pm (Benaroya Hall, Third Ave and Union St, 215-4747), $26-$375.