The Seattle Symphony's spring festival, "Bridging the 48th Parallel: Music of Central Europe," begins with an alluring rarity: a staged version of Bluebeard's Castle, the only opera of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881—1945).
Written in 1911, Bluebeard's Castle is one of the few operas that could be easily remade into a horror movie. Duke Bluebeard, who has just eloped with the lovely Judith, yields to his young wife's insistent demand to see what lurks behind seven closed doors inside his dark, dank castle. After each door opens, the rooms—a torture chamber, an armory, the treasury, and so forth—reveal more about the enigmatic Duke.
Often grouped with Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and others who made daring forays into agitated, rhythmic dissonance in the early 20th century, Bartók keeps things stark in Bluebeard's Castle. The music is often quiet; shivering woodwinds, discreet strings, and an occasional burst of brute percussion accentuate the doomed couple's escalating torment.
The 10-day festival's first weekend teems with free concerts. Saturday, June 2, includes performances by the Polish chorus Vivat Musica, the Hungarian dance ensemble Bokréta, and the UW Wind Ensemble. The next day, the Saint Helens String Quartet offers a tribute, Tempo of Recollection, to composer Ervin Schulhoff (1894—1942), who perished in the Holocaust. Tempo anthologizes Schulhoff's piano music, cabaret songs, and his String Quartet No. 2 (with its delirious Allegro gajo movement). In addition, star cellist Joshua Roman reprises his recent concert of cello sonatas by György Ligeti and Zoltán Kodály.
See Bluebeard's Castle Thurs May 31 at 7:30 pm or Sat June 2 at 8 pm, $15—$89. Bridging the 48th Parallel: Music of Central Europe runs Thurs May 31 through Sat June 9 (Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747), various times. Many of the performances are free; see seattlesymphony.org for details.
THURSDAY MAY 31
SEATTLE PRO MUSICA
SPM sounded superb at their December concert singing American Shaker hymns along with a slew of pieces by Charles Ives, Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, and other American composers. Here, they preview music from the upcoming American Masterpieces Choral Festival (June 15—17), which includes several compositions by Lauridsen. Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave, 684-7171, noon—1 pm, free.
Meat-and-potatoes classical from the orchestra of Seattle Pacific University: Mozart's Symphony No. 39 and selections from Wagner's Ring cycle. First Free Methodist Church, 3200 Third Ave W, 281-2411, 7:30 pm, $10/$15.
Pacific Northwest Ballet honors perhaps the greatest composer of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky, creator of the still-staggering The Rite of Spring. I'm always happy to hear The Rite, however I doubt the PNB orchestra will thunder as hard as a regular symphonic performance. Instead, I'm chiefly interested in Balanchine's glorious Rubies, set to the jaunty Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. There's also Stravinsky's WWII-era Symphony in Three Movements as well as the frolicsome "Circus Polka," though in the Jerome Robbins version without elephants. Opening night tucks in a brief bonus, the "Greeting Prelude," an angular inversion of the evergreen "Happy Birthday." Don't miss it. Through Sun June 10; see pnb.org for a complete schedule. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 441-2424, 7:30 pm, $18—$145.
SATURDAY JUNE 2
I'm enthralled by the Seattle Harmonic Voices' new CD, Harmonic Voice (Cathartic/Monktail Records), a double-disc set of live and studio recordings. Live, SHV's a cappella voices vibrate against each other, creating ghostly tones that shimmer and thrum, so sit close if you can. SHV share this outdoor concert with the Degenerate Art Ensemble, Sunship, and the debut of clarinetist Beth Fleenor's Figeater. Cal Anderson Park, 1632 11th Ave, 684-4075, 2—8 pm, free.
DEAN MOORE & BILL HORIST
A feast for the ears: Moore's hushed and often glacial improvisations with gongs, chimes, cymbals, and bells resound beautifully in the Chapel Space. In this unlikely pairing, guitar saboteur Bill Horist plays the second set solo and then joins Moore for a final duet. Fourth-floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 8 pm, $5—$15 sliding-scale donation.
SUNDAY JUNE 3
SEATTLE CHORAL COMPANY
Conductor Fred Coleman and Co. celebrate the SCC's 25th anniversary with an attractive greatest-hits concert. Count on bits from Handel ("Zadok the Priest"), J. S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart (yep, the Requiem), Mendelssohn, Berlioz (part of the Te Deum), Verdi, and the thuggishly seductive finale of Carmina Burana. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 363-1100, 3 pm, $15—$40.
SEATTLE CHAMBER PLAYERS
Part of Bridging the 48th Parallel, (see above) the SCP serve up a generous helping of new chamber music. Many of the names—Ádám Kondor, Agata Zubel, and Jan Kapr—are unfamiliar to me, though I can vouch for Peter Eötvös and the brilliant miniaturist György Kurtág ("Hommage à R Sch."). Recital Hall at Benaroya, 200 University St, 286-5052, 7 pm, $12—$20.