I can guarantee that the second concert of the Seattle Chamber Music Society's annual month-long festival—a menu of Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, and Fauré—will be dandy. Every year, artistic director Toby Saks reliably assembles a roster of world-class musicians. Yet I'm chiefly interested in the free 7:00 p.m. recital before the full concert: The superb New York pianist Jeremy Denk plays the Sonata No. 1 for Piano by the maverick composer Charles Ives (1874–1954).
Written between 1902 and 1909, the Sonata is probably the First Great American Piano Sonata. It sounds nothing like the music written by fusty and forgotten American composers of that era. In five movements clocking in at around a half hour, Ives blithely wanders in and out of an atonality all his own—not the archly defiant aphorisms of middle-period Schoenberg, but a home-grown pianistic cubism filled with rhythmic hiccups, nods to ragtime, Protestant hymns (notably "Bringing in the Sheaves" in the fourth movement), Debussy, and the tradition of piano sonata as symphony inherited from Beethoven.
Like Mahler, who once declared, "The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything," Ives liked to include everything, almost compulsively. In the Sonata, Ives tarries with luxuriant asides. The pianist must be ready to scamper up and down the keyboard or home in on just a few notes, like a hiker pausing to stare at dappled shadows in the trees.
If in years past you have sweated buckets in the old preconcert recital venue, the cramped though lovely sounding McKay Chapel, note that the recitals have moved to the air-conditioned St. Nicholas Hall. Unlike the festival's 8:00 p.m. concerts, the 7:00 p.m. recitals are not broadcast on KING 98.1 FM. Go there to get the music.
Last week in my preview of the Seattle Symphony's Mahler concert, I neglected to mention a new release, Gustav Mahler: Symphonies 1 & 9 (Artek). Alas, the cover shows a grim-visaged Mahler staring down conductor Gerard Schwarz. It's a bad idea; Mahler's flinty gaze will win any stare-down contest. The lame graphic doesn't do justice to the performances: Schwarz and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic deliver a well-wrought, lyrical performance of the Ninth; the First symphony is acceptably searing, however the Ninth makes this one a keeper, confirming that Schwarz has the makings of a great Mahler conductor.
Catch Jeremy Denk in recital Wed July 9, Lakeside School, 14050 First Ave NE, 283-8808, 7 pm, free. See scmf.org for a complete schedule.
The Forty Party Motet
Successful sound installations foster new (or at least insinuate) unexpected relationships among sound, space, objects, and social relationships. Mediocre sound installations—or worse, a bunch of stuff in a room with a soundtrack—often camouflage a concert and provide a home for composers with no other prominent avenues to reach the public. Janet Cardiff's The Forty Part Motet erases the boundaries of the concert hall by surrounding the listener with 40 speakers; each speaker "sings" a part in Thomas Tallis's 1573 40-voice motet Spem in Alium. Cardiff's genius is to allow you to do what cannot happen in traditional live performance—get close, wander among the voices, and decide whether to listen as a performer, spectator, or something in between. Not to be missed. Through Sept 7. See tacomaartmuseum.org for weekday hours. Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, 253-272-4258, 10 am–5 pm, $7.50.
Those who prefer to swim through a smaller sea of sweating humanity for the holiday should try this Eastside celebration. Conductor Fusao Kajima leads the orchestra in a live performance synchronized with fireworks. Expect the usual Fourth of July fare: some Rossini (the overture of William Tell aka the theme to The Lone Ranger), movie themes, patriotic songs, Aaron Copland, etc. Bellevue Downtown Park, 10201 NE Fourth St, Bellevue, 425-452-4106, 9:30 pm, free.
Around 530 A.D., St. Benedict outlined seven offices to be spoken and sung. Compline, the last holy office of the day, begins after dinner, hence the late Sunday start time. The cathedral is refreshingly cool this time of year, so put something on over that too-tight T-shirt. St. Mark's Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave E, 323-0300, 9:30–10 pm, free.
Jim Knapp Orchestra
Why do musicians like to play Knapp's adventurous big-band charts? Several years ago I asked Knapp, who surmised, "My theory is that most musicians are very overqualified for their jobs. The music we play," he added, "is technically challenging, but it swings and musicians like that." Seattle Drum School, 12510 15th Ave NE, 364-8815, 8 pm, $5/$10.
It's easy to recommend Matmos, a duo making some of the most intriguing electronic music today. Wobbly, another Bay Area–based electronicist, isn't as well known, but he's an equally compelling performer who uses samplers and unusual instruments; at his last Seattle show, he brought a lap steel guitar. Wobbly's 2003 disc, Wild Why, a frenzied feast of hiphop fragments, is already a plunderphonic classic. The Triple Door, 216 Union St, 838-4333, 8 pm, $20.
SCMS Summer Festival
The Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival opens with a surprise, new music composed by a living composer. The 7 pm preconcert recital features the U.S. premiere of Two Movements (with Bells) for violin and piano by Aaron Jay Kernis. The main concert offers traditional fare, including the rarely heard four-hand piano version of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and a festival specialty, Brahms; Jeremy Denk and fellow musicians tackle the Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor, op. 34. You can also tune in for free on KING 98.1 FM. Lakeside School, 14050 First Ave NE, 283-8808, 8 pm, $8–$38.
Steady touring and a spate of festival appearances have ripened this vocalist, a graduate of the jazz program at Roosevelt High School. Gazarek keeps getting better, honing her near-pinpoint phrasing and accruing some world-weary grit in her falsetto. Also Wed July 9. Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729, 7:30 pm, $22.50.