The Seattle Chamber Music Society's Summer Festival, part of Seattle's summer arts scene for nearly three decades, used to start its evenings with picnics on the lawn at Lakeside School (in the manner popularized by Stately Olde England's Glyndebourne Opera). Lakeside needed the facilities for its summer classes, so the festival has moved downtown, to Benaroya's Nordstrom Recital Hall, with the traditional pre-performance picnics now taking place in the narrow Garden of Remembrance.
Traditionalists need not be alarmed. Service (courtesy of Wolfgang Puck) is a breeze: you order online and pick up your boxed dinners onsite. There's no mistaking Second Avenue for a lush suburban lawn, but seating is shaded and comfortable.
Inside, two Dale Chihuly chandeliers brace Benaroya's main arcade, but the Bill & Melinda Gates lobby upstairs calls out for a dab or two of public art. The recital hall itself holds 500 or so concert-goers in a space that's an evident afterthought to the grand scale of Benaroya's main auditorium; it's like listening to music inside a retrofitted concrete shoe box.
Still, chamber music is all about the pleasure of performance, and once the music starts, it's clear that the performers are having a great time. Watching Edward Arron, a cellist from New York, perform the Mendelssohn trio in D Minor was an unforgettable treat: playing with pianist Adam Neiman and violinist Andrew Wan, he showboated, he cajoled, he coaxed, he encouraged, he took evident delight in the mechanics of music-making.
SCMS has a roster of 30 soloists who rotate through some 20 evenings; Arron returns for three more concerts on the campus of the Overlake School in Bellevue in August.
Highlight of the program for Monday (July 26) is the world premiere of Gerard Schwarz's "Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano," a work commissioned by the SCMS. The performance comes just a couple of weeks after the Seattle Symphony announced the appointment of Schwarz's successor, Ludovic Morlot, and suggests that Schwarz, who began his career as a trumpet player, intends to remain active in Seattle's music scene.
Monday's program begins at 7 pm with an introduction presented by the musicians as well as the composer, that's free to the public. At 8, the formal concert (tickets $44) includes the familiar four-handed "Jeux d'Enfants" by Bizet and Tchaikovsky's ever-popular "Souvenir de Florence" string sextet in addition to the Schwarz premiere. If you want to learn more about the Schwarz work, there's a free noon lecture followed by an open rehearsal of the trio, 12:30-2 pm.