Unplugged pleasures

Restoration for holiday-frazzled ears.

THERE'S SOMETHING comforting in the very words "winter interlude"—something that suggests a break in the clouds, light in the darkness. No doubt that's what the management of the Seattle Chamber Music Society had in mind back in 1998 when it gave that name to a new miniseries of concerts. After the racket and stress of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, how relaxing to bathe in the unamplified acoustic of traditional chamber ensembles; after the compulsory round of compulsory holiday warhorses by Handel and Tchaikovsky, how refreshing to sample the unfamiliar in the unthreatening context of a trio by Arensky or a quintet by Bruch.

SEATTLE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY

Winter Interlude 2001 Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, January 5-7

As the SCMS moves forward with plans for its regular July summer season, this interlude is just one of a number of quiet changes in the organization since its founding almost 20 years ago by cellist Toby Saks. The recent, almost unnoticed modification of the group's official name—from "Festival" to "Society"—reflects its expansion from a one-annual-event organizer to a full-time producing organization.

When Saks established her first summer get-together of like-minded chamber music professionals back in 1982, she certainly did not anticipate that she'd still be doing it 20 years later. As her creation has grown in scope and renown, however, she's recognized that such things have their own dynamic. "I think, to keep an organization alive, you don't want it to stay just as it always has been; if you're going to keep yourself and others interested, you have to create a sense of adventure," she says. "The 'Winter Interlude' came about because in the period right after New Year's, there wasn't much happening in the music world, and several of us began talking about something to fill that dark interval, something festive but relaxing."

There would have been nothing very festive or relaxing about attending concerts on the darkling, rain-shrouded campus of the Lakeside School (so airy and pleasant on long summer evenings during the festival's regular three-week run), so Saks and company opted to book space for their new event in the Seattle Symphony's new Nordstrom Recital Hall. "It's a little bigger than our summer facility," Saks says, "but that's certainly been an advantage because being there brought in a large number of people who were new to our work. And a lot of them have become ticket buyers and even subscribers for the summer series as well."

With the much-publicized graying of the classical music audience, a new crop of subscribers is good news for the Society, which already has instituted regular family concerts and an "Under Forte" program of special events to recruit young adults. This year the group has even scheduled a Sunday morning symposium to discuss how the art of chamber music may fare in the Internet age.

(One hopes that, among the six experts assembling to take on the topic, there's at least one prepared to hoot derisively at the very question on the table. Chamber music by its very nature turns its back on the current "age"—whether Internet or any other—that's rumbling by outside the door. By name and nature it's inward-turning, whether offering composers the most concentrated outlet for their deepest musical concerns or musicians a chance for intimate communion in exploring their art. Size of ensemble isn't the essence of the form; if it were, the Backstreet Boys or Limp Bizkit would be among its practitioners.)

Despite their growth over the years, Saks' summer festival and its winter spin-off remain almost familial in atmosphere. Musicians return year after year (of those taking part in the interlude, 10 of 12 are SCMS veterans). So do ticket buyers: "When I walk around the grounds or the lobby, I see so many faces I've seen before," says Saks proudly. "Even though our mailing list grows year by year, that family feeling continues to exist."

 
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