I’m a relative newcomer to Seattle, having moved here seven months ago from a suburban outpost of Portland, Oregon. My earlier memories of the city consisted of little more than Seattle Mariners games, the fish throwers at Pike Place Market, and beignets at Toulouse Petit, so the city still feels like the world’s largest playground as I explore its diverse neighborhoods.
Luckily, Stacey, a lifelong Seattle resident and my date for the most recent Arts Dawg event, was a good sport about my infatuation. Our date started over coffee at Café Solstice on the Ave. I spent much of the hour peppering her with questions and observations about Seattle – so much so, I later asked if I was boring her with my nonstop chatter about the low-key nature of Eastlake and the fun bars in Ballard. “Not at all,” she said. “It’s fun to hear a fresh perspective from an outsider.”
After an hour of Seattle observations and get-to-know you conversation, we walked to Meany Hall for the University Symphony’s recital.
Going into the performance, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Stacey and I agreed that we respect the arts but admitted that we wouldn’t think to attend a symphony performance. My exposure to classical music has been mostly limited to old Looney Tunes cartoons, and Stacey had enough of symphonies after spending much of her childhood as a flautist. “It wouldn’t be at the top of my list,” she said.
The University Symphony led off with Un Sourire by Olivier Messiaen. The piece alternated between soft, string-driven sections that sounded like they could soundtrack a sunset and skittish sections keyed by fast-paced xylophones. It was a shrewd decision to open the set with such a gripping number; it grabbed our attention and kept us on edge throughout the piece. I liked the uneasy feeling that I didn’t know where it was going, but Stacey was more measured in her enthusiasm. “That was so jarring,” she said almost as soon as the final note finished.
The first piece following intermission – and my personal highlight of the evening – was Maurice Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand Alone, starring soloist Ching-Yueh Chen. The soloist dazzled as he played the piano with – you guessed it – only his left hand. I couldn’t stop staring as I wondered how he made such beautiful, intoxicating music … one-handed, no less. Going into the performance, I don’t know what I expected, but seeing a soloist earn a scattered standing ovation with only his left hand certainly wasn’t on the list.
A lesser writer would say that we, ahem, changed our tune afterward or that the performance struck a chord. But the truth is that I was transfixed. It’s one thing to hear classical music in the background of a big-budget action movie or an NFL highlight reel. But it’s another experience entirely to see more than 70 musicians working together, telling stories with the notes, and creating something positively grand. Even Stacey couldn’t help but agree once the performance concluded. “This was a lot of fun,” she said as we walked out of Meany Hall and into the rainy Seattle night.