Before the world premiere of Jeremy Turner's The Inland Seas sponsored by the SCMS Commissioning Club this Monday evening, a lovely woman next to me asked about my scribbling on a waiter pad.
"Are you from The Stranger? The Seattle Times?"
"No, just a blog. Do you come to the concerts often? What do you think about the night so far?"
"I've been coming for 32 years."
"Ah, so how do you feel about James’ stewardship compared to Toby Saks'?"
"We loved Toby, and we love James, too. With James, the programs are so interesting, and he gets amazing musicians. You know that there will always be something that will make you rise to your feet and cheer. It hasn't happened in this concert, yet!"
…but then it did.
A standing surge greeted Mr. Turner's Seas, borne by James Ehnes and Chris Thile. Mr. Turner, like Chris, is someone you can't help but address by his given name. Jeremy's five-movement suite, named after each of the Great Lakes, dwells on nature, and man's destructive ways, which he revealed in the pre-concert introduction a bit awkwardly (Jeremy, an adorable goof-ball, is always forgiven.) He mentioned waves, storms, wolves near extinction, rainbows, algae blooms, broken machines, pipes leaking waste, and birds at sunset flight. Written in a harmonic language that might be described as post-modal; from embryonic material he casts his net, not too far, with evolving Euclidian shapes. These affable natural musical descriptions were as deeply satisfying to hear as they must have been to play. In this sterling performance, what amazed most was the common ground forged from different perspectives, Chris' populist one and Mr. Ehnes' uncompromising one.
In the second piece, about wolves, it is not enough to call the alignment of the bowed and plucked tones pristine, but metaphysical. In the last sea, dusky birds were evoked by Chris's gossamer garlands to Mr. Ehnes's timeless lines.
Before Jeremy's premiere, violist Cynthia Phelps offered Schumann's Marchenbilder with a warmth of hues and a sonority of fraise velvet. Her dress was of a magnificent lime-green. At the piano was Alessio Bax. A large part of Ms. Phelps' art is in communication and honest delivery, but she was stymied by a dammed cold fish. If a pianist of some elegance, he was unaccommodating, ungracious, uninterested, and uncaring. We could call this fairy tale The Princess and the Boor.
Nevertheless, for this evening let Jeremy, Chris and James take another bow!