Seattle's big Ben

Benaroya Hall rings in a new classical era

Don't worry, that sparkly new $118.1 million toy box across from the post office, with its two halls (seating 2,502 and 541) and Chihuly in the foyer, is not going to go empty. The Seattle Symphony is sharing its new home with more than a dozen other classical groups, plus pop concerts, comedy, a lecture series, and the Boeing Loaned Executive Annual Meeting (BLEAM).

For some, the move's a step up. The Opera House wasn't ideal for the Seattle Youth Symphony any more than it was for the SSO, so they're following the adults downtown. The Seattle Men's Chorus, formerly of Meany Hall, is moving to off-campus housing, and the Northwest Chamber Orchestra has similarly bid farewell to the University of Washington's Kane Hall, acoustically acceptable but uncomfortable and utilitarian (OK, ugly). They're moving pretty much their whole outfit to Benaroya, with extra chamber and orchestral concerts at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Kirkland Performance Center across the lake, itself just newborn.

Not everyone is leaving behind a mediocre space. The Seattle Chamber Players seemed quite comfortable at Green Lake United Methodist Church, which combines fine sound with a charmingly intimate, living-roomy atmosphere that was perfect for making accessible the contemporary works they favor—but they're off to Benaroya as well. A lot of groups are doing the splits, with one foot in the new space but hanging onto the old. The Early Music Guild has put its highest-profile recitals into Benaroya, but will present other concerts at First United Methodist and St. Mark's as usual. The Seattle Choral Company is testing the waters, with one concert each in Benaroya and the KPC.

It's good for a music group to have its own special place—whatever its faults, Kane did feel like home turf for the NWCO—and we'll see if the rest of these revolving-door weekend guests can settle into Benaroya as cozily as the SSO surely will. On the other hand, benefits for everyone include higher visibility and easier access (some of those churches are tricky to find). I'll also be watching to see if over the next few seasons the programming of these tenants grows slightly blander under the pressure of having to fill all those expensive seats. The last thing any city needs is another multimillion-dollar mausoleum for the European mainstream.

Here's our Guide to Benaroya Users:

Who: Seattle Symphony Profile: Its world-class status becomes that much more solid now that it will be playing in a hall designed just for it. What/When: More than 200 concerts, rehearsals, and recording sessions, September to June, plus Seattle Symphony Chorale rehearsals and lots of concerts by visiting musicians under its auspices.

Who: The Bridge Ensemble Profile: Unfailingly brilliant piano quartet offers Seattle's most thrilling chamber concerts. What/When: October and March concerts (the former a gala with a commissioned world premiere by Giya Kancheli).

Who: Early Music Guild Profile: Busy, busy umbrella organization covering just about anything pre-Beethoven. What/When: Soprano Julianne Baird on November 29; fortepianist Melvyn Tan next May.

Who: Northwest Chamber Orchestra Profile: Audience-friendly group in its 26th season, baroque to contemporary. What/When: Seven pairs of orchestral concerts and five chamber concerts, October to May.

Who: Northwest Girlchoir Profile: 300 voices. Check out the choir's CD. What/When: A Christmas concert and another in March.

Who: Northwest Mahler Festival Profile: Local community-orchestra players get a crack at some big late-romantic repertory under rotating conductors. What/When: Geoffrey Simon leads Mahler's Sixth as part of Benaroya's "Day of Music" festival on September 20; next summer they plan to return with Mahler's massive Eighth.

Who: Northwest Sinfonietta Profile: Acclaimed Tacoma-based orchestra makes its first visits to Seattle. What/When: Two concerts, next March and May.

Who: Opus 7 Profile: Highly regarded chamber choir. What/When: An October concert in the Recital Hall.

Who: Orchestra Seattle/Seattle Chamber Singers Profile: In their 30th season, a huge variety of orchestral and choral works large and small. What/When: Three concerts, October, November, and February.

Who: Seattle Chamber Music Festival Profile: Seattle's summer oasis of culture takes on winter competition in a January minifestival. What/When: Three concerts, January 8-10.

Who: Seattle Chamber Players Profile: Four permanent members, lots of special guests, and programming that's about as imaginative as it gets. What/When: Three concerts, October, January, and May.

Who: Seattle Choral Company Profile: Boy, is it popular! What/When: "Composers of the Cinema," including Philip Glass' Itaipu, next February.

Who: Seattle Classic Guitar Society Profile: Spreading the gospel of this ancient instrument. (Whatever you do, don't request "Classical Gas," it makes them crazy.) What/When: Four recitals by local and visiting guitarists, October, November, January, and May.

Who: Seattle Flute Society Profile: Like the Seattle Classic Guitar Society, only about flutes. What/When: Next May, an evening of 10 new works commissioned and performed by Paul Taub.

Who: Seattle Men's Chorus Profile: Camp and community, community and camp. In 20 seasons it's gone from 22 to 200 members. What/When: Twelve performances of four concerts: two in September, five at Christmas, two in March, three in June.

Who: Seattle Youth Symphony Profile: Near-professional-level playing, with an enthusiasm that no adult orchestra comes within a thousand miles of. What/When: Three concerts, November, February, and May.


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