CONDUCTOR GREGORY Sullivan Isaacs and his 85-member Edmonds-based Cascade Symphony wanted to celebrate the turn of the century with something special this season. But with their tight regional-orchestra budget, there wasn't a lot of loose cash on hand for commissions or gala-star soloists. So Isaacs came up with an even more daring plan: an all-American season. Not just a couple of six-minute overtures followed by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, which is how most orchestras deal with American music, but an entire season of homegrown work—19 pieces over four concerts. He floated the idea during a speech at a service organization meeting last year. It drew warm applause, but when one member asked if there was enough American music to fill a whole orchestral season, Isaacs recalls, "That's when I knew I had to do it."
Moore Theatre, Monday, October 25
The Cascade Symphony, like other community orchestras, plays a dual role in the area's music scene. They tend to attract less experienced "beginner" audiences who thrive on informal and informative presentations of standard repertory. They also champion more obscure works, peering into the neglected corners of music history where professional orchestras don't venture. The most valuable contribution to our local musical culture comes from those groups—the Cascade, the Northwest Symphony, Philharmonia Northwest, the Seattle Philharmonic—that can best balance these programming philosophies.
And so the Cascade's current season, their 38th, plans a good mix of old favorites and pieces that even the most seasoned concertgoers might be hearing for the first time. In the first category are the Barber Violin Concerto (1/10/00, with soloist Maria Larionoff), Hanson's cinematic "Romantic" Symphony (3/6/00), and Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (5/1/00). The fruits of Isaacs' research into lesser-known American work include Bal Masque by pioneering woman composer Amy Beach (1/10/00), American Fantasie by operetta specialist Victor Herbert (3/6/00), and the Symphony for Handbells by Bay Area composer William Ludtke (5/1/00). The programs cover over a century of music, starting with Sousa and moving forward through Charles Griffes, Roy Harris, William Grant Still, Alan Hovhaness, and John Adams to Libby Larsen's new Overture for the End of the Century (1/10/00). In a special fifth concert, the orchestra will accompany classic silent comedies—Arbuckle, Chaplin, and such—with vintage music (2/21/00).
The orchestra's first concert (10/25) opens with Copland's setting of the prelude to the United Nations Charter, Preamble for a Solemn Occasion, with narration by actress Muriel Bach Diamond. A performance of his Fantasy on Western Folk Songs celebrates the centennial of George McKay, for years a professor at the University of Washington and a strong force in the growth of Seattle's musical culture. Pianist Peter Mack is the soloist for Gershwin's snappy Concerto in F, and the concert's finale is the Symphony No.1 by current Seattle Symphony composer-in-residence Samuel Jones. The piece is a brash musical statement by the young Jones, who was just out of the Eastman School of Music at the time he composed it; the composer is taking this opportunity to reexamine the work, so the Cascade's performance will be the world premiere of the updated version.
The Cascade Symphony will play each concert twice: Sunday afternoons in Edmonds, Monday evenings in Belltown's historic Moore Theatre. As far as anyone knows, this will be the first time a classical group's played a season at the Moore since the Seattle Opera performed there in pre-Seattle Center days.