My, How You've Grown!

In shaky times for classical music, how one local ensemble survived the terrible twos.

Rule of thumb for debuting classical ensembles: If your first season doesn't kill you, you're got a decent shot at survival. Launched in November 2009 by then-UW student Geoffrey Larson, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra is not only still alive but thriving. Designed to give post-collegiate musicians opportunities to play (and himself a chance to conduct), Larson, now 24, presents the SMCO's relative youth as a point in its favor, both as a draw for elusive concert- goers of similar age and for the energy unjaded players can generate even in standard repertory. "Many of the members," he says, "will be seeing our repertoire for the first time, and this discovery is something that fills performances with vitality and excitement." Housed for its first two seasons in downtown's Daniels Hall, the orchestra is now taking its first steps out of toddlerhood with a courageous move to the pricier but higher-profile Benaroya Recital Hall. "The space is just the right size for our ensemble, and the acoustics are wonderful for all types of music," says Larson (no relation to the Bushwick Book Club's Geoff Larson). "[It's] large, with plenty of seating, but it still feels intimate and comfortable." And even in uncertain financial times, especially for classical musicians, Larson is confident his group will flourish. The SMCO's small size makes it economical, and he points to the success of recent new-music gambles by the New York Philharmonic and the similar-sized Orpheus Chamber Orchestra as evidence that his group's commitment to contemporary repertory will pay off. For example, he's premiering a suite by Patrick Behnke, whose studies of Indian music influence his work, on October's season opener (alongside Debussy, Grieg, and Prokofiev), and has scheduled John Adams' whimsical but demanding Chamber Symphony, dually inspired by Carl Stalling's cartoon soundtracks and Schoenberg, for the SMCO's all-American program next March—"music," as Larson puts it, "that gets little or no attention from our area's orchestras and deserves much more."

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