Ear Supply: He Will Survive

The past century’s classical-music style wars have invariably been framed in terms of composers versus audiences: courageous pathbreakers battling mindless reactionaries; or, conversely, egoist charlatans alienating fed-up paying customers, each side blaming the other for the art form’s lowered cultural profile. But here’s a little secret. Who really controls the canon? Performers. That music will live which musicians deem worth their time and effort, regardless of what anyone else says. And in that respect, one of the 20th century’s big winners is Benjamin Britten (1913–1976). His immortality seems secure (something few would have guessed 50 years ago, when he was dismissed by the avant-garde) because of his music’s profound rewards for singers and instrumentalists: an individual yet relatable personal voice; an exquisite ear for surprising nuances of color or harmony; heartfelt emotion wrapped in a sort of British self-effacement; and, in his vocal works, a peerless skill in setting English. Area musicians are taking advantage of his centennial to express their affection. Though his actual birthdate is November 22, this weekend ended up a kind of coincidental mini-festival. On Friday, Pacific MusicWorks (pacificmusicworks.org) surrounds Britten with vocal music by his English ancestors Dowland, Purcell, and Handel. Consecutive performances of Britten’s brilliant Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra follow, by the Lake Union Chamber Orchestra (luco.org) on Friday and the Northwest Symphony (northwestsymphonyorchestra.org) on Saturday, with dueling KING-FM narrators (respectively, Sean MacLean and Dave Beck). On Sunday, Seattle Pro Musica (seattlepromusica.org) is inviting the audience to sing along with three of Britten’s religious works.

In his birthday month, watch for his bittersweet Serenade for tenor, played by the Northwest Sinfonietta (northwestsinfonietta.org) on Nov. 15; and, from The Esoterics (theesoterics.org), Britten’s complete choral works over two weekends, Nov. 22–24 & Dec. 6–8. Seattle Pro Musica brings more Britten for the holidays, Dec. 7 & 14, and . . . well, now I’m just asking for trouble, because the longer the list, the more likely those omitted will be peeved. Now if we could just convince Seattle Opera to stage Peter Grimes . . . See websites for complete info.

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