Northwest Sinfonietta is a regional jewel

Northwest Sinfonietta is in its 22nd season. (Northwest Sinfonietta photo)
Northwest Sinfonietta is in its 22nd season. (Northwest Sinfonietta photo)

Early arrivals mingle in the lobby, waiting for the doors to open for seating. Conversation is a lively hum. A small crowd gathers at the table where subscriptions for next season are being sold. The doors open and the lobby begins to clear as ushers make sure that every one knows where to find their seats.
As the lights slowly dim, late arrivals quickly settle into their seats. The audience hears the usual words of welcome, as well as a brief message about future seasons. Then, with the opening notes of Sibelius’ “Romance,” the Northwest Sinfonietta (NWS) begins its mid-season (February) concert at its home base, Tacoma’s beautiful Rialto Theater.
This 22nd season began in October with an extraordinary concert experience. To fully understand its significance, we have to go back to January 2012, when NWS and some of its patrons made an historical trip to Cuba, only the third time since 1959 this was done by a U.S. orchestra.
While in Cuba, the NWS realized that a special bond had been forged by working together with the music and their host orchestra, Orquesta de Cámara Concierto Sur (Concert Orchestra of the South). Although Orquestra is comprised of talented musicians— graduates of the National Art School, The Instituto Superior de Arte (Havana), and professors at the Benny Moré School of the Arts—this group of Cuban musicians had never traveled off the island. So it was with special excitement that the Orquesta later managed to travel from Cuba to Tacoma to join the NWS chamber orchestra for its season opener in October 2012.
That opening night became unforgettable. It began with Latin rhythms and a Spanish suite. Then the two orchestras were joined by two local choral groups and their soloists, bringing down the house with Beethoven’s Ninth. In this opening program, NWS demonstrated what it means to fulfill its mission statement: “To inspire people through music and invigorate the concert experience through excellence, innovation, accessibility, versatility and relevance.”
Although the die had been previously cast, this current season reinforces the NWS goal to include something new or challenging (or both) in each concert. For example, in the second concert of the season, NWS premiered piano originals, some written in the last few years, gathered together and played as Sinfonietta #1. In a note from the composer, Bill Doerrfeld, we learn that he “consider(s) this an entirely new four-movement work.” Closing that concert was Cecile Licad at the piano, playing Chopin. A child prodigy at the age of 3, Ms. Licad has become a favorite not only in her natal country, the Philippines, but also internationally.
Coming back to the February concert, NWS was the first U.S. orchestra to play Beethoven’s string orchestra version of Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Opus 58. This was the U.S. premiere performance of a string version only recently found and authenticated as at least approved by Beethoven himself if not actually written by him in the string version. The masterful solo piano work of Andreas Klein so moved the audience that a standing ovation lasted beyond our ability to continue clapping.
Cuban music comes to the stage again in April. Christophe Chagnard, one of the founders of NWS and currently its music director, composed “Embargo, Suite Cubano,” which will be premiered in the April program. And the final program of the season, in May, will feature violin artistry of Mayuko Kamio, an International Tchaikovsky Gold Medalist.
It is thought by some that the current 2012-13 season is the most ambitious yet for this 35-person chamber group. In part, ambition is engendered by the fact Northwest Sinfonietta is the only professional chamber orchestra with multiple residencies. The concerts are usually in the second weekend of the months of October through May. On Friday night, NWS is heard at Benaroya in Seattle; on Saturday it plays at its home base, the Rialto in Tacoma; and most recently there are Sunday matinees at Pioneer Park Pavilion in Puyallup. In addition, it proves to be a community collaborator, having becoming adept in multiple genres, including opera and ballet and working with choral groups and internationally known soloists.
As of this writing, the next season is posted on the web site, and is available for download. But I can tell you here there will be powerful piano, collaboration on the St. John Passion, homage to a Brit (including the piercingly beautiful “Lark Ascending”) and another world premiere, this one a symphony.
Season subscriptions are available for purchase at all three venues. Current subscribers have until May 31 to renew and thus secure their current seating. For more information, see the web site or call 888-356-6040.