From the Baltic, with love: Festival features music, education

Nobody was surprised when the Seattle Chamber Players received a national award for adventuresome programming earlier this month, from Chamber Music America.

These guys practically invented adventuresome programming. The four members of the Seattle Chamber Players — flutist Paul Taub, clarinetist Laura DeLuca, violinist Mikhail Shmidt and cellist David Sabee — have consistently presented the new, the unusual and the downright offbeat in their 14-year history.

Now they're poised for one of their most adventuresome efforts: an ambitious three-day Icebreaker II Festival, which opens Friday with a big schedule of performances and educational events. Among the highlights: works by composers from nine countries surrounding the Baltic Sea (Germany, Denmark, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden), and symposia by composers and musicologists from these countries.

A long guest list of performers is helping make all this happen, including Seattle Pro Musica (Karen P. Thomas, conductor), conductor Christian Knapp, percussionist Matthew Kocmieroski, bassoonist Seth Krimsky, pianist Marian Lee, harpist Valerie Muzzolini, guitarist Michael Partington, violinist and violist Karen Bentley Pollick, pianist Ivan Sokolov and violinist Jeannie Wells Yablonsky. Ivan Sokolov, a Russian pianist/composer who has appeared regularly with the Players, also is arriving for the festival. Taub and musicologist Elena Dubinets are directing all this Icebreaking.

You may think of the Baltic as a vast frozen area (especially at this time of year), but it is a hotbed of new music. Among the more famous composers whose work will be performed next weekend are Arvo Pärt (an Estonian renowned for his choral reveries) and Polish composer Henryk Gorecki (the composer whose Symphony No. 3 topped the classical charts for months on end, a decade ago). Also on tap: a work by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, whose beautiful, tonal music has been successfully performed here by the Seattle Symphony, Kronos Quartet and Kremerata Baltica in the past few years.

To put you right in the middle of things, each Baltic country is sending a musicologist to give a one-hour presentation about what the music scene is like in that respective country. The composers, too, will introduce and present their music in one-hour seminars. The whole weekend of programming focuses almost entirely on living composers, with one exception: Estonian composer Raimo Kangro (1949-2001). And composers from seven of the nine featured countries will be present in Seattle for the festival.

"It's amazing," Taub says, "how much community support we're getting! We recently gave a presentation in the Baltic Studies program at UW, and for the Washington Composers Forum. Seven of our nine countries have Consulates or Honorary Consulates in Seattle, and there are Lithuanian- and Latvian-American Societies here."

Taub and the other Seattle Chamber Players also met two of the Icebreaker II composers in Talinn, Estonia, where the Seattle musicians performed in last year's tour of Estonia and Russia.

Dubinets, who earlier produced festivals of Russian music at the University of Iowa, has spent nearly two years making contacts for Icebreaker II, including a trip to the annual Gaida Festival of Vilnius, Lithuania in October of 2002. There she met composers and heard new works from Baltic and Nordic countries. Further contacts came from the music information centers of the respective countries, which Dubinets found very helpful: "They sent us scores, recordings and names of musicians. Then we evaluated everything according to our needs and tastes, taking the best for our audiences."

Taub says what comes through in the "enormous variety" of the scores is the sense of a national style that comes through in the music. Lithuanian music, he explains, tends to be very folk-inspired; other countries' composers reflect "a continuation of their national style."

Danish and Estonian composers, Taub says, "write especially well for guitar and chamber music."

All the concerts are in the SCP's regular hangout, the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall. All three concerts start at different times, including an unusual Saturday matinee; see details below:

Concert 1, 8 p.m. Friday

Uljas Pulkkis (b. 1975, Finland): "Djinni" (2002) for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano.

Dieter Schnebel (1930, Germany): "Auguri" (Pieces #3, 4 and Epilogue) (1992) for piano.

Onute Narbutaite (1956, Lithuania): "Winter Serenade" (1997) for flute, violin and viola.

Pär Lindgren (1952, Sweden): "Beep-Ooh" (1995) for clarinet and percussion.

Kaija Saariaho (1952, Finland): "Terrestre" (2002) for flute, percussion, harp, violin and cello.

Georgs Pelecis (1947, Latvia): "Music on the Grass" (1995) for flute, violin, viola, cello and bassoon.

Erkki-Sven Tüür (1959, Estonia): "Fata Morgana" (2002) for violin, cello and piano.

Concert 2, 2 p.m. Saturday

Remigijus Merkelys (1964, Lithuania): "MiKonst" (2000) for string quartet and piano.

Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928, Finland): Cello and piano work to be determined.

Krzysztof Knittel (1947, Poland): "Trio for optional melodic instruments" (2001) (for clarinet, flute, percussion).

Wieslaw Rentowski (1953, Poland): "Lake Charles Variations" (1990) for prepared piano.

Anders Nilsson (1954, Sweden): "Divertimento" (1991) for flute, clarinet, string quartet and piano.

Alexandr Popov (1957, Russia): "Hortus Conclusus" (2002) for violin, viola and cello.

Peteris Vasks (1946, Latvia): "Plainscapes" (2001) for choir, violin and cello.

Arvo Pärt (1935, Estonia-Germany): "Magnificat" (1989).

Henryk Mikolaj Górecki (1933, Poland): "Amen" (1975).

Vaclovas Augustinas (1959, Lithuania): "Trepute Martela" (1994) for choir and four melodic instruments.

Concert 3, 7 p.m. Feb. 15

Ester Mägi (1922, Estonia): "A tre" (1991) for violin, cello and guitar.

Bronius Katavicius (1932, Lithuania): "Cranes' Dances" (1989) for clarinet and two pianos.

Per Nørgård (1932, Denmark): "Serenita" (1996) for guitar.

Peter Bruun (1968, Denmark): "Heaven and Earth" (1996) for flute, clarinet, percussion, guitar, violin, cello and celesta.

Poul Ruders (1949, Denmark): "De Profundis" (1990) for two pianos and percussion.

Helena Tulve (1972, Estonia): "Island" (1993) for violin and clarinet.

Raimo Kangro (1949-2001, Estonia): "Idioms" (1992) for flute, violin and guitar.

Ivan Sokolov (Russia-Germany): "Farewell Music" (2004, world premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

Melinda Bargreen:

Icebreaker II

For tickets to the Seattle Chamber Players' Icebreaker II Festival, call 206-286-5052; for information, visit