Hey Marseilles

I knew it wasn’t going to be a typical night at the symphony when I saw the crowd. An army of Capitol Hill hipsters had taken Benaroya Hall, stopping only to retie their Converse and check their iPhones. There were as many pairs of jeans and boots as suits and hearing aides. Rumor had it Pearl Jam was in the audience. And for once, I wasn’t the youngest one there.

But what’s typical at the symphony these days, with new conductor Ludovic Morlot at the baton? Over a little more than a week, SSO was slated to host 10 drastically different concerts, including a performance of Star Trek anthems (“Sci-Fi at the Pops”), internationally renowned violinist Hilary Hahn, a Russian orchestra, Haydn’s Cello Concerto, and last night’s Sonic Evolution program of world premieres inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, and Nirvana. It’s blissfully eccentric for someone who can’t tell the difference between Rachmaninov and Chopin— the kind of variety that draws the “enemy of the symphony” to orchestral music, as Morlot cheerfully noted in his opening remarks.

And considering the energetic fury with which the Seattle Symphony members opened last night, they were pretty excited, too. Vladimir Nikolaev’s The Sinewaveland: Homage to Jimi Hendrix was charged with frenetic glissandi, strings working together like Jimi’s whammy bar. Though the music itself didn’t mimic the guitar master’s chords, it was still exhilarating, conjuring an image of Hendrix atop Bald Mountain, lighting his guitar on fire.

The Cuong Vu Group performed its jazz-classical collaboration, a recognizable tribute to Quincy Jones called One, and the orchestra seemed to hit its stride with Bill Brittelle’s Obituary Birthday: A Requiem for Kurt Cobain. Kurt was only really a ghost in that song, but I eventually forgot I was listening for Nirvana because the music was so damn beautiful.

And then there was young Seattle chamber pop band Hey Marseilles, making their symphony debut wearing ties and worried grins. Their fans were vocal, clapping along to hit single “Rio,” but when the band was “backed” by the orchestra, the sound was richer. Like Hey Marseilles was infusing the orchestra with its nervous energy, and pros of the SSO were raising the chamber pop band to a new level. “We get astounding applause after every song,” lead singer Matt Bishop said, eyes wide. “We should do this more often.”

Yes, you should. These worlds aren’t mutually exclusive, and thankfully, Seattle Symphony has taken note.

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