One fateful night a year ago, an army of hipsters invaded Benaroya Hall, stopping only to retie their Converse and check their iPhones. They marched in twos, claiming seats next to patrons in suits and gowns, until the storied concert hall became a sea of denim cresting with a wash of white hair. It wasn’t your average night at the symphony.
Under the direction of spirited new conductor Ludovic Morlot, a 38-year-old who can legitimately attend the Seattle Symphony’s young patrons events, the orchestra introduced a new Sonic Evolution program of world premieres by young composers inspired by Seattle’s rock and jazz legacy—Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Nirvana. For the second half of the evening, local chamber-pop band Hey Marseilles made its symphony debut, wearing ties and worried grins as they looked out over cavernous Benaroya Hall. It was a night designed to introduce the so-called “enemies of the symphony”—as Morlot cheerfully described people who’d rather stay home than sit through a Chopin recital—to classical music in the modern era.
Considering the energetic fury with which the orchestra members opened the performance, they were pretty excited about the idea, 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 audience left buzzing—an encouraging sound for any arts organization in the throes of a recession.
SSO is bringing back Sonic Evolution for a second season, this time with new works inspired by hardcore rockers Alice in Chains, hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, and British prog-rock band Yes. Seattle-based Yes drummer Alan White is slated to play on Alexandra Gardner’s Just Say Yes; and maybe if we talk about it enough, Blue Scholars’ DJ Sabzi and MC Geologic will add some beats to Ken Hesketh’s Knotted Tongues. Or not. Just an idea.
To close out the evening, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs (one of our four Seattle bands that rock harder than the rest) will make their symphony debut. With a new shock of white-blond hair and an unexpectedly mellow record slated for 2013, 26-year-old Star Anna (yes, it’s her given name: “Mom’s a big hippie and wanted to name me Louie”) is ready to break out of the alt-country box the band’s been in since its first album. And what better time to make a statement than at Benaroya? “That’s probably one of the places I never thought I would get to play,” she said. “Seattle’s such a cool town.”