Friday, March 5, 2010

Seattle Symphony and Purple Wine Bar

It was my first time hearing the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in person. They have made plenty of great recordings, but hearing an orchestra in its own hall is always a really disarming and illuminating experience. Our friend Jill had managed to get us two comp tickets to the all Mozart program that she was playing in Benaroya Hall on the night of our arrival in Seattle. It was a wonderful welcome to the city, and a great concert.

Before the concert, I enjoyed seeing the gorgeous Dale Chihuly
chandeliers.  They are a dramatic sight to see when you first enter the hall.  They remind of a giant luminous sea creature, which seems appropriate being so close to the ocean at Benaroya Hall.  If you visit, be sure to take a little extra time to see them before the show.  We later saw more Chihuly at the Seattle Art Museum, and the more I see of his work, the more I love it.

The first piece on the program was Symphony No. 34. It was new to me, and it was nice to hear one of the more rarely performed symphonies in Mozart’s oeuvre. My first impression of the Seattle Symphony was that they played with a beautiful sound overall. There was a sense of lyricism in the orchestra’s playing that I often miss in performances of Mozart and I appreciated their great care and attention to detail in shaping phrases.

The next piece featured the principal second violinist of the orchestra, Elisa Barston. Her appearance was part of a series in which musicians from the orchestra are invited to appear as soloists, a wonderful idea that I wish more orchestras would employ since there are so many amazingly talented individuals playing in orchestral settings these days.

Barston’s performance of the fifth violin concerto was light and airy. She luxuriated in her beautiful sterling sound and took quite a few liberties with tempo and stretched phrases; more so than I accustomed to hearing. The overall affect was a little like listening to French art song being performed by a great singer. It was a unique way of thinking about Mozart and I have to give her credit for originality. She backed up her creative approach to the concerto with unfailing technique and pristine intonation. I enjoyed her original cadenzas also. They were spare and favored lyric beauty over flashy technique. It was a bold statement on elegant simplicity an the importance of line that soloists are often afraid to make, and I respected and appreciated her conviction.

The highlight of the program, for me, was the “Posthorn” Serenade on the second half of the program. It is named for the small natural horn that the mailmen in 18th century Europe would play to let everyone know that the mail had been delivered. I wondered why all of the mailboxes in Luxembourg that I saw this past summer had horns on them, and now I know.

The principal trumpet player of the orchestra gave a stunning performance of the long solo on the Posthorn in one of the final movements. I was also really taken with the concertmaster, principal oboist, principal flute, principal bassoonist, and piccolo player. They had rather significant solo passages that they played with beautiful soaring tones and effortless phrasing. The piece really seemed like a concerto grosso for the many talented members of the orchestra than it did a true Serenade meant to be heard as background music. It is a testament to the virtuosity of the orchestral musicians of Mozart’s time.

After the concert, we headed out to Purple Wine Bar in downtown Seattle a block or so away from Benaroya Hall. It was our friend AndrĂ©’s birthday and we celebrated there with his brother completing our merry crew. It was a delightful gathering. Purple offers a tapas style menu of wine-friendly foods. The menu also offers standard sized portions of appetizers, main courses, and desserts. We liked the idea of lots of small tastes of many different foods, so we ended up ordering around ninety per cent of the items on the small bites menu.

Their wine list is extensive and comprehensive as expected for a metropolitan wine bar in a major wine production center. We drank a few local wines to start, and then moved onto some heavy-hitting French favorites. Our Gaston Chicquet Champagne and Graillot Crozes-Hermitage were beautiful and served as apt accompaniments to our celebratory feast.

The space is beautifully decorated and is housed in what used to be a bank and then a library. There is a dramatic spiral staircase in the center of the room that leads up to a miniature private wine tasting room isolated from the rest of the space by wine bottles on all sides. The ceilings seemed to be the same height as an airplane hangar and there is a loft that overlooks the main dining area with more seating for diners. The lighting is brooding, moody, and even a little sexy and many of the patrons seemed to have those same qualities. The kitchen serves the full menu up until midnight, which perpetuates the bumping late night scene. It’s easy to see why this one of downtown Seattle’s hotspots for the after-theater crowd.

Even though we were very tired after a long day of travel, it was wonderful to be out on the town in Seattle. It’s a great city with a real cosmopolitan feel that rivals Boston in my opinion. A symphony concert and a great meal set the celebratory tone of our trip there visiting dear friends for my birthday and AndrĂ©’s birthday. Of course, we can’t wait to return and we happily made many wonderful memories while there.


  1. I love your blog and envy your ability to travel so much. I have added you to my links and was hoping you could add me to yours. Check out The House Mouse at:

    Stay Cheesy!

  2. The last time I was in Seattle on my own I had a very nice night, starting off at Purple Wine Bar. Its atmosphere was relaxing and staff very friendly.... I thought the center wine bottle staircase was just to house their extensive collection... I did not know it was a private tasting room. I will have to go back!

  3. it's a cool spot. my friends told me about the secret tasting room in the middle of the staircase. is this how rumors get started? lol