SSO does Kullervo

Seeing the Seattle Symphony do Sibelius' "Kullervo" was supposed to be a highlight of the year, but I went home feeling underwhelmed. Admittedly Kullervo is an early work and not perfect, but it has many fun parts — not to mention passages of true inspiration — and moreover it's music I know. But the vibe was off: the hall was only half-full, and those who did attend were, well, mostly in the range from older to ancient (though I did see one poor kid with his collar buttoned all the way up, like grandma had forced him). As if to make up for this, the music-making felt forced at times. The SSO musicians are so good, but tonight anyway they seemed rather expressionless. It made me think of an interview I heard on the Crushing Classical podcast, in which orchestra members were described as "having a case of the fuck-its". And there was something lacking in the presentation: the stage was evenly lit, as if for a rehearsal... which is how they normally do it, but tonight it seemed like this music needed a bit of dash visually — a media collaboration maybe, or at least more dramatic lighting. As it was, there was little effort made to impart the story. I suppose we were to simply read our programs while they played? No thank you. They did try something unusual in the beginning however: a mashup of Finnish folk tunes with snippets from Kullervo, to show the similarities. This was sort of illuminating, but also sort of awkward, though I did appreciate the effort.

You can see from the picture how many people it took to perform Kullervo (not pictured: two vocal soloists). Putting this on was no small deal, and it's one of the bigger events of the whole SSO season. So where were the crowds? Nights like this make me feel even more that the Seattle Symphony is failing to connect with new audiences, let alone its current ones. Something like this needed stagecraft, and the same-old conservative concert approach is wearing thin.

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