Summer absolutely refuses to arrive in Portland. It's in the 80s and 90s everywhere else, but in the Pacific Northwest, it just rains and rains. My good buddy Christine Goerke coaxed me up to Seattle for an overnight to hear her sing with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. The train ride was gloomy and gray all the way up, but no rain, which held out until the next day. In the meantime, my host, Mike Campbell, picked up up at the train station and we headed over to Pike Place market--a big mistake as it is Saturday and the place was crawling with tourists. We escaped and found a place to have a quiet lunch before heading to Kirkland where he lives.
I haven't been to Seattle since the 2002 season when Christine sang her first performances of Bellini's NORMA with the Seattle Opera. It's such a handsome city with its many hills and beautiful homes. The city seems bigger every time I visit--much bigger than sleepier Portland. Kirkland is a good-looking small, leafy town and Mike, who recently moved up there from Portland to take up a demanding new job, has found a sleekly modern two-bedroom co-op with a large balcony and a nice view for him and his dog, Duncan. He's slowly furnishing it in a very 60s manner. I like it.
Because of the weather, we just hung out and relaxed until it was time to go to the concert. Benaroya Hall may be the finest concert hall I've ever been in. Certainly the acoustics of the handsome, wood-paneled hall are outstanding. The modern architecture is attractive, very functional--an excellent venue for making music with generous public places for walking and having a drink during intermissions. Gerard Schwartz, the orchestra's conductor celebrating his 25th anniversary with the symphony, conducted an excellent and ambitious program. Orchestral excerpts from Wagner's PARSIFAL opened the first half with Schwartz taking a leisurely approach (typical for this work), but his ensemble played beautifully and the horns deserve extra kudos for their clear and flawless playing. But I was here for the second work on the program--Mendelssohn's sprawling second symphony for orchestra, chorus and three vocal soloists. I had never encountered this symphony before and was very impressed with Mendelssohn's gorgeous melodies that were elegantly wrapped around a rather unwieldy structure. The first two movements were purely orchestral and the delightful second movement had a lovely, lilting Tchaikovsky-esque tune I couldn't get out of my head. The second portion of the work more than reminded me of Beethoven's mighty 9th symphony, but there were lots of opportunities for the lead soprano and tenor, and unlike Beethoven, Mendelsson is easier to sing. Christine was in sumptuous voice, and poured out huge arcs of lovely, unforced tone. Her clear diction was a bit wasted on the religious texts. Clearly her recent forays into Wagner and Strauss are well justified--indeed, she will sing her first Kundry in PARSIFAL in Turin this January. Vinson Cole, a veteran tenor, who has a close association with Seattle (having lived there for many years), is now approaching 60. He's retained most of his vocal marbles, and his soft-grained tenor was in excellent shape. Holli Harrison, winner of the 2006 Metropolitan Opera competition, made the most of her short opportunities, blending well with Christine in their duet. Gerard Schwartz's outstanding command of rhythm worked well in this massive composition, and he presided over a memorable performance. He has recorded this piece, and his expertise showed superbly.
Afterwards, the ladies invited us to join them for a late supper at the Purple Cafe and Wine Bar nearby. Cafe conjures up visions of intimacy, something this large and busy restaurant lacks. It's a dark and sleekly modern space with attentive waiters, and a terrific late-night menu of pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, and salads--to go with steaks and other crowd-pleasing fare. It's dressier, more formal--not stuffy at all. Holli ordered a delicious pizza (and we shared a fabulous Malbec), while Christine, sipping her Side Car, had pasta with prosciutto and fava beans. Wish I could remember Mike's main course, but he seemed thoroughly happy with his tomato soup. I was very happy to tuck into a finel choppped salad of greens, garbanzo beans, avocado, cucumber, and blue cheese. It's always good to get some face-time with Christine, who has a busy and thriving career singing everywhere, while trying to raise two young daughters with her husband, Jim. We had a quick lunch when I was recently in New York--I've seen her more since I moved to Portland, than I did the last two years of living in New York (and she lives in New Jersey--less than 30 minutes away).
Sunday it poured, and we didn't do much beyond driving around and having brunch before heading to the train station for the return trip home. I was there just about 24 hours. I did find a beautiful new cookbook in Seattle. THE BOOK OF TAPAS, which I'll review for my cookbook review blog, is a stunning package. The pages are yellow with the recipe titles in vivid red and the type of the recipes in black. It's got five generous photograph sections showing the wide variety of typical Spanish little plates and is an outstanding introduction to the subject. I read the book on the train back to Portland.
Woke up on Monday, hopeful of sun, and by 9:00 I wasn't disappointed. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue...it didn't last long, however. Now it's back to gray and threatening to pour on us again. My patio is never going to be completed.
Two more roses managed to bloom despite the gloom. But the rain in Seattle didn't make me ambitious enough to take any photos while I was there.