Emerald City Music: Pushing the Boundaries of Classical


Emerald City Music, established in 2016, features over two dozen rising and established talents each season. In its upcoming fourth season, performances will explore the nature of the chamber music genre, centering around one question: What is classical music? Utilizing visual elements and collaborations with outside organizations, this season features a diverse program from world-premiere pieces to the marrying of music and visual media.

Lining the boundary of classical composition and modern performance, Emerald City Music (ECM) plays off duality. Each show is conducted in both Seattle and Olympia, bringing the glamor of a major metropolis but with the accessibility and charm of a smaller-town company. Performances explore, not just genre, but the incorporation and absence of visual stimuli. The players are high caliber, yet accessible to all. In this juxtaposition lies an additional theme: collaboration. This season was created to bring people together. By building bridges between musician and audience, classic and modern, large city and small city, ECM strives to exemplify unity through music.

“Another element that I really wanted to celebrate is this idea of coming together,” said Kristin Lee, ECM’s cofounder and art director. “I think whether it’s the political heat of the moment or just the world and everything that’s been going on, I think music is playing such an incredibly important role where it’s bringing people together.”

Last season’s diverse schedule inspired Lee to include spectacles crossing genres, from a Danish folk band to the Bach cello suites. She began to question the meaning of chamber music in different incarnations. “I fully value all genres of music,” she said, “but alternately, I really, truly believe you are able to hear all sorts of music in different contexts. You can really appreciate the classics, and that is something that I really, truly value. This season in particular, I was really thinking a lot about what does it mean to be ‘the classics?’ ” For Lee, a classic means something relevant in the time in which it was created, but which holds up throughout time. Expanding on that theme, ECM will stage multiple concerts showcasing the work of modern composers plus elements of well-established pieces.

November’s ECM show, In the Dark, will live up to its name. Dubbed the “wild-card show” of the season by ECM cofounder and executive director Andrew Goldstein, a string quartet will perform in a completely dark room. “It’s kind of very experiential,” Goldstein said. “It’s on Halloween weekend, so the music itself is actually kind of terrifying. Pair that with not being able to see anything, and it’s unsettling and it’s a really interesting kind of experience — not what you might normally think of when going to see classical music.”

Highlighting one instrument, Evolution will be a journey through the life cycle of the keyboard. That March show begins with the harpsicord, traveling through to modern piano, then toy piano and synthesizer. “It’s [w]atching the evolution of the keyboard over time,” added Goldstein, “and still following that Emerald City Music kind of signature trend of ‘We want you to experience something that you’ve never experienced before.’ So it’s not just popular harpsicord music or piano music, it’s really an awesome, dynamic mix of things that people might easily know and things they’ve probably never heard of but I think are going to be really attracted to.”

Other highlights of the season include Lee’s partnership with Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux for the December show, Vieaux & Lee. The all-female Aizuri Quartet will perform “Songs and Echoes of Home” as its first performance on the ECM stage in February. The season concludes with a world-premiere piece by Philadelphia-based composer Patrick Castillo in May. Castillo was inspired by film. Marrying music and visual media, What You Are to Me will feature its source film alongside the musical performance.

Lee often collaborates with colleagues and friends who are musicians, including rising talent and veteran talent. She enables these acts to be seen throughout the Pacific Northwest, so ECM creates a space for artists to express their craft while making that art accessible to a wider audience.

“Our whole mission,” Goldstein said, “is to not just put on a great show, but it’s really to put this music in front of people who might not otherwise imagine themselves seeing classical music. And it’s hugely what we’re passionate about: It’s taking these incredible musicians and letting them be real on a table in front an audience. So making them have this connection between audience and musician and letting that be the thing that really transforms people, that … is a personal connection.”


In The Dark


7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2


The Washington Center for the Performing Arts Black Box,

512 Washington St. SE, Olympia






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