Seattle's creative side is what takes the stage when looking at what really sparkles in the Pacific Northwest.
By David Carmichael and Patrick Curran, II
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
The Seattle city skyline at night (photo courtesy of Visit Seattle).
From the Winter 2018 Issue of Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Jewel of the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by water, mountains, forestry and parkland, Seattle, Washington is a premier vacation destination for sophisticated travelers each year. For years, the home of the 1962 World’s Fair and its futuristic Space Needle drew eager travelers from around the globe for its iconic waterfront, the historic Pike’s Place farmer’s market district and the stunning Victorian Romanesque architecture of Pioneer Square. But today, the city has upped the ante with tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft bringing a surge in population, one of the biggest U.S. development booms this century, and, yes, a veritable explosion in arts and culture.
Seattle’s cultural profile has always been robust, but today, it stands atop the nation’s best and brightest destinations for arts and learning. Travelers will find no shortage of cultural attractions spanning the diverse American cultural landscape. And with Seattle Center, the 74-acre urban park and campus housing world class art, science and architectural venues—rivaling some of our very own cultural treasures—that profile will only grow in scope and significance.
If you’re looking to get away to the Pacific Northwest and you have a penchant for the creative, you’ll find much waits your journey in Seattle, Washington.
Seattle has long had a tradition of cultivating some of the world’s iconic music. One of the most iconic Seattle progenitors of classical music has been the beloved Seattle Symphony (seattlesymphony.org).
Housed in Benaroya Hall since 1998, Seattle Symphony is one of the country’s premiere symphony orchestras attracting some of the world’s most revered conductors and concert artists—and performing a wealth of the symphonic cannon season in and season out.
With luminary music directors like Ludovic Morlot and Gerard Schwarz (under whose leadership the symphony garnered 2 Grammy Awards and 12 Grammy nominations), along with a healthy dose of adventuresome programming (from the classics to Sir Mixalot), avid music lovers can always find satisfying musical experiences with the symphony. The 2018-2019 season brings a bit of additional excitement with the launch of the tenure of frequent guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard as the symphony’s new music director, no doubt marking a new period in the orchestra’s history and growth. The Seattle Symphony also offers ancillary concert series featuring world renowned classical artists in recital (both solo and chamber), bringing audiences the full breadth of the classical music catalog with classic and new works alike.
Other area orchestras like the Rainier Symphony in Tukwila, Seattle Festival Orchestra in Kent and the East Side Symphony in Redmond round out Seattle’s symphonic profile nicely.
Opera lovers will find a welcoming home in Seattle Opera (seattleopera.org) programming. With laudable and innovative productions each season, the opera company taps some of the field’s foremost conductors to lead the Seattle Symphony, which serves as its accompanying orchestra, along with some of opera’s up-and-coming young stars to bring beloved works in the genre to life each season at the city’s McCaw Hall.
On tap for the balance of this season: Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, Hector Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict and Verdi’s Aida.
If chamber music is what thrills you, the Seattle Chamber Music Society (seattlechambermusic.org) offers a wonderful slate of concerts, including its engaging Music Under the Stars series, which brings some of the great chamber masterworks to Seattle’s city parks; their popular family concert series and their three seasonal festivals (winter, spring and summer) program a wide range of chamber works from Mozart and Schubert to new works at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.
For more intimate, high caliber classical concerts, visitors may want to venture over to the University of Washington School of Music’s Brechemin Piano Series (music.washing.edu/events), where visiting guest artists the likes of acclaimed pianist Ursula Oppens not only perform in concert, but also offer pedagogical insights with master classes for student artists. Chamber music ensembles, violinists and pianists populate this popular annual music series.
Music lovers in Seattle are also very serious about their jazz, and evidence of that are the wide slate of notable live jazz venues that dot the city. It’s difficult for anyone to go wrong with the wealth of restaurants and clubs in Seattle, but there are indeed a few that jazz “connoisseurs” won’t want to miss. Just steps from Seattle’s famous waterfront and downtown areas, Jazz Alley (jazzalley.com) brings traditional jazz artists of the world class variety to its intimate space week in and week out. Whether a jazz band or one of the world’s top ensemble’s, there’s no better way to get up-close-and-personal with artists of the highest caliber in the city.
Bandoleone (bandoleone.com) offers a healthy does of jazz to compliment a delicious menu of Latin cuisine and cocktails. Tula’s Restaurant & Jazz Club (tulas.com) traditionally books some of the best and brightest emerging jazz artists in the nation, paired with their own spin on regional cuisine, you can’t pick a better mix of mood, menu and music in the Seattle metro area.
If you crave traditional dance while on the road in Seattle, you’ll certainly want to secure a seat in one of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (pnb.org) many performances while in town. The company is notable in that it boasts the highest per capita attendance among elite dance companies in the United States. And if you’re in town over the holidays, be sure to catch the ballet in the work it’s best known for, the Stowell/Maurice Sendak Nutcracter. A signature work for the company since 1983, the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s performance of the full-company ballet was made into a feature film showcasing its detail, intricate beauty and athleticism.
Programming for this season includes Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake this winter (February 2 – 11, 2018) and a spring program entitled "Director’s Choice," featuring a world premiere ballet by choreographer Ezra Thomson (March 16 – 26, 2018).
Modern dance lovers also have something to look forward to when in Seattle with Spectrum Dance Theater (spectrumdance.org). The company is led by founder and executive director, Donald Byrd, the bold visionary who brought the dance world the Harlem Nutcracker and choreographed the Broadway hit, The Color Purple. Under Byrd’s leadership since 2002, Spectrum has emerged as one of the most daring regional dance ensembles in the Pacific Northwest and a force to be reckoned with nationally.
Seattle’s theater scene offers a vibrant mix for live stage plays. Repertory companies, touring Broadway productions and bold, experimental collectives make up the landscape. Much like Chicago, many high profile Broadway shows run right through Seattle. Many of the local theaters like the Allen Theatre and Paramount Theatre in downtown host touring productions from the Great White Way. This season, the city will see pre- and post-Broadway productions of Mama Mia!, Rag Time, The Buddy Holly Story and the smash hit, Hamilton.
Located at the famed Seattle Center, the city’s largest regional theater company, Seattle Repertory Theatre (seattlerep.org) offers home-grown live stage productions meant to “surprise, entertain, challenge and uplift” the Seattle community. Celebrating 50 years, this season, the collective of local theater professionals affectionately known as Seattle Rep has offered high caliber productions that re-imagine classic works and premiere new and inventive plays.
A host of smaller itinerant companies also pepper the vibrant theater scene in the city, producing sometimes gritty, often experimental productions and exciting, thought-provoking works drawn from headlines, classic works and the minds of bold and imaginative writers from the region and beyond.
Taproot Theatre Company (taproottheatre.org) offers a diverse slate of works each season in two intimate performance venues and drawing from the growing collection of modern works filling the regional theater landscape.
The award-winning Sound Theater Company (soundtheatrecompany.org) promotes a mission to produce inspiring live theater showcasing emerging talent in the Seattle area. Like many of the Chicago itinerant groups, Sound’s size offers the flexibility of experimentation, which always produces new ideas and sometimes dazzling one-of-a-kind experiences.
And, of course, lovers of Shakespeare will feel right at home with the Seattle Shakespeare Company (seattleshakespeare.org), Puget Sound’s year-round professional classical theater company producing a wealth of the great master’s works in grand repertory style each and every season. The company offers often thought-provoking performances meant to inspire and enrich audiences while cultivating a rich appreciation for outstanding stage works.
This latter half of the 2017-2018 season will offer a nice mix of drama and comedy with productions of Timon of Athens (January 9 – February 4), The Merchant of Venice (March 20 – April 15), and the cheeky Shakespeare in Love (May 2 – June 3).
Art in Seattle is nothing short of prolific. And any art lover’s search while there most certainly begins with the Seattle Art Museum (seattleartmuseum.org). With three major facilities (its main museum in downtown; the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill; and the open Olympic Sculpture Park on the central Seattle waterfront), the museum serves as the foremost fine arts progenitor of the region. Its collection is expansive with over 25,000 individual pieces, and among them are Alexander Calder’s Eagle (1971) and Richard Serra’s Wake (2004). Upcoming exhibitions from the current season include Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, an examination of the American Master’s 75-year career on the 100th anniversary of his birth (running now through January 15); and an immersive installation of Sam Gilliam’s early work as well as pieces from his acclaimed series of heavily layered Black paintings, one of the artist’s notable innovations.
Of course, the Seattle Art Museum is just the start of the city’s exploration of art and design. The Frye Art Museum (fryemuseum.org) serves as a living legacy of the of avid collectors and local art patrons Charles and Emma Frye. Hosting a diverse collection of contemporary artworks, the Frye maintains a commitment to pervasive artistic inquiry, creating a visual experience that inspires engagement with artists and their work in a venue that is free and welcoming to all.
Exhibitions range from paint to photography to multimedia and ephemera. The museum’s current exhibition offers the first solo show of local artist Alison (Bremmer) Marks, who uses unexpected materials in very unexpected ways with a wry sense of humor and an unambiguous point of view.
One of the most alluring and unique art venues in the region, Chihuly Garden and Glass (chihulygardenandglass.com) rests at the base of Seattle Center as a living showcase of the work of the extraordinarily prolific glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Opening in 2012, the garden is a stunning representation of the artist’s expansive output. Called the centerpiece of the exhibition, the Glass House is a 40-foot tall glass and steel structure enclosing 4,500 square feet of light-infused space. The installation is a dazzling 100-foot long suspended sculpture in a wildly disparate color pallet and encompassing a plethora of organic shapes and forms.
There are also eight galleries and Drawing Walls that showcase Chihuly’s boundary-pushing glass art from start to finish.
While in Seattle Center, check out the Museum of Pop Culture (mopop.org). Dedicated to the risk-taking and bold pop culture movements that power much of the our society’s visionary growth, the museum promotes a mission to reach “multigenerational audiences through…collections, exhibitions, and educational programs, using interactive technologies to engage and empower.” Those collections are expansive. Founded by Microsoft co-founder Michael Paul in 2002 as the Experience Music Project. The exhibits explore pop culture from the art of fantasy, horror cinema, videogames, science fiction literature and costumes from film and stage.
In addition to these venues, a host of galleries abound among the Seattle landscape with foci ranging from modern to African to traditional art and sculpture, as well as contemporary artists local and beyond.
Seattle is home to some of the worlds leading science and learning centers. From aviation to science to natural history, the city offers world class exploration of the world around us.
The sprawling Pacific Science Center at Seattle Center (pacificsciencecenter.org) offers hands-on learning for kids and families with permanent and traveling exhibits showcasing everything from animals and plants to technology in a state-of-the-art setting.
One of the foremost natural history museums in the region, The Burke Museum (burkemuseum.org) boasts a wealth of collections springing from the area’s indigenous beginnings. The museum features both natural and cultural artifacts from the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Rim, ranging from Native American totem poles and hand-carved cedar canoes to dinosaur skeletons, fossils, gems and minerals.
Boeing has played a significant role in Seattle’s past, making aviation an important part of the city’s history and focus. Enter the Museum of Flight (museumofflight.org) and explore the world of aviation from the Wright brothers to the outer limits of space. One of the world’s largest air and space museum’s, the Museum of Flight offers more than 175 historic air and spacecraft for view, interactive exhibitions and activities that will enthrall any aviation aficionado. Museum exhibits include a retired British Airways Concorde jetliner, Air Force One, NASA Space Shuttle Trainer and the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Located approximately 30 miles north of Seattle city proper, the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour (futureofflight.org) is a 73,000-square-foot commercial jet interpretive center set at the north edge of the Paine Field airstrip, near Boeing’s largest jet assembly plant. The center features an aviation gallery with interactive exhibits on commercial aviation, a theater and a roof-top observation deck to view the airport’s take-offs and landings. Exhibits include The Innovator, a simulated flight experience, cut-aways from fuselages of several Boeing airplane models and an airplane design program where guests can design their own plane and print it out for free.
Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (mohair.org) celebrates the rich history of the Pacific Northwest and features noteworthy exhibitions from the Smithsonian and Library of Congress. The museum showcases a large collection of regional historic and cultural treasures and serves as a veritable indoor playground for all ages. With more than 50,000 square feet, the museum holds thousands of historic artifacts, including photographs, videos, costumes and interactive objects such as the World War II-era periscope, reflecting the rich history of Seattle’s Puget Sound naval culture.
The ninth-largest aquarium in the US by attendance, and among the top five Puget Sound paid-visitor attractions, the famed Seattle Aquarium (seattleaquarium.org) sits on the city’s stunning waterfront and features an amazing 40-foot, 55,000-lb. viewing window peering into a 120,000-gallon aquarium filled with salmon, colorful rockfish, vibrant sea anemones, other native Washington marine life and interactive divers. Currently, the Aquarium’s animal collection includes shows exploring marine mammals, Washington area waters and Pacific Coral Reef.
Architecture in Seattle reflects a stunning assortment of design styles ranging from mid-century modern to sparse, contemporary structures. The gemstone of Seattle’s skyline is, of course, the iconic, futuristic Space Needle (spaceneedle.com) observation tower, which sprang impressively from the 1962 World’s Fair, a nod to the city’s forward-thinking endeavors. The tower’s observation deck offers stunning 360 degree views of the city in all its glory. On the same campus, the sprawling Seattle Center is a grand example of the mid-century modern movement and its influence on the region’s downtown area. Its growth over the years has been tremendous with the stunning and colorful Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition and the Fischer Pavilion. The Seattle Tower, originally known as the Northern Life Tower, is a 27-story art-deco skyscraper in downtown offering a distinctive exterior clothed in 33 shades of brick, inspired by local rock formations found in the Pacific Northwest.