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A Dozen Ways to Hear Classical Music on the Cheap

Bach on a dime? Mozart for nothing? Check out these affordable but top-notch programs around Seattle

Classical music has long had a reputation of being a high-class, stuffy, expensive affair. Rest assured that none of this is true: in fact, the classical scene in the Pacific Northwest is quite young, vibrant, and casual, and there are many opportunities for families to hear great music on the cheap. Here are a few opportunities around the Sound. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

Seattle Symphony

In addition to Soundbridge and its many family concerts (check out the newly retooled family concert series) the Seattle Symphony also has opportunities that might appeal to those with older children.

Got an aspiring pianist? From Sept. 15–18, the Seattle Symphony Piano Competition features nine up-and-coming pianists from around the world who will play their hearts out. Watch any of the three rounds of competition (recital, semifinal and a finals round, all free except for the finals) and vote for the audience-favorite winner.

Seattle Symphony's Family Connections program allows any paying adult to bring two children (under 18 years old) in for free to any of their regular-season Masterworks or Pops concerts, or Untuxed concerts. The Untuxed series was designed to catch people on their way home from work. It features shorter versions of selected Masterworks programs — usually running about an hour — and earlier start times (7 p.m.) on Friday evenings.

Want to see the Seattle Symphony for free? They play free community concerts several times a year, incuding on Friday, Oct. 24,  2 p.m. at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center.

Seattle Symphony Community Concert. Photo credit: Tom Wolken

Northwest Sinfionietta

The Northwest Sinfonietta is a professional chamber orchestra (that is, fewer musicians than a typical symphony orchestra) that plays concerts in Seattle, Tacoma, and Puyallup. Their first concert of the season (Oct. 16 in Seattle, Oct. 17 in Tacoma, and Oct. 18 in Puyallup) includes music of Copland, Mozart, and Beethoven. Adult tickets are as low as $20 per seat, and $10 student rush tickets are available (with student ID) one hour before each performance.

Johnny Gandelsman, Town Hall

Johnny Gandelsman, a member of the acclaimed ensemble Brooklyn Rider, appears this month at Town Hall, playing the complete sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin of Johann Sebastian Bach. These are among the most beautiful, complicated, and demanding works ever written for the instrument. The concert at Town Hall takes place Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets for adults are $20 ($25 at the door); student tickets are $10, with a limited number of $5 Teen Tix available day of show.

Johnny Gandelsman
Photo: Clinton Smith

Orchestra Seattle

Orchestra Seattle is a community orchestra: many of its members hold down day jobs and play for the joy of it. The orchestra has a young, new music director, Clinton Smith, and is offering a 50% discount on season tickets — seven concerts in all — to new subscribers. Whether you opt for season tickets or not, children ages 7–17 are always admitted free. The first concert of the season, Saturday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m., features Handel's well-known Music for the Royal Fireworks and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Concerts are held at the First Free Methodist Church, 3200 Third Ave. W in Seattle.

Unversity of Washington School of Music

Local high schools and universities can be great places to catch up-and-coming classical musicians. Concerts are typically free or very inexpensive, and some feature world-renowned guest artists. A Notecard for the University of Washington School of Music season costs $90 for adults and $60 for students and seniors. The Notecard gains holders access to nearly 100 performances over the course of the academic year.

A voice division recital (Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m., Brechemin Auditorium) gives listeners the opportunity to hear a variety of young singers perform. A pair of piano master classes (Oct. 21 and 22 at 4:30 p.m., Brechemin Auditorium) offer a chance to hear professionals at the top of their game work with aspiring pianists. All three events are free.

University of Puget Sound

The University of Puget Sound presents a free Faculty/Student Collage concert at Schneebeck Concert Hall in Tacoma on Friday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Seattle Youth Symphony

The Seattle Youth Symphony comprises a number of ensembles of all ages and skill levels. Students go through a rigorous audition process, and many go on to study at some of the country's top music schools. The ensembles play concerts throughout the academic year at Benaroya Hall. Ticket prices start at $30 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.

Classical Tuesdays

If you’re in Tacoma, Classical Tuesdays in Old Town feature local musicians playing in various venues around the neighborhood every second Tuesday of the month (next concert is Oct. 13). For more information, visit the Classical Tuesdays website or call 253-752-2135.

Classical concert-going FAQ

What do I wear? You don’t need a tuxedo or fancy evening gown. Just about anything goes for most of these concerts. To play it safe, try business casual for adults, nice pants and shirts for for kids.

When do I clap? Stodgy concert-goers (and, sadly, some musicians) will frown on people who clap between movements of a multi-movement work like a string quartet or symphony. My best advice: Follow, don’t lead. Wait until everyone else does something before you do.

Anything else I need to know? Classical music requires intense concentration by the performers (and, some would argue, the listeners), so do your best to minimize distractions: Arrive on time, turn your cell phone off (not just to “vibrate”), avoid flash photography, and keep any extraneous noise — including talking — to a minimum.    

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