Last year the Seattle Symphony chose Ludovic Morlot as its next music director, and first impressions were good. He's an expert leader with adventurous taste, and the programming of his first season contains much modern fare, with a concentration on the superfine music of Henri Dutilleux. I'm happy to see, though, that Morlot's boldness goes beyond programming. He seems eager to carry out a general makeover of the ensemble's image in the local culture. He began an interview with Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times by challenging the very way the paper depicts classical music: why aren't Seattle Symphony concerts reviewed in the "Music" section, alongside jazz, rock, and hip-hop, instead of being placed among "The Arts"? (He might also have asked why the Times has no full-time classical critic.) "We're making music for the people," Morlot said, urging potential listeners to set aside preconceived stereotypes. The new music director is bravely taking up aspects of the job for which conservatory cannot have prepared him, such as throwing out the first pitch at a Mariners game and matching wits with the razor-sharp intellects on the local news shows.
The really interesting news from Seattle this week is a set of free ticket initiatives that should significantly change the makeup of the audience. With the idea of cultivating future concertgoers, the orchestra is offering free companion tickets for kids aged eight to eighteen, provided a paying adult goes with them. And the orchestra is giving away free tickets through four allied community organizations: Washington New Americans, the Post-Prison Education Program, a recreation program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the Senior Housing Authority Group. I'm eager to see how the Seattle Symphony develops from here; perhaps there's room for something along the lines of the Toronto Symphony's startlingly successful Tsoundcheck program. Morlot makes his official debut tomorrow night; a free day of music follows on Sunday.