Composer Ellen Reid captured the essence of life under Covid in the world premiere of her Today and Today and Today and Today and Today and Today and Today and Today and Today and Today, performed in Benaroya Hall by the Seattle Symphony on Thursday evening, conducted by Ruth Reinhardt. In it the tediousness of a restricted daily existence comes through in sections with an amorphous shape and a shifting melange of understated harmonic colors just under the radar. These were punctuated at unheralded moments with loud, discordant, screeching chords, just like someone throwing up their arms and exclaiming “Arghh!” in exasperation.

Ruth Reinhardt conducts the Seattle Symphony
© James Holt | Seattle Symphony

At times, huge breaking waves of sound grew in agitation with loud, excitable percussion, or slithery glissandi dropped in, like short tempers exploding or meltdowns. Reid’s use of harp, percussion and brass as well as occasional pizzicato in the strings kept admirably the dual purpose of retaining interest throughout her 15-minute work while at the same time encapsulating the frustrations and ennui of what still seems like never-ending Covid. The whole will be remembered as a brilliant evocation of our current times, and Reid came twice to the podium to share in the deserved applause.

At 73, pianist Garrick Ohlsson has never coasted on well-deserved laurels. His playing continues to increase in depth of interpretation and nuance to which his formidable technical skills are always in service. As he played the gentle passages of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, his hands seemed to stroke the keys and float off them in a relaxed manner, the latter of which was also there even when he was playing forte and fast. He and Reinhardt were in close communication throughout but there were moments when Reinhardt allowed the orchestra to drown him out. Brought back several times by the audience, he obliged with Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor as an encore.

Garrick Ohlsson, Ruth Reinhardt and the Seattle Symphony
© James Holt | Seattle Symphony

Sibelius’ Symphony no. 1 in E minor received a lively performance under Reinhardt. She conducts expansively and expressively with great sweeps of her arms, delicate nuances, crisp precision and vigorous fortes. At times it seemed as though she and the orchestra were celebrating their recent return to live performance with the exuberance of their playing and, despite some exquisite pianissimos, the overall impression was that it was generally too loud. 

****1