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Friday, April 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Classical Music Previews

Associate conductor bids musical farewell to Seattle Symphony

Seattle Times music critic

He's been "Mr. Indispensable" at the Seattle Symphony for more than 30 performances a year during the past three seasons.

Now, associate conductor Christian Knapp closes his tenure here with a mainstage subscription program, featuring violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky in the Sibelius Concerto, and the orchestra in the Debussy "Nocturnes" and Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra."

For Knapp, who is increasingly busy with guest-conducting engagements on several continents, it's a bittersweet farewell to the orchestra he has come to love over the past three years in what he calls "an intensely close relationship." The concerts, which began Thursday and conclude Saturday at 8 p.m. in Benaroya Hall, are being filmed by KCTS-TV for a show focusing on the orchestra's "Shostakovich Uncovered" Festival, expected to air in June.

"I hope we've laid the foundation for a long and lasting artistic relationship," said Knapp of his years with the Seattle Symphony.

"I've tried always to be respectful, collaborative and communicative. This is one of the top orchestras in the country, and I'll always be grateful to Gerard Schwarz for giving me this chance."

His work at the symphony, which has included many educational and outreach concerts as well as high-profile collaborations with such artists as violinist Itzhak Perlman, has also led to conducting engagements with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra (filling in for the season following the departure of former music director Huw Edwards) and the Seattle Chamber Players.

"These are both great groups," he says. "The Youth Symphony is one of the best training orchestras in the country, and the Seattle Chamber Players are a fantastic group of musicians."

The Seattle Symphony now is looking for a new assistant conductor; typically the tenure lasts three years, with the assistant rising to a higher title of associate conductor in the last season (as did Knapp). Meanwhile, Knapp is moving on to some distinguished guest-conducting jobs next season, with the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the New World Symphony, the Phoenix Symphony and the Auckland (New Zealand) Philharmonia. Recently, Knapp spent three weeks in Auckland, where they're looking for a new music director, and he's definitely interested: "I feel a very strong connection to them, and they also have a fantastic hall with great acoustics. Their peak season is our summer, too, so I would still be available for other things (in the Northern Hemisphere) during our peak season."

Because of his fondness for the Seattle Symphony, Knapp is dedicating the current "Concerto for Orchestra" concerts to the orchestra itself: "It means a lot to me to have been here."

You can also hear him in the final Seattle Youth Symphony concert of the season, on May 21 in Benaroya Hall.

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For tickets to Saturday's 8 p.m. "Concerto for Orchestra" concert, call 206-215-4747 or visit www.seattlesymphony.org.

It's easy being green

Gallery Concerts is presenting an unusual collaboration with the Seattle Audubon Society and the Seattle-based Earth Ministry: "A Green Concert — Natural Wonders for Harpsichord." The program, featuring well-known Seattle harpsichordist Jillon Stoppels Dupree, will combine music with readings on the Earth's beauty and our role as stewards of our environment.

The program is full of descriptive 17th- and 18th-century music about nature, including "The Leaves Be Green," "The Primrose" and "The Nightingales in Love." Several selections by Couperin and Rameau imitate birdsong: "La Gazouillement" (The Warbling), "La Poule" (The Chicken) and some musical imitations of the cuckoo. The program's finale will be Dupree's own transcription of J.S. Bach's "Sheep Shall Safely Graze," plus selections from Handel's "Forest Music."

Prose and poetry readings, from both classic and contemporary literature, will be given by Earth Ministry founding director Carla Valentine Pryne.

Performances are set for 8 p.m. today and Saturday, plus 2 p.m. Sunday, in Queen Anne Christian Church (1316 Third Ave. W., at West Lee Street). For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/4060. As always, children 14 and younger attend Gallery Concerts free of charge, when accompanied by a paying adult, on a one-to-one basis.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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