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Originally published Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 7:04 PM

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Guest conductor helps composers leap to life

Guest conductor Vassily Sinaisky appears with the Seattle Symphony March 18-21 in a program of Brahms and Ravel.

Special to The Seattle Times

Concert preview

Seattle Symphony Orchestra

With guest conductor Vassily Sinaisky, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $9-$100 (206-215-4747 or

Critics sometimes describe the music conducted by Vassily Sinaisky in such emotionally intense terms that the prospect of seeing and hearing him at work is a little daunting.

"Sinaisky ... made Strauss' demanding score blaze, tease and melt," said Britain's Evening Standard of a performance of "Der Rosenkavalier" by the English National Opera in 2003.

"Taut, tense and terrifying," declared The Telegraph following Sinaisky's handling of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony with the BBC Philharmonic in 2006.

More often, though, Sinaisky — who conducts the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in a program of Brahms and Ravel this week — is regarded as a complete maestro of broad and worldly insight into the full expressiveness of many composers.

That much-heralded ability to draw all the colors, drama and melodic appeal out of a composer's vision should make for one of the real highlights of Seattle Symphony's season when he takes on Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé."

Described by Ravel as a "choreographic symphony," "Daphnis" is music for a ballet commissioned in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes. The scenario — the love between a goatherd and a shepherdess — is set in ancient Greece, though Ravel said, rather irresistibly, that his aim was to "compose a vast musical fresco in which I was less concerned with archaism than with faithfully reproducing the Greece of my dreams."

Ravel's score, 308 demanding pages, was written for a huge orchestra (including 14 percussion instruments) and chorus.

"It's a very unusual, very demanding piece," says Sinaisky by phone from Amsterdam, where he lives. "It was written in a French style but for Russian dance, and is very much to my taste."

Sinaisky is also looking forward to the program's other offering, Johannes Brahms' 1887 Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor ("Double Concerto"). Two superb and much-in-demand soloists will play on it: German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott and Scandinavian violinist Henning Kraggerud.

"I'm going to enjoy this program," Sinaisky says, "and I love the Seattle orchestra. I've been there several times, and know them well. They do very good music."

Born in Komi, Russia, in 1947, Sinaisky studied conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory and was an assistant at the Moscow Philharmonic under Kiril Kondrashin.

Sinaisky has held a succession of important posts with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Bolshoi Theater and Russian State Orchestra. In 1996, he began a long, fruitful relationship as principal guest conductor for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Asked about his working style, Sinaisky says "an orchestra is like a person, with its own temperament. You start rehearsals as friends, but you have to insist sometimes. The main thing is how strong your musical ideas are, so musicians can catch them easily."

Tom Keogh:

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