SSO's Emma McGrath: From Celtic folk to Bach
Seattle Symphony's busy assistant concertmaster will be in the spotlight during the Jan. 13-14 program of "Bach family" favorites.
Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle Symphony OrchestraBach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 2, with Ryan Brown, conductor, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $17-$74 (206-215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org).
Note: This Baroque & Wine series event offers wine tasting from 6:30-7:45 p.m. Tasting tickets are sold separately at $10 for five pours and can be purchased in advance by phone or in person, or at the event.
Since 2009, violinist Emma McGrath has been regularly seen onstage at Benaroya Hall as associate concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
But her true Seattle debut was years ago in a somewhat smaller venue: Ballard's Irish pub, Conor Byrne.
There, at age 17 in 2000, McGrath and the other members of Tarras, a Celtic folk band with a lot of red hair and from the border region between England and Scotland, finished a six-week tour of the U.S.
"I've still got the T-shirt from it," McGrath says. "I got a T-shirt from every place we played, including the Kennedy Center. But the only one I kept was from Seattle, and I ended up moving here. So it was obviously meant to be."
McGrath hasn't been back to Conor Byrne, but that's no surprise. In her assistant leadership role at Seattle Symphony, she has been in constant demand since the departure of former concertmaster Maria Larionoff.
While music director Ludovic Morlot searches for Larionoff's replacement, McGrath (who is interested in the top job) is assuming those duties except when supporting guest concertmasters.
Of course, there's music to be played, too. McGrath has a prominent role this weekend in SSO's "The Bach Family." The program includes the Baroque genius' Orchestral Suite No. 2, the "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 2 in F major, and Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. Ryan Brown of Opera Lafayette in Washington, D.C., is conducting.
"I don't think you can be a complete musician without a special relationship with Bach," says McGrath. "The more you study and know, the more it takes on a life of its own."
The role of a concertmaster (who is also principal seat in a first violin section) is both artistic and administrative. Tasks include liaising with soloists and acting as go-between for ensemble and conductor.
McGrath says "part of my job is being ready to be concertmaster at any time (including stepping in for a scheduled guest). I always prepare for any solos that are coming up, or for other parts I might have to do at the drop of a hat."
McGrath was born in Manchester but largely raised in the North West England city of Carlisle by her violin teacher mother and singer father. A "Suzuki brat" at 3, McGrath wasn't forced to practice ("I was too willful," she says), but exhibited natural talent.
Auspicious debuts at ages 10 and 14 at London's Southbank Centre led to prestigious international competitions; solo tours of Europe and Asia; membership in the Colorado, Chicago and Pittsburgh symphony orchestras; and a thriving parallel career as a chamber orchestra player (locally, she has performed in Pacific Musicworks and Town Hall's TownMusic events) and composer.
McGrath logged youthful time as a singer-fiddler. She busked and paid for her first year of college with a solo album called "The Girl Stands" and made a big impression on the folk circuit with Tarras' 1999 release, "Rising."
"I could have done that for a career, I suppose," says McGrath, "but I was too in love with classical music. So I said bye-bye to the band scene and went off."
Tom Keogh: email@example.com