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Behind the Scenes: Up Close & Personal: Intimate music in intimate venues

Classical pianist Andrea Rackl, who co-founded the now-defunct (and much missed) Amadeus Project on Cornwall Avenue, wrote me about her decision five years ago to try something new.

She realized that her most enjoyable performances were happening when she was up-close with her audience. So instead of booking large concert halls and theaters, she decided to take her music back to where it came from: living rooms.

Until the 20th century, she says, most solo, chamber and improvisational music was shared in the atmosphere of a living room. Whether it was a family gathering around the piano after dinner, or friends reading through a string quartet together, or even the more formal atmosphere of the 19th-century salons, people were experiencing music at close proximity and with people they knew and could talk to.

Rackl says we’ve all attended concerts where the stage is set above the audience and the performers live on a different plane. Such separation makes it harder for the listener to relate to what they are experiencing, and more challenging for the performers to share their personal relationship with the music.

Rackl wanted to break that dynamic, so “Up Close & Personal” was created. In the series of concerts, musicians perform in intimate settings to audiences of usually not more than 40. Most of the concerts happen in private homes, while some take place in small community spaces. The performers introduce and discuss each piece with the listeners, giving insight into the music and its creators.

Leslie Johnson, former principal violist for Pacific Northwest Ballet, joins Rackl for the fourth season of “Up Close & Personal.” The program features solo and duo masterworks by Bach and Brahms, and live improvisation by Rackl – another lost tradition revived.

The next public concert is at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at Firehouse Performing Arts Center, 1314 Harris Ave. General admission is $20; $5 for youths. Details:

Actors sought for upcoming productions

Two theater companies in Bellingham are holding significant auditions this weekend and next.

Playwright Steve Lyons and director Mark Kuntz, founders of Bellingham TheatreWorks, will present “Marina,” a world-premiere musical by Semiahmoo playwright Sandy Wolf (whose husband, Bruce, a strong arts advocate, died last month), May 21-23 at Mount Baker Theatre.

Rehearsals begin about two weeks before opening. Auditions for the show are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at Northwest Ballet, 1417 Cornwall Ave. For an audition time, email Details:

In other news, the company’s popular production of “The Ghosts of Tonkin,” which was performed at several venues in Bellingham and Whatcom County, as well as in Oregon, has been selected to run at Seattle’s ACT: A Contemporary Theatre this spring as part of the theater’s Central Heating Lab series, which serves as an incubator and catalyst for new works. The play was written by Lyons in commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

From May 2-10, Bellingham TheatreWorks will present the powerful, behind-closed-doors story of how seemingly well-intentioned public officials brought about one of the most devastating chapters in the history of the United States: The Vietnam War. For details on the production, go to and follow the months to May.

Auditions for iDiOM Theater’s spring shows are March 7 and 8.

On March 7, auditions will be held for two-act plays, “Broken Holmes” and “In a Handbag Darkly,” at the theater, 1418 Cornwall Ave. Actors will perform two one-minute contrasting monologues by appointment. The two plays will be presented April 30-May 23.

Also at iDiOM, “Best of Brass Monkey” is a collection of six short plays selected by audiences from the “Brass Monkey” cold-reading series. Auditions for that series are March 8.

To schedule an iDiOM audition, email Please email a photo, a resume, and a time preference between 1 and 5 p.m., with contact information and a summary of your acting experience.