The Royal Fireworks Concert goes off with a bang, and a fanfare, Sunday evening in Riverfront Park.
This introduction to the world of 18th century military band music, with its accompanying spectacular fireworks display, begins at 9 p.m. and is free. Attendance hovers around 50,000 people, so plan ahead for parking and seating on the steps of the Opera House or the lawn.
Military instruments of the Baroque period included oboes and bassoons, producing a more outdoorsy sound in those days, along with the perennial trumpets, horns and drums. There will be multiple numbers of each of these instruments to replicate the original ensemble, which gathered for the first performance of Handel’s “Musick for the Royal Fireworks” in London in 1749.
In addition to the title tune, the Royal Band will perform marches of Philidor and Charpentier, pieces by Jenkins and Byrd, which follow the course of battle and retreat, and some military marches by Beethoven. A Suite for the King’s Violins by Bruslard and a more modern work, “Fireworks!” by Daniel Bukvich, will also be heard.
As enjoyable as all of this is for the audience, there is another side to this event that I feel compelled to reveal. I have been a participant in the Royal Fireworks Concert down in Riverfront Park for a number of years, and will be again this year, and I should tell you that there are certain givens for musicians who risk playing outdoors at night.
They need light to see the music, so stand lights are provided. However, lights in the summer, on the river, in Spokane, bring bugs. Lots of bugs.
There are three kinds of bugs: Bugs to eat the musicians; bugs to be eaten by musicians as they inhale to play; and bugs to get on the music and pretend to be right notes.
There is annual speculation as to what might happen if the stage were to break loose from its moorings with practically every double reed player in the Northwest. Could 20 bassoons be strapped together to make a $100,000 raft? Do timpani float?
As long as I am on the subject, I might add that the musicians don’t get to see the fireworks because they are playing and facing the other way. It is always easy to whine, but the musicians really don’t have it bad at all - just imagine what it must be like to organize this event.
Beverly Biggs and David Dutton have done just that annually since 1978. Every year, the Biggs and Dutton team corrals the musicians, manages the pyrotechnical crew, directs volunteers, raises the large amount of funding required, takes care of the publicity and, on the night of the event, they conduct and coordinate the fireworks.
Like making laws and sausages, it is probably best that the public not know everything that goes into putting on an event like this. A glimpse can be had, though, from the behind the scenes action for the 1989 Fireworks Concert.
That year the battery went dead on Biggs’ cellular phone at the beginning of the show, only seconds after she found out there was no sound coming from the speakers in the Clock Tower meadow. The backup communications system, a set of walkie talkies, was towed away in someone’s car. The sound was restored, but still Biggs had no way to signal the fireworks crew.
Biggs acquired a flashlight to signal the fireworks crew at the arsenal, but realized when the shells started going off that she wasn’t able to hear the music. Through familiarity with the score and Dutton’s interpretation, she was able to sing the music in her head and coordinate the cues so that no one suspected anything was amiss.
In addition to the huge gift Biggs and Dutton give to Spokane by presenting the Royal Fireworks Concert, they have enough energy left to take a moment during the concert to give the Bravo Award. Biggs and Dutton choose the recipient of this award to recognize that person or group’s outstanding support of the performing arts in Spokane. They ought to know.