March 26, 1995 in Features

A Season To Remember Symphony Celebrates 50th Season With New Stars, Old Favorites

Travis Rivers Correspondent
 

The Spokane Symphony turns 50 next fall. The flagship of Spokane’s cultural fleet plans to celebrate with some faces from its past, some soloists new to Spokane, a work especially commissioned for the symphony, and some familiar classics and pops.

Planning for the anniversary season began nearly three years ago with the formation of a 21-member 50th Anniversary Committee headed by Harriet Fix and Mary Jean Ferris.

The result of the committee’s planning was announced to the musicians of the orchestra and the Symphony Chorale last week. The orchestra’s 50th anniversary season brochure is on its way to subscribers.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a milestone for the orchestra and for the community,” says Jonathan Martin, the orchestra’s executive director. “This will be a time to look back and recognize the people who realized that Spokane needed a symphony orchestra and how they made that happen. Those were the musicians, the trustees and the orchestra’s supporters - the people who are the heart and soul of any arts organization.

“It will also be a time for us to look forward and determine where we want to be five and 10 years down the road and what we will have to do to get there,” Martin adds.

Celebrations are expensive. Although the orchestra’s operational budget is now about $2 million annually, the added expenses of the 50th season lends new meaning to the term “golden anniversary.”

“The cost of our artists and special events amounted to some $50,000 (beyond the symphony’s usual operating budget). These costs were underwritten by a group of 10 Spokane-area banks,” Martin says. “Their underwriting made the difference between our having a season and our having a 50th anniversary season.”

When the symphony’s golden anniversary season gets under way Sept. 23, it will bring together not The Three Tenors but The Three Conductors.

“For the opening concert, we were going to bring back four of the orchestra’s music directors,” says Fabio Mechetti, the symphony’s current music director. “We tried to choose things that each conductor was famous for. Donald Thulean, who has been a missionary for American music, will conduct Copland’s ‘El Salon Mexico.’ Gunther Schuller will conduct Beethoven’s ‘Leonore’ Overture No. 3. And I will do Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird.’

“We asked Vahktang Jordania to conduct Shostakovich, but he will be conducting an opera production in Portland at that time, and his schedule didn’t permit him to come.”

Mechetti also will conduct Barber’s Adagio for Strings in honor of Bruce Ferden, who led the orchestra from 1985-91, and selections from Berlioz’s “Damnation of Faust,” which Harold Paul Whelan conducted at the very first concert of the Spokane Philharmonic in 1945.

Whelan, the orchestra’s music director from its founding until 1962, died in 1981 after a long career as a conductor and music educator. Ferden died in 1993, a victim of AIDS, just as his career was coming into full bloom.

The season opener will be preceded by the Opening Night Dinner and Gala at the Spokane Ag Trade Center, with a champagne reception to follow the concert.

“We’ve been working diligently on this season many, many months,” Mechetti says. “I think we have made a very exciting season, even though ‘exciting’ is too tame a word to express how I feel about it.

“We have soloists like Alicia de Larrocha and Thomas Hampson who have been here before and made a big splash, and we have some very great artists who will be performing in Spokane for the first time, like Nelson Freire and Anne Akiko Meyers.”

De Larrocha, who certainly is deserving of the title “First Lady of the Piano,” made a great impression here when she performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Spokane Symphony in 1981. Hampson, whom many refer to as the world’s leading baritone, began his career here with the symphony’s production of “Hansel and Gretel” in 1974. Hampson, a Spokane native, has since performed with the orchestra on seven different occasions - probably a record for any of the orchestra’s soloists.

Besides De Larrocha and Hampson, violinist Reiko Watanabe also will be making a return engagement with the orchestra next year.

Freire is “one of the best-kept secrets of the world’s pianists,” in Mechetti’s opinion. Meyers, though only 24, is a violin sensation who already has performed with the world’s leading orchestras and has started recording major works for RCA.

They join pianist Mark Zeltser and clarinetist Sharon Kam making their Spokane debuts.

Spokane audiences also will recognize names on the orchestra’s Super Pops series, such as pianist-conductor Peter Nero and the singers of Bravo Broadway, Jan Horvath, J. Mark McVey and Keith Buterbaugh. Country singer Michael Martin Murphy has performed in the area, though not with the symphony.

Symphony-goers who also listen to “A Prairie Home Companion” will know the work of jazz and ragtime pianist Butch Thompson.

“We are also trying to feature the Symphony Chorale as much as possible in works that are representative of the repertoire, like Haydn’s ‘Creation’ and, of course, in the season’s last concert, with Beethoven’s Ninth,” Mechetti says.

The orchestra has scheduled an extra performance of the Ninth to end its 50th season. Plans are afoot to issue a commemorative compact disc of this season-ending performance, but details have not been completed, Mechetti says.

The golden anniversary season will see the inauguration of the symphony’s new piano and the first performance of new work commissioned from the orchestra’s Bruce Ferden Fund for 21st-Century Music.

In October, Freire will give the first performance on a new grand piano to be chosen next month by New York piano virtuoso Horacio Gutierrez along with symphony pianist Linda Siverts and Maestro Mechetti. The orchestra’s present piano, never an especially satisfying instrument, has shown a steady decline.

In January, the symphony will give the world premiere of a new orchestral work by Spokane composer Don Caron. The Caron work is the first to be commissioned from the fund established to honor Ferden when he left Spokane in 1991 to assume the music directorship in the German city of Aachen.

“I thought it was important to commission a piece by a local composer,” Mechetti says. “His name was recommended and I had heard some of his works, and I knew he would be able to write something that would be representative of creativity in Spokane developed in connection with the symphony and with the community.”

Another new element in the orchestra also may be present next season. Conductor Patricia Handy, who conducted here in 1992, will return early in the season to lead the orchestra in three performances: a Classic Series concert at the Opera House on Oct. 6, a Family Series performance on Oct. 29 and a pair of Met concerts on Nov. 5 and 7.

It’s no secret that the symphony is looking for a staff conductor to replace Stefan Kozinski, who resigned effective at the end of this season. Both audiences and the musicians of the orchestra will have a chance to see and hear Handy at work for more than just a single guest appearance.

Next season, Kozinski will be back in December to conduct five performances of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” with dancers from the Alberta Ballet. Randi Ellefson, conductor of the Symphony Chorale, will lead the annual Holiday Pops performances on Dec. 16 and 17.

Met Series soloists for next season include 1994 Naumburg Award-winning soprano Theresa Santiago, pianists Linda Siverts and Aida Ribeiro, and Spokane Symphony principal players Keith Thomas, Lynne Feller, Kelly Farris and John Marshall.

The orchestra’s Symfunnies concerts for children have been renamed Family Concerts.

“We are trying to create a different kind of programming for these concerts,” Mechetti says, “one that is not just aimed at kids, but a program that will attract the whole family.”

Mechetti says he hopes the educational program of the orchestra can include a series for young people to sample concerts from all of the symphony’s series. The symphony’s adult sampler, the Discovery series, includes three classics programs and one each from the Super Pops and Symphony at the Met.

“The season really speaks for itself,” Mechetti says. “There is a world premiere, there are challenging new works, traditional repertoire, wonderful soloists.

“It’s a perfect vehicle to celebrate our 50th anniversary.”

MEMO: For a chronology of important dates in the history of the Spokane Symphony, see the story with the headline: Looking back

The following 2 sidebars ran with this story: 1. 50TH SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Among the major guest performers in the Symphony’s 50th season are violinist Anne Akiko Meyers (Oct. 6), baritone soloist Thomas Hampson (Nov. 17) and pianist Alicia de Larrocha (March 29) in the Classics series, and pianist Peter Nero Oct. 14 in the SuperPops series. (Note: Color head shots of all four performers ran with this sidebar.)

2. SPOKANE SYMPHONY SCHEDULE Here is the Spokane Symphony’s 50th-season schedule. For ticket information, call the symphony ticket office in the Seafirst Skywalk, 624-1200.

CLASSIC SERIES Sept. 23 - All-orchestral program with conductors Donald Thulean, Gunther Schuller and Fabio Mechetti. Oct. 6 - Anne Akiko Meyers, violin soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Oct. 27 - Nelson Freire, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. Nov. 17 - Thomas Hampson, baritone soloist; Mechetti conducting. Jan. 26 - Reiko Watanabe, violin soloist; Mechetti conducting. Feb. 16 - Mark Zeltser, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. March 2 - Haydn’s “Creation” with the Symphony Chorale and soloists soprano Andrea Matthews, tenor Frederick Urrey and bass Herbert Eckhoff; Mechetti conducting. March 29 - Alicia de Larrocha, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. April 19 - Sharon Kam, clarinet soloist; Mechetti conducting. May 10, 12 - Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with soloists Julie Newell, JoAnne Bouma, John Garrison and Malcolm Smith; Mechetti conducting.

SUPERPOPS Oct. 14 - Pops pianist Peter Nero. Nov. 11 - Magic Circle Mime Company. Dec. 16, 17 - Holiday Pops. Feb. 3 - Jazz pianist Butch Thompson. March 9 - Country singer Michael Martin Murphy. April 13 - Bravo Broadway!

SYMPHONY AT THE MET Nov. 5, 7 - Theresa Santiago, soprano, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Jan. 7, 9 - Aida Ribeiro and Linda Siverts, pianists; Mechetti conducting. April 28, 30 - Keith Thomas, oboe; Lynne Feller, bassoon; Kelly Farris, violin; and John Marshall, cello; Mechetti conducting.

DISCOVERY SERIES (SAMPLER PACKAGE) Oct. 6 - Anne Akiko Meyers, violin soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Nov. 5, 7 - Theresa Santiago, soprano soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Feb. 16 - Mark Zeltser, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. March 9 - Country singer Michael Martin Murphy. April 19 - Sharon Kam, clarinet soloist; Mechetti conducting.

SPECIAL EVENTS Oct. 29 - Family concert: “Peter vs. The Wolf” Dec. 7-10 - Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” with Alberta Ballet. Dec. 17-18 - Holiday Pops. April 21 - Family concert: “Those Wonderful Composers and Their Musical Machines.”

For a chronology of important dates in the history of the Spokane Symphony, see the story with the headline: Looking back

The following 2 sidebars ran with this story: 1. 50TH SEASON HIGHLIGHTS Among the major guest performers in the Symphony’s 50th season are violinist Anne Akiko Meyers (Oct. 6), baritone soloist Thomas Hampson (Nov. 17) and pianist Alicia de Larrocha (March 29) in the Classics series, and pianist Peter Nero Oct. 14 in the SuperPops series. (Note: Color head shots of all four performers ran with this sidebar.)

2. SPOKANE SYMPHONY SCHEDULE Here is the Spokane Symphony’s 50th-season schedule. For ticket information, call the symphony ticket office in the Seafirst Skywalk, 624-1200.

CLASSIC SERIES Sept. 23 - All-orchestral program with conductors Donald Thulean, Gunther Schuller and Fabio Mechetti. Oct. 6 - Anne Akiko Meyers, violin soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Oct. 27 - Nelson Freire, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. Nov. 17 - Thomas Hampson, baritone soloist; Mechetti conducting. Jan. 26 - Reiko Watanabe, violin soloist; Mechetti conducting. Feb. 16 - Mark Zeltser, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. March 2 - Haydn’s “Creation” with the Symphony Chorale and soloists soprano Andrea Matthews, tenor Frederick Urrey and bass Herbert Eckhoff; Mechetti conducting. March 29 - Alicia de Larrocha, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. April 19 - Sharon Kam, clarinet soloist; Mechetti conducting. May 10, 12 - Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with soloists Julie Newell, JoAnne Bouma, John Garrison and Malcolm Smith; Mechetti conducting.

SUPERPOPS Oct. 14 - Pops pianist Peter Nero. Nov. 11 - Magic Circle Mime Company. Dec. 16, 17 - Holiday Pops. Feb. 3 - Jazz pianist Butch Thompson. March 9 - Country singer Michael Martin Murphy. April 13 - Bravo Broadway!

SYMPHONY AT THE MET Nov. 5, 7 - Theresa Santiago, soprano, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Jan. 7, 9 - Aida Ribeiro and Linda Siverts, pianists; Mechetti conducting. April 28, 30 - Keith Thomas, oboe; Lynne Feller, bassoon; Kelly Farris, violin; and John Marshall, cello; Mechetti conducting.

DISCOVERY SERIES (SAMPLER PACKAGE) Oct. 6 - Anne Akiko Meyers, violin soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Nov. 5, 7 - Theresa Santiago, soprano soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Feb. 16 - Mark Zeltser, piano soloist; Mechetti conducting. March 9 - Country singer Michael Martin Murphy. April 19 - Sharon Kam, clarinet soloist; Mechetti conducting.

SPECIAL EVENTS Oct. 29 - Family concert: “Peter vs. The Wolf” Dec. 7-10 - Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” with Alberta Ballet. Dec. 17-18 - Holiday Pops. April 21 - Family concert: “Those Wonderful Composers and Their Musical Machines.”


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