The Spokane Symphony Orchestra goes for the gold next weekend when the orchestra opens its 50th season Saturday.
Celebrations include a pre-concert dinner at the Ag Trade Center and the concert in the Opera House, led by Fabio Mechetti, the orchestra’s current music director, and two of its five former music directors, Donald Thulean and Gunther Schuller. The season inaugural will end with a champagne reception.
Jonathan Martin, the Spokane Symphony’s executive director, says both the concert and pre-concert dinner are expected to be sold out.
The orchestra deserves to celebrate. It is the point-with-pride leader of Spokane’s cultural life.
The Spokane Symphony has grown from an unpaid community orchestra operating on a shoe-string budget to a fully professional orchestra with a budget of about $2 million.
In its first season in 1945-46, the orchestra played three concerts at the Masonic Temple. This year the symphony will play 26 performances at the Opera House, six times in chamber orchestra programs at The Met and two concerts in the city’s parks. It is also scheduled to play two concerts in Coeur d’Alene, and it serves as the orchestra-in-residence for The Festival at Sandpoint.
The orchestra not only plays the standard repertoire of symphonic classics, it performs pops, opera, ballet and presents educational family concerts in both the Opera House and area schools.
The orchestra’s Opera House Classics concerts and its performances at The Met are aired in delayed broadcasts by public radio station KPBX, and this year for the first time, the orchestra will release a compact disc recording of its season finale, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “We plan to have the record ready for sale by mid-summer 1996,” Martin says.
In the orchestra’s early years - it was called the Spokane Philharmonic then - it featured local musicians and orchestra members as soloists. The 1995-96 solo roster includes such international stars as pianists Alicia de Laroccha, Nelson Freire and Peter Nero, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, Naumburg Award-winning soprano Theresa Santiago and baritone Thomas Hampson.
Of course a case can be made that Hampson is a “local soloist” since he grew up in Eastern Washington and began his professional career with the Spokane Symphony’s production of “Hansel and Gretel” in 1974. But Hampson’s subsequent career as a recitalist and orchestral soloist, his dozens of highly praised recordings and his performances in leading roles with the Vienna State Opera, Milan’s La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York make Hampson an international star as well as a local hero.
The symphony’s 50th season also includes two choral masterworks with the Spokane Symphony Chorale, Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The Symphony Chorale has been performing with the orchestra for 20 years, the past 10 years under the leadership of chorus master Randi Van Ellefson.
In its 50 years of existence, the Spokane Symphony has had only six music directors.
Its founder, Harold Paul Whelan, headed the Spokane Philharmonic from 1945 until it was reorganized as the Spokane Symphony Orchestra in 1961.
Donald Thulean (now conductor emeritus) built the symphony into a fully professional regional orchestra during his tenure, from 1962-84.
Gunther Schuller assumed the role of artistic adviser and principal conductor during the 1984-85 season.
Bruce Ferden, at the beginning of an international career cut short by his death at age 44, led the Spokane Symphony from 1985-91.
The international flavor has been continued under the batons of the Spokane Symphony’s two most recent music directors: Soviet-born and trained Vakhtang Jordania (1991-93) and the orchestra’s current music director, Fabio Mechetti, who was born in Brazil but trained at the Juilliard School in New York.
Both Thulean and Schuller will join Mechetti for the 50th Season Inaugural concert Saturday.
Jordania is busy with rehearsals for a Portland Opera production of “Turandot.” Whelan died in 1981 after retiring as a professor of music at California State University at Hayward. Ferden died from complications resulting from AIDS in 1993.
Sometime this season, the orchestra will select a new associate conductor to succeed Stefan Kozinski, who resigned his Spokane position to pursue a career as a composer, arranger and guest conductor from a home in New York. Audiences, along with the orchestra’s players and management, will keep their eye on Patricia Handy, who will conduct the orchestra in three performances early in the 1995-96 season.
Mechetti says one of the roles of the associate conductor will be in expanding the Spokane Symphony’s educational mission, a mission he says will include not only more programs designed to build future audiences through work with children but adult educational programs as well.
In addition to the preconcert lectures, which are a regular part of the orchestra’s Classics Series programs and the “spoken program notes” at The Met concerts, the symphony has added a Lunch ‘n’ Learn lecture series. Martin says lecturers for the Lunch ‘n’ Learn series will include conductors, soloists, orchestra members and teachers.
“Even a music critic and a symphony executive director are included,” Martin says.
The Lunch ‘n’ Learn lectures are free and will be presented at noon in the auditorium of the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library on Wednesdays before symphony Classics concerts.
“We won’t have one before the season’s opening concert,” Martin says, “because of the number of other events surrounding the opening night concert.”
Also as a part of the orchestra’s expanding educational mission, Martin adds, the symphony will soon name an education coordinator.
“We’re just beginning to look at resumes from about 75 applicants,” Martin says.
For most of its 50 years, the Spokane Symphony has been the flagship of Spokane’s cultural life. From the looks of the golden anniversary season and plans for the future, it’s clear the orchestra plans to maintain that status.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Symphony schedule Here is the Spokane Symphony’s 50thanniversary season schedule. For ticket information, call the symphony ticket office in the Seafirst Skywalk, 624-1200. Classics 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 Meters, violin soloist, with guest conductor Patricia Handy. Nov. 5, 7 - Theresa Santiago, soprano soloist, with guest conductor 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.”