March 29, 1998 in Features

Music Director Putting Down Roots Spokane Symphony’s Fabio Mechetti Decides To Move Here From Syracuse

By The Spokesman-Review

Fabio has landed.

But on this rainy Sunday afternoon, he takes flight again, in the music room of the Spokane Opera House, swaying and soaring his arms through the air as he leads the Spokane Symphony through the crashing crescendos of Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony.

Fabio Mechetti, the music director who for the last five years has commuted here from Syracuse, is moving to Spokane. Mechetti has resigned his position with the Syracuse Symphony, and after eight moves in 14 years, he returns to Spokane.

On this recent afternoon, house-hunting has left Mechetti’s mind as he gestures, grimaces and cajoles the orchestra through the difficult passages of Tchaikovsky’s symphony. Audience members usually glimpse Mechetti’s professional smile and his tuxedoed back. But viewed from the orchestra side, he springs to life, lively and animated.

The music sweeps and thunders like a battle scene. This symphony is based on a poem by Lord Byron called “Manfred,” about a tortured outcast and his battle with the spirits of evil. Not every note is polished yet.

The orchestra takes a short break. Mechetti says, with a grin, “This is the real dirty work.”

Then he’s back to the podium, leading the orchestra into hell.

On this Sunday afternoon, the mostly middle-aged musicians wear khakis and jeans. The symphony appears endearingly human, including its perfectionist at the helm. He pushes his glasses up on his nose and conducts a passage that creeps and leaps like fire.

Colleagues describe Mechetti’s kindness, his wit - he calls the guy with the shoulder-length blond hair “that other Fabio” - and his generosity. But his intense professionalism is a constant theme.

It is Mechetti’s devotion to musical excellence that drives him this day. It led to his decision to resign from the Syracuse Symphony, and it will likely propel him away from Spokane to a larger, more prestigious orchestra in a few years.

“I’m in this business to do the best I possibly can as a musician … meaning the highest possible artistic level of performance,” Mechetti says.

According to orchestra members, Mechetti arrives at rehearsals utterly prepared. He often conducts entire symphonies from memory.

According to his golf partners, he plays his favorite game with a similar intensity - and a 17-handicap. David Chambless Worters, executive director of the Syracuse Symphony, says when Brazilian-born Mechetti duffs a shot, the conductor lectures himself in Portuguese.

“It starts, ‘Oh, Fabio,’ and then you can’t make heads or tails out of what he’s saying after that,” Worters says.

Mechetti, whose father, Marcello Mechetti, was chorusmaster of the Sao Paulo Opera Theatre, practically grew up in the orchestra pit. It is no doubt there that his exacting standards were born, also in Portuguese.

Yet, Spokane musicians say Mechetti is never rude nor temperamental. Worters confirms, “He has absolutely no mean streak. It doesn’t exist.”

As he was finishing his master’s at Juilliard, Mechetti moved to Spokane in 1984 as assistant conductor. He became musical director in 1993. He has similarly risen through the ranks at the Syracuse Symphony.

Last summer he made the decision to resign from Syracuse. He will conduct the symphony six more weeks during the 1998-99 season, and conclude his 10-year tenure there with performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in May 1999.

“I wasn’t artistically happy with certain things that happened in the orchestra,” Mechetti says. He declines to discuss the specific details.

“I invested 10 years of my life in Syracuse. I wanted to see this orchestra becoming bigger and better than it is. I did not find resonance to these wishes of mine in the long term,” he says.

According to Worters, Mechetti made a decision to fire Syracuse concertmaster Andrew Zaplatynsky. Zaplatynsky appealed and last spring an outside arbitrator wound up overturning Mechetti’s action.

Worters says he assumes that this incident contributed to Mechetti’s decision to leave, but that Mechetti has never directly said so.

“When Fabio resigned here, he wrote to the board and the orchestra that it was purely for artistic reasons, and he left it at that,” Worters says. “I think that speaks highly of his character.”

During the 1998-99 season, Mechetti will do more guest conducting throughout the country and in Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Japan. But he’ll be based in Spokane, where he earns a salary in the neighborhood of $80,000. Here, he’ll play Indian Canyon Golf Course and be available for more fund-raising, public relations and educational appearances.

“It’s a great asset-building thing,” says Spokane Symphony executive director Jonathan Martin. “We have a lot more of him. We intend to take advantage of that.”

When a music director position opens up at another symphony, calls go out to conductors across the country. Last November, Mechetti was a candidate for musical director of the Utah Symphony. Another conductor wound up moving to Salt Lake City, but next winter, Mechetti will be a candidate for a similar position in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It’s a possibility and I’m sure there will be others,” Mechetti says. “It doesn’t mean I’m not happy here. It’s just a matter of how the business works.”

Worters, now launching a search for a conductor to replace Mechetti in Syracuse, says, “I will tell you there are not a lot of Fabio Mechettis out there.”

No one knows how long Mechetti will stay in Spokane. It’s possible that even if he accepts another symphony’s offer, he could once again hold two positions.

In the meantime, he’s searching for a house designed so that his pianist wife can study Chopin in one room and he can labor over Beethoven in another. (Aida Ribeiro Mechetti plans to open a piano studio here and perform regionally.) And he’s plotting ways to make the Spokane Symphony - an orchestra he praises for its amazing devotion and commitment - better. Raising salaries, which hover around $8,000 for a regular player, would be a start.

“I can’t really predict the future,” Mechetti says. “At this point in my life, I am very happy to help the Spokane Symphony become the best orchestra it can be.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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