The Spokane Symphony celebrated the third anniversary of the opening of the refurbished Fox theater on Saturday with a concert that combined high energy and intimate beauty. The performance in The Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox featured guest conductor David Amado and the symphony’s principal clarinetist, Chip Phillips, as soloist.
Amado, now the music director of the Delaware Symphony in Wilmington, first conducted the Spokane Symphony near the beginning of his career in 1994. He has since held staff conducting positions with the Oregon Symphony and the St. Louis Symphony before moving to Delaware. Amado’s pre-concert talk revealed a thoughtful, articulate and witty musician. His conducting showed those characteristics along with a lot of vigorous energy.
Amado opened the concert with Béla Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, written in 1939, commissioned by the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher. Bartók worked hard and fast despite the gloom threatening Europe at the time and the knowledge that he would have to endure a self-imposed exile from his native Hungary. The result, Amado and the orchestra showed, was one of the composer’s most accessible works, full of energetic dance rhythms and tuneful melodies.
The larger group of strings was sometimes contrasted with a solo quartet made up of violinists Mateusz Wolski and Amanda Howard-Phillips, violist Nicholas Carper and cellist John Marshall. Wolski seemed especially to enjoy showing the improvisatory quality of the short, gypsy-like cadenza in the finale.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto presents an unusual challenge for the soloist (and for the orchestra). The composer simply refuses to let the soloist be a showoff in the typical concerto stereotype. Chip Phillips let Mozart have his way in a performance that revealed the concerto’s intimate side, Mozart’s love song to the clarinet and its players. Amado and Phillips’ orchestral colleagues kept the orchestral parts subdued just enough to allow the soloist to make chamber music with them as a first among equals.
The Adagio of this concerto is one of Mozart’s most blissfully beautiful creations. Phillips played it like a coloratura aria on love and longing. The final return of the Adagio’s main melody was played so softly I feared it would be lost to those not sitting close to the soloist. But I was reassured at intermission by those sitting at a distance that The Fox’s acoustics allowed Phillips’ soft sounds to achieve the radiance Mozart intended.
Amado chose Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 to close the program. Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies are sometimes thought of as mere steppingstones to his earthshaking Third, Fifth and Ninth. Amado showed the Fourth to be the equal of its powerful neighbors. He led an intense performance, filled with the same kind of dramatic energy found in the works that surround the Fourth Symphony such as the “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas and the revised version of Beethoven’s opera “Leonore” (eventually rechristened “Fidelio”).
Phillips and his colleagues among the orchestra’s woodwind principals performed beautifully in Beethoven’s solos in the Adagio. The speed at which Amado took the finale was, well, hair-raising. As Beethoven’s cascades of scale passages passed from the violins, flutes and violas to bassoons and then to the string basses, nobody flinched.
The performance was a fitting celebration of The Fox’s third year in its award-winning refurbished state.