Summer may be the off-season for orchestras, but the Spokane Symphony is keeping plenty busy.
The symphony’s concerts tonight at The Fox and Saturday at Northern Quest Resort and Casino will be its third and fourth in the past nine days, following appearances last weekend at Arbor Crest Wine Cellars and the Festival at Sandpoint.
The orchestra pays tribute to major local events and organizations tonight with “Say Wow! Celebrating the Best of Spokane,” a program of popular classics that includes a sing-along.
“Spokane is a remarkable city with many amazing events,” says Brenda Nienhouse, the symphony’s executive director. “Some of them are artistic like Musicfest Northwest and the Spokane International Film Festival; others are athletic like Bloomsday and Hoopfest; others like First Night, the Lilac Festival and Unity in the Community celebrate the city.
“We at the symphony wanted to pay tribute to these organizations that make our city so special since we at the symphony and The Fox are so much a part of that specialness,” Nienhouse adds.
Audience members are encouraged to wear T-shirts, hats or other regalia associated with their favorite organization among the seven being celebrated.
The Say Wow! celebration will continue Saturday with an all-day open house at The Fox that will include free performances by local groups playing music ranging from a Native American drum circle though Celtic, jazz, bluegrass and show tunes from the Spokane Civic Theatre.
“We wanted to showcase the breadth of talent in the arts we have here,” Nienhouse says of the event, similar to one that took place when The Fox reopened in 2007 following renovations.
“In addition we will have exhibits in the lobby and a treasure hunt that will let kids discover some of the great architectural details of The Fox.”
That night, the roll of the dice will be accompanied by the roll of the drums when the symphony plays a program titled “From Superman to Sousa” at Northern Quest’s new outdoor venue.
Performing in an unusual venue is something of a gamble for the symphony, but the program promises an attractive evening.
“It’s a fun summer program focused on pops and patriotic favorites, but it’s not not completely pops,” Nienhouse says.
“Our music director, Eckart Preu, does such a great job of putting together a program of this kind of performance. He has included some Glinka and Smetana and Strauss along with some John Williams and Leonard Bernstein and the show tunes and marches.”
The casino opened an outdoor performance space this summer and has brought in big names such as Willie Nelson, The Beach Boys and Reba McEntire. The symphony will be the first classical musical group to perform there.
“We just asked them to provide something fun for an outdoor performance that would appeal to all ages,” says Mary Lien, Northern Quest’s entertainment coordinator. “We wanted to expand the genres of music we were offering and thought the symphony would be a great fit.”
The resort and casino is owned by the Kalispel Tribe, whose connection with classical music is not completely new. In 2001, the tribe presented Mozart’s “Magic Flute” in a production with a Native American flavor at its reservation near Usk, Wash.
The Northern Quest performance space is dauntingly large; it can seat more than 4,000 people. Even the summer’s best-selling events like The Beach Boys did not sell out.
Lien says the seating for Saturday’s performance is set for 2,000. The stage is big and has state of the art sound, lighting and special effects equipment.
The symphony’s usual performance space at The Fox is indoors, without amplification, seating fewer than 1,700.
“The most exciting thing for us about this performance and the two we have given at Arbor Crest Winery has been the fact it attracts a nontraditional audience,” Nienhouse says.
“Many of the people might be hearing the symphony or its musicians for the first time, and we hope it won’t be the last time.”
Booths around the performance area will offer food from some of the casino and hotel’s 14 restaurants and bars beginning at 6:30 p.m., an hour before the concert. All plates will be $7 or less.
Though the concert is for all ages, those 14 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.