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As the symphony turns

The Spokane Symphony reveals some familiar faces and blockbuster concerts for the 2012-’13 season, and even looks to make a ‘Splash’ with its classics series

It’s easy to identify a few key motifs in the Spokane Symphony’s just-announced 2012-13 season:

Super-sized works: The Spokane Symphony is going massive – in ambition and in sheer numbers of musicians – in two blockbuster concerts: Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in October and Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life)” in March 2013. The symphony will have to call in plenty of reinforcements for these monumental works.

“It’s rare that an orchestra of our size can do two big pieces like this in one season,” said music director Eckart Preu.

Making a new “Splash”: The old Casual Classics series has been re-branded and will now be served with a martini glass. It’s called Symphony With a Splash, and is essentially a symphonic Happy Hour. You’ll drink, you’ll mingle, you’ll hear a one-hour concert and then you’ll continue on with your Friday night.

Pops pleasers: The letter P will be prominent in the Pops series, as in: Pink Martini and “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Concerto-thon: Do you crave piano concertos? How about eight of them, in one weekend, featuring the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo? They’ll play all five Ludwig van Beethoven concertos, plus concertos by J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn, over a Friday-Saturday-Sunday stretch in May 2013.

A fifth anniversary: The entire season will be a celebration of the Spokane Symphony’s 2007 move to the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox. “Fox Fanfare” by Hans-Peter Preu, Eckart Preu’s older brother, was part of the first concert’s program on Nov. 17, 2007. That same piece will open this season. An Opening Night Gala is planned before the concert on Sept. 22.

So those are the new season’s themes. Here are the variations, broken down into the various series:

The Classics

For sheer size and majesty, it’s hard to exceed Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.” It will feature the Spokane Symphony Chorale, two vocal soloists and plenty of extra instrumentation.

It will be the sole work on the program on Oct. 13 and 14 because it lasts close to 90 minutes and would overwhelm any other work.

“As a stand-alone it’s perfect,” Preu said. “You go in and you come out a changed man.”

This spiritual concert will be a collaboration with Gonzaga University and is part of the celebration of Gonzaga’s 125th anniversary year. Meanwhile, Preu is just as excited about the monumental Strauss piece, “Ein Heldenleben,” later in the season.

The season also includes a number of famous crowd-pleasers, including two paired in the same concert, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” and Maurice Ravel’s arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” You’ll also hear Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

And there will be some visits by big names in the classical world, beginning with pianist Daniil Trifonov, who just won the biggest piano contest of all, the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Other names: pianist Valentina Lisitsa, violinist Saeka Matsuyama, violinist Vadim Gluzman, guitarist Jason Vieaux (as part of an all-Spanish program), cellist Alban Gerhardt and the Silver-Garburg Piano Duo (Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg).

The latter duo will be responsible for the series’ most audacious piece of programming, the eight-concertos-in-three- days piano extravaganza. Preu started with the idea of doing all five Beethoven piano concertos in one weekend. When Preu broached the idea to this internationally known duo, they didn’t hesitate an instant.

“They’re crazy,” Preu said. “They loved it.”

Then, somehow, it grew even bigger. The duo proposed throwing in a concerto for two pianos, each day, by three different composers. The result should be keyboard nirvana for lovers of piano music.

Symphony With a Splash

The series formerly known as Casual Classics has undergone a bubbly makeover in an attempt to lure in new, young crowds.

It will work like this: On three Friday nights, crowds will gather in the lobby at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Drinks will be sold at happy hour prices. Small plates will be available. Live jazz and pop will be played. Ticketholders will mingle.

Then, at 7 p.m., everyone will take a seat in the auditorium to hear the Spokane Symphony perform a one-hour concert. There will be new music by composers such as Wynton Marsalis, and there will be more traditional (but not too traditional) works such as Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

The whole thing will be finished by 8 p.m. You can head out to dinner or on to further carousing. It sounds a little bit like the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture’s monthly BeGin happy hour event, which consistently draws big crowds. At $75 per three-concert subscription, this is also one of the more affordable symphony series options.

In the old Casual Classics tradition, Preu will talk about each piece from the stage. And, in a new twist, some audience members will actually be onstage with him. At every concert, 30 ticket-holders will be chosen to sit onstage with the orchestra. Talk about surround sound.


The six-concert series includes a SuperPops rarity: An entire Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, “The Pirates of Penzance,” done in a concert version by the visiting New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.

Don’t underestimate the ability of Gilbert and Sullivan to draw a crowd in Spokane. When the Spokane Civic Theatre staged “The Pirates of Penzance” two seasons ago, it was the theater’s best-attended show ever, to that date.

Meanwhile, the SuperPops series will also welcome back its most reliably popular act, Pink Martini. This Starbucks-friendly eclectic Portland outfit has built a devoted following with its adventurous combination of jazz, swing, world music and classical.

The SuperPops series will also include two notable tribute concerts. The first will be a tribute to the late John Denver, featuring an uncanny homage to the late singer by tribute artist Jim Curry.

The second will be a Salute to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. No, don’t look for a Fiedler tribute artist. Yet the Spokane Symphony, under the direction of Morihiko Nakahara, will perform many of the pieces that Fiedler and the Pops helped make famous.

Chamber Soirees

This popular three-concert series is switching from the Davenport Hotel to a new venue, the Spokane Club’s Georgian Room. This will allow for more table seating and will also allow for winemaker presentations before the concert and special food pairing by the chef.