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After decades, Allegro puts on last free fireworks concert in park

Timing has been critical to staging the thrilling conclusion to the Royal Fireworks Concert in Riverfront Park since its humble beginnings in the late 1970s.

And now the time has come for the finale to the free summer show. Sunday night’s 35th performance was the last one by longtime presenter Allegro Baroque and Beyond.

Thousands turn out for the baroque wind band concert, which entails newer arrangements but always ends with Handel’s 1749 “Music for the Royal Fireworks” with synchronized fireworks overhead.

But the $40,000 production cost and waning sponsorships persuaded the nonprofit group’s board of trustees to pull the plug.

If the show goes on, community supporters will need to step up to make it happen, said producer Beverly Biggs, who established the tradition with conductor David Dutton.

“Absent the level of funding needed, we probably should just say, ‘Wasn’t that fabulous,’ ” Biggs said before Sunday’s concert. “So our goal tonight is just to make this the most beautiful evening we possibly can.”

Some of the audience members who staked out favorite spots for Sunday’s program said they were disappointed Allegro is ending its run but grateful for the years of entertainment.

“I think it’s real sad because it’s one of the really special kinds of concerts. Nobody else does this. This has been a Spokane original,” said Carolyn Jess, whose husband, Larry, plays trumpet in the band and also plays with the Spokane Symphony.

“It’s just such a delightful thing – a different kind of music that you don’t hear anywhere else,” Jess said. “You can’t beat the setting, that’s for sure. … It will really leave a hole at the end of our summer.”

The blend of post-Renaissance music, pleasant summer evenings and fireworks made the event popular for old and young alike.

Mica Pointer, 19, of Spokane, attended his first Royal Fireworks Concert in 2009, when it still was part of a two-day period festival that included actors in Georgian costume, combat classes and magic shows. Pointer paid homage to those days Sunday with period-accurate attire of 18th-century English nobility, including the sash of office and medals from military service.

“I’m going to miss it, I really will,” he said. “It’s always been a fun, kind of landmark time during the summer.”

Biggs and Dutton helmed the production since its inception in 1978, when about 3,000 showed up to listen and watch. The concert only skipped one year, 1985, and never once did it rain.

Steadily it grew into a local institution, with audiences growing to around 30,000. They pack the concrete steps in front of the floating stage near the INB Performing Arts Center and spread out over the Lilac Bowl meadow across the river.

The 60-piece Royal Band is the nation’s oldest established wind band of its type. It includes bassoons, trumpets, horns, percussion and a serpent, which is a bass wind instrument.

Its performance was preceded Sunday night by the Eastern Washington University Chamber Choir performing madrigals and other baroque selections.

The major sponsor this year was S-R Media/The Spokesman-Review.

The cost of the pyrotechnics, insurance, musicians and staff are substantial, as is the time commitment, said Biggs, who lives in North Carolina.

“For Dave and me, it’s three or four months of work. The week of the event it’s 16-, 18-hour days,” she said. “We probably have a few more events in us, but not to do the whole ball of wax.”

Some generous donors could establish an endowment fund to keep it going, Biggs suggested. “If Spokane wanted to make it happen for the next 100 years, that’s within the realm of possibility.”

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