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Spokane Symphony welcomes guest musicians to season opener

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 7, 2017, 3:57 p.m.

As the summer breeze begins to make its exit, it signals the Spokane Symphony, which played multiple outdoor concerts over the summer, including a smoky Labor Day weekend show, to return to the Fox Theater for the first official show of the 2017-18 season.

Conductor Eckart Preu will lead the symphony in “Classics 1: Opening Night Romance” on Saturday and Sunday.

The concert begins with Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “The Mermaid,” based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

The first of three movements recalls scenes in the seabed, eventually growing into something resembling a Russian folksong. A single violin then stands in for the mermaid’s voice, which, as the story goes, she gives up in exchange for a mortal soul so she can fall in love with a prince.

Near the end of the first movement, the sea motif returns, building and building as it represents the shipwreck that brings the mermaid and the prince together. The mermaid’s rescue of the prince is represented by a single horn.

The second movement focuses on the relationship between the now mute mermaid and the prince. Unlike the Disney version, the prince sees the mermaid as more of a “beloved pet,” according to the program notes, and the mermaid isn’t happy as a human.

The final movement reviews both the mermaid’s love for the prince and her disappointment with mortal life. The mermaid then dies but is reborn as a free spirit of the air, with the prince’s theme eventually fading away.

According to the program notes, Zemlinsky withdrew “The Mermaid” after a few well-received performances.

The three movements ended up in different places, and the complete piece was not reassembled and heard again until 1984, 81 years after it was completed.

Guest musicians Jessica Lee, on violin, and Peter Stumpf, on cello, will then perform Johannes Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello, a piece Brahms wrote as a peace offering to violinist Joseph Joachim after Joachim accused Brahms of taking his wife’s side when the two were in the middle of their divorce.

Lee was the Grand Prize Winner of the 2005 Concert Artists Guild International Competition and released “Colors,” with pianist Reiko Uchida, last year. She is currently on the faculty at Rutgers University and Vassar College.

Stumpf was principal cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 2002 to 2012 and currently teaches at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. He will teach a master class at the theater on Friday at 3 p.m. The master class is free and open to the public.

The symphony will then close the show on a familiar note with Austrian composer Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube Waltz.”

Composed as a piece for a celebration of the Viennese Men’s Choral Society, “The Blue Danube Waltz” was initially met with a lukewarm response.

It wasn’t until Strauss, called the “Waltz King” by members of high society, adapted the piece to be purely orchestral for the 1867 Paris World’s Fair that the song became a success, selling millions of copies in the composer’s lifetime, according to the program notes.

This mix of romantic pieces and old favorites kicks the symphony’s season off on a bright note. To learn more about the music, get to the Fox Theater an hour before showtime for a talk about the three pieces on the program.


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