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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Blast from ye past

Here’s your first hint that this is a different kind of concert: The proceedings will be kicked off by King George II. King-spottings of any kind are scarce in the Inland Northwest – and this particular king has been kaput since 1760.

So think of the Royal Fireworks Festival and Concert in Riverfront Park on Sunday as a visual and musical time warp. You’ll be transported back to 1749 England, in what the sponsors, Allegro Baroque and Beyond, call the “only baroque-period arts festival in the nation.”

In other words, you’ll be experiencing Handel’s Musik for the Royal Fireworks the way the original crowds did in Green Park, London, in 1749.

The 27th annual festival has been cut back to one day this year. The traditional Saturday Shakespeare-in-the-park performance will not happen, despite drawing crowds of between 6,000 and 8,000 people in the past two years.

The $10,000 cost was prohibitive in a time of tight arts budgets, said David Dutton, Allegro co-artistic director. (The play was free, in keeping with the rest of the festival.)

Still, this year’s event will have two distinct components, the first of which will be the baroque festival in the park’s Lilac Bowl.

At 4:30 p.m., a group of 60 or so costumed inhabitants of the mythical town of Riverdell will begin a procession from the top of the Lilac Bowl down to the grassy area at the base. A bewigged King George II will lead the procession.

There, the villagers will entertain the king with magic, juggling, stilt walking and folk dancing. G.F. Handel, aka choral director Mike Caldwell, will then direct Handel’s Chorus. The Riverdell Singers also will make an appearance, followed by the Baroque Ballet, which will consist of dancers from Theater Ballet of Spokane.

Meanwhile, the Riverdell villagers, directed by Ronita Taylor, will keep up a scripted story line about the town’s various characters and events. The entertainment will be repeated about 6 p.m.

The main event, the Royal Fireworks Concert, arrives at 9 p.m. at the Floating Stage, on the river between the Lilac Bowl and the Spokane Opera House.

Allegro’s Royal Band, a 60-piece martial-style band with an authentic Handel-era configuration, will perform a series of pieces by composers such as Telemann and Holborne. Dutton will conduct.

Then, when dusk has fully settled over the park, the big finish will arrive. The Royal Band will launch into Handel’s “Musik for the Royal Fireworks,” composed for a huge London peace celebration in 1749.

A big fireworks display, synchronized to the music, will fill the sky with color and well-timed booms for about 12 minutes.

It’s the only concert/fireworks display Dutton is aware of in which the fireworks are cued to the live music, as opposed to the other way around. Most fireworks concerts have a preset fireworks track, and the musicians try to keep up.

Allegro’s co-artistic director, Beverly Biggs, will handle her usual job of precisely cueing the pyrotechnician.

It makes for an exhilarating evening of free revelry and merriment. The best places to watch are from the Lilac Bowl on the north side, and from the steps below the Opera House on the south side (which is where the Floating Stage faces).

If those areas fill up – and they will – sound is also piped in to the Clocktower Meadow, a good vantage point for viewing the fireworks.

Everything is free, yet this year a hat will be passed. The goal: to bring back outdoor Shakespeare for next year.


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