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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Symphony brings out its lighter side

Travis Rivers Correspondent

April Fool’s Day is the playday for tricksters. And Friday’s Spokane Symphony concert at the Opera House features a rogue’s gallery of famous flimflammers.

“When I was putting together this program, I really did not have April Fool’s Day in mind; it just happened,” says conductor Eckart Preu. “But I think it has a nice balance between a kind of lightness with something on the thoughtful side, as well.”

Preu will open the program with Edvard Grieg’s popular “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1 and conclude with Richard Strauss’ equally famous tone poem “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.”

Between these well-know works, Preu has programmed two pieces that have not been played before in Spokane: Leos Janaceck’s “Taras Bulba” and Michael Daugherty’s “Lex.”

He chose the selections based on literary works of four nationalities.

“Each of these composers has such a different language,” he says, “but the audience can make the connection between them through the way they treat each of the characters.

“Do they deal with the subject matter though description you can hear in the music, or like Michael Daugherty says: ‘I’m influenced by the character of Lex, but the music is not descriptive of any particular episode.’ “

Lex comes straight out of the comic books, where he is Superman’s arch-rival, the villainous billionaire genius Lex Luthor.

Grieg’s Peer Gynt is the title character of Ibsen’s play about a Norwegian scamp who torments his mother with unbelievable stories of his wild exploits, then embarks on real adventures that take him to America and North Africa.

Janacek’s Taras Bulba was the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s creation based on a 16th-century Ukrainian Cossack warrior. Even Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel was based on a real-life German michief-maker.

“What I’ve tried to do here is bring together composers who, at first sight, have nothing to do with each other,” Preu says. “Then I tried to find a common denominator for these composers and see how they dealt with things like national influences – stories that are a part of folk culture or, in the case of Daugherty’s ‘Lex,’ popular culture, which is pretty much the same thing.”

Preu grew up knowing Till Eulenspiegel and the characters from Ibsen and Gogol.

“But I’d never heard of Lex,” he says. “When I was growing up in Dresden, we had our own East German comic books, but Superman and Batman and even Mickey Mouse were considered characters of imperialist America. So we didn’t get to read them except in copies that were smuggled in.

“I think the oddity of these characters is what attracted composers to them,” Preu adds. “What is there to write about normal people?

“It’s the same thing with movies. There are only a small number of movies made that deal with ‘normal’ people and normal life, and an even smaller number of such movies that are really successful. And it is the same in music, too.”

Preu will join host Verne Windham for Classical Chats, the symphony’s pre-performance conversation, today at 12:15 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. The 30-minute program will be televised on city cable Channel 5.

The conductor will also discuss the music on Friday’s concert as a part of the Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series in the Opera House auditorium at 7 p.m.

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