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Wednesday, October 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Musical journey to Paris

Symphony caps season with last ‘Sounds of Cities’

Travis Rivers Correspondent

Loving Paris in the springtime is easy, but getting to Paris is another matter.

The Spokane Symphony offers its solution: Make the trip by way of music.

The symphony ends its 2009-10 season Friday at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox with the last of its “Sounds of Cities” Casual Classics concerts, with Paris as its destination.

Music director Eckart Preu will conduct a program covering the period from the time of Louis XIV to the mid-20th century with music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Joseph Haydn, Maurice Ravel, Frank Martin and Darius Milhaud.

Preu attended the famed conservatory in Paris before coming to the United States.

“When I was finishing up my studies in East Germany, I knew I wanted to leave and live in a place where I could learn new languages and get a different view of the world,” he says.

“And when the Berlin Wall came down that was possible. I won a scholarship to go to the Conservatoire and stayed there for two years.

“The French are very different from the Germans about things like the work ethic, discipline and how intensely you work.” Preu adds. “I had some trouble with them, and they had some trouble with me. Paris is just culturally different, and that shows in the music, too.”

French music manages to combine old traditions of “high” art with innovation and exoticism.

Preu opens Friday’s program with a suite of dances from Rameau’s opera-ballet “Les fêtes d’Hébé” as a tribute to the French opera and dance tradition. Rameau was the most important French composer in the time of Bach and Handel.

“Rameau was a very good composer with a great way of handling the orchestra, but he was not nearly so involved with polyphony like Bach,” says Preu. “Rameau’s music has a much lighter texture.”

The only symphony on Friday’s concert is by an Austrian, Joseph Haydn. His music was hugely popular in Paris, though, and in 1786, Haydn was commissioned to write six symphonies for a concert series there.

“The symphony we are playing is not one of the most often played,” Preu says. “Like many of Haydn’s symphonies, this one has a nickname; it’s called ‘La Riene (The Queen),’ because it was the favorite of Queen Marie-Antoinette.”

Preu has included three 20th-century works in Friday’s program: Ravel’s suite “Ma mère l’oye (Mother Goose),” Milhaud’s “La Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof)” and Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante.

“When people see a piece called ‘Mother Goose,’ they think, ‘Is this a kid’s piece or what?’ ” the conductor says.

“It happens that Ravel, who loved children, did write the suite as a piano duet for children of a couple who were friends of his. This suite was so successful he orchestrated it.

“But is is not childish in any way. It is very sophisticated – a very adult view of five French fairy tales. As you would expect, the orchestral colors Ravel gets are just amazing.”

Darius Milhaud and Frank Martin came in the generation after Ravel; both were born in the 1890s and both died in 1974.

Though Martin was Swiss, he lived in Paris in the 1920s just after the premiere of Milhaud’s ballet “Le boeuf sur le toit.”

“Martin was cosmopolitan; he loved Bach, he was influenced by Ravel and Debussy and he even tried the style of Schoenberg,” Preu says. “Some of his music sounds a little like Bartók.”

Martin’s “Petite Symphonie concertante,” he says, “is like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos since it uses three solo instruments with the orchestral strings.

“Milhaud had lived in Brazil and loved Brazilian popular songs and dance music. And ‘Le boeuf sur la toit’ quotes a lot of those tunes.”

Preu will present spoken program notes for the works on the program, illustrated by musical examples from members of the orchestra.

Appetizers and beverages prepared by Glover Mansion chefs will be served in The Fox lobby between 6:30 p.m. and concert time. Selected items can also be pre-ordered before the concert and waiting at intermission.

In addition, prepaid concert parking can be purchased in advance through the symphony ticket office.

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