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Spokane Symphony to give taste of France with tribute to composer Maurice Ravel

Eckart Preu will conduct the Spokane Symphony this weekend in a celebratin of Maurice Ravel. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Eckart Preu will conduct the Spokane Symphony this weekend in a celebratin of Maurice Ravel. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

There are any number of themes one can explore when putting together the program for a concert, says Spokane Symphony Music Director Eckart Preu.

You can choose music that’s similar in style, similar in the political statement it makes, similar historically, the list goes on and on.

For the symphony’s Classics concert this weekend, “French Virtuosity - A Tribute to Ravel,” Preu chose to shine the spotlight on renowned French composer Maurice Ravel while also showing his influence on French music.

“He is famous for being one of the most colorful, inventive, innovative, brilliant masters of the orchestra,” Preu said. “He’s just like all these French painters. It’s not so much what they paint, but how they paint it. He used the orchestra as a palette, if you want, and paints with it in a very brilliant, unique, virtuosic way. There’s not a boring second in any of his pieces.”

The program opens with a staple of Ravel’s repertoire, “La Valse,” a play on the waltz.

Next is French composer Florent Schmitt’s “La Tragedie de Salome (Suite).”

Schmitt, a friend of Ravel – “You know your competition, of course,” Preu said of their friendship – was a highly regarded composer but has since been forgotten and is rarely performed, Preu said.

“ ‘La Tragedie de Salome’ is, for me, a quite fascinating piece,” Preu said. “It has a lot of French influences in there. It foreshadows Stravinsky and a little bit the future of music history. It’s very conservative also in many ways. It’s very beautiful.”

The third piece, XIX “Le Soleil” from “Arcanes Symphoniques” by French-Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon, was a special selection for Preu, who conducted Dubugnon, then a double bass player, in an orchestra while studying in Paris years ago.

“Turns out that he has a really, really big career going on in Europe as a composer,” he said. “Not so much here. America’s a different world, musically speaking. Only because you’re famous in America doesn’t mean you’re famous in Europe and vice versa, so I wanted to cross the pond here and introduce a very respected and successful young European composer in America.”

Dubugnon’s piece is heavily influenced by the French, but, Preu said, because he is also Swiss, his work is a little more rich texturally.

A lesser-known piece by Ravel, “Rhapsodie espagnole,” follows, and the concert will end with another Ravel staple, “Bolero.”

“The ingredients basically are you have the blockbuster pieces by Ravel, then you have something lesser-known by Ravel, then you have the man who was the shadow of Ravel, which is Florent Schmitt, then you have the living composer who bases a lot of his music on these two composers or on the French sound world,” Preu said about the program.

Eighty years after his death, Ravel is still celebrated because, simply, few composers can do what he did.

“There are very few composers who are as brilliant as him in terms of how he writes for the orchestra, how he writes for instruments and how colorful he can make a piece,” Preu said. “Many people can cook but there are only a few Iron Chefs … After all these years, he’s still the master.”

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