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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eckart Preu to lead his final New Year’s Eve performance of Beethoven’s Ninth

Spokane Symphony conductor Eckart Preu will lead his final performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the symphony on Monday. It’s the 10th year of the symphony playing the piece to close the year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Symphony conductor Eckart Preu will lead his final performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the symphony on Monday. It’s the 10th year of the symphony playing the piece to close the year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Even conductor Eckart Preu can’t believe it’s been 10 years since the Spokane Symphony began performing Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

“That’s unbelievably true,” Preu said when asked about the double-digit milestone performance, Monday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

It’s not that it feels like 10 years have gone by, exactly, but more that Preu is surprised that he and the Spokane Symphony have managed to create an event that people have made part of their end-of-the-year schedule, alongside events like “The Nutcracker” and Holiday Pops concerts.

“I think it’s really a great thing for an orchestra to be part of the final thought of the year,” Preu said. “I think it reflects well on the organization, but it also reflects on the importance of the music and the orchestra in people’s lives.”

The tradition began innocently enough with Preu looking for a piece to play for a New Year’s Eve concert.

He didn’t know if New Year’s Eve called for a Pops piece or something like a waltz, so he decided on Symphony No. 9, in a way a Goldilocks piece.

“I thought ‘Why don’t we try this because it is popular, but it’s not Pops. It is something substantial but not heavy,’ ” he said.

Though the symphony had performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 about six months before as part of its main classical series, the New Year’s Eve performance was sold out.

Preu decided to give the symphony another go the following year, and that performance too was sold out.

“It actually caught on right away,” he said. “Maybe it filled a void.”

Preu can think of a few other reasons why the New Year’s Eve performances have resonated with audiences.

For one, he said, the symphony is one of the ultimate milestones in classical music. And, at just more than an hour with no intermission, it’s the perfect length for New Year’s Eve, when people have plans late into the night.

“It gives you time for reflection, for enjoyment, for a big social gathering, but it’s not a full-fledged concert,” he said. “It’s an hour. Everybody has an hour for some reflection.”

There’s also the fact that the piece features “Ode to Joy,” which Preu said “literally everybody on earth can sing,” as well as the message of the piece.

“It is something that deals with something that hasn’t changed the past 200 years, and that is how do we treat each other as human beings,” Preu said. “How kind are we? Are we brothers? Are we in the same boat? Are we fighting for the same things? Are we working for the same things? I think there are multiple layers that people can connect to.”

This year’s concert will feature more than 150 performers on stage, including the Spokane Symphony Chorale, directed by Kristina Ploeger-Hekmatpanah, with guest vocalists soprano Kala Maxym, alto Amanda Glover, tenor Christopher Pfund and bass Steven Pence.

This year’s performance will also be Preu’s last New Year’s Eve concert with the symphony. He will leave the symphony at the end of the 2018-19 season to have more time for his roles as music director of the Long Beach Symphony in California and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

Starting with the 2019-20 season, Preu will also begin a three-year term as music director of Maine’s Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Preu hopes to continue performing Symphony No. 9 with other orchestras in the future but said he has a soft spot for the performances he’s led with the Spokane Symphony because of how familiar they’ve gotten with the piece over the years.

He’s knows it’s for the orchestra and audience to decide, but Preu hopes that though this is his last performance of Symphony No. 9 with the Spokane Symphony, it’s not the symphony’s last performance of the piece.

“I certainly hope this tradition is not dependent on my presence on the podium or me being part of the organization,” he said. “I hope it’s an organizational tradition …

“It is something special to do it here, but I certainly hope that someone else will come in and give it their imprint and that the audience will keep coming back and keep liking it.

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