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Conductor Daniel Hege returns to Spokane to bring ‘Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich’ to life

Syracuse, New York-based conductor Daniel Hege will guest conduct the Spokane Symphony during “Classics 6: Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich” on Saturday and Sunday. (Alice G Patterson)
Syracuse, New York-based conductor Daniel Hege will guest conduct the Spokane Symphony during “Classics 6: Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich” on Saturday and Sunday. (Alice G Patterson)

With a nine-hour drive between Spokane and Aberdeen, Idaho, “Classics 6: Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich” isn’t exactly a hometown performance for guest conductor Daniel Hege, who moved to Aberdeen when he was 9.

Nevertheless, Hege considers himself a child of the West, having grown up in Denver, which he said has a Western feel thanks to the Rocky Mountains.

“I would still say it feels like a homecoming because the quality of the air, the atmosphere, the way people are, the geography and topography of the land,” he said. “Everything feels ‘West’ to me when I’m here and in that sense, it definitely feels like it’s a homecoming.”

Plus, his parents are flying up for the weekend concerts, Saturday and Sunday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, bringing an even bigger sense of home to Spokane.

Hege’s first time with the Spokane Symphony was conducting works by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Ravel and Sibelius in 2011.

He and music director Eckart Preu have kept in touch over the years, and Hege brought Preu to Wichita, Kansas, where he is music director of the Wichita Symphony, a few years ago for a guest conductor gig.

Hege remembers being immediately impressed with the Spokane Symphony in 2011, which made it easy to say yes to returning to Spokane as a guest conductor.

At Classics 6, Hege will conduct the symphony through pieces by two of the three “B’s” of classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, which features principal flutist Bruce Bodden, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. (Johannes Brahms rounds out the holy trinity.)

The two B’s bookend Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony.

Hege likens a concert program to a complete meal and said it’s best to have variety when deciding on a repertoire.

“You don’t want to have both pork tenderloin and a big chicken, right?” he said. “You don’t want two big, bulky symphonies next to each other because there’s a lot of heft there and you want to be able to digest it.”

There are many ways to theme a concert, Hege said. You can choose to focus on a certain composer or group together works with similar titles or those inspired by nature or literature, for instance.

In the case of Classics 6, Hege sees Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, one of the most frequently played symphonies, as setting the framework for the program.

Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony acts as a mid-concert palate cleanser.

“The sound world that Shostakovich creates is so completely different than what we heard from Bach and what we’re going to hear from Beethoven,” Hege said. “It’s a welcome respite from those other works.”

Hege has worked with all three of these pieces before, calling them familiar friends of his, but he doesn’t mind the repetition as revisiting a work allows him to discover something new about the piece.

Plus, the prior knowledge of each piece lets him start on a higher level when looking for deeper interpretations of the works.

“It’s not enough to just read through a Shakespeare play and say ‘I know it,’” he said. “It’s like ‘Now I really have to understand it because now I have to project it out there for someone else to understand.’ That’s where the real work comes.”

With a schedule as full as his, Hege, who also acts as the principal guest conductor of the Tulsa Symphony in Oklahoma and the Binghamton Philharmonic, in New York, is used to working while on the road.

His time in Spokane, for example, comes in the middle of a three-week stint guest conducting symphonies across the country.

He often travels with the scores he needs for several weeks of guest conductor gigs, plus those he’ll need for performances back home in Syracuse, New York.

“While I’m here, when I have a little time, I’m working on all the things I’m doing for next week too,” he said. “And when I’m there next week, I’ll be working on things I’m doing two weeks from then.”

It’s a challenging schedule, and Hege misses his wife and three daughters when he’s away from home, but he knows he gets as much as he gives.

“It takes so much energy because when you rehearse an orchestra or conduct a performance, you’re fully consumed with what you’re doing,” he said. “That takes a lot out of you but it gives you a lot too… You’re working with other people who love what they’re doing and you’re bringing great art to life.”

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