For years, the sound of Beethoven’s Ninth, as performed by the Spokane Symphony, has been the soundtrack for saying goodbye to the current year and hello to the new year in Spokane on New Year’s Eve.
To no one’s surprise, that concert was canceled earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the symphony isn’t letting 2020 end without giving patrons a little something to listen to while bidding the year adieu.
This year, the symphony will make available a virtual concert featuring performances from the orchestra and special guests beginning Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. on Vimeo. The concert will then be available to watch through June 30.
Tickets are $20 per household through spokanesymphony.org. The concert is free for health care workers and those who have been affected financially by the pandemic using code RINGIN2021 at checkout. Streaming details will be provided after purchasing your ticket.
“There’s a huge and difficult balancing act that all orchestras globally are having to manage right now,” Music Director James Lowe said. “How do you keep the organization alive long term, but how do you also satisfy the need we all have for music?
“The symphony is not an entertainment that’s just nice to have in town. I think it’s an essential part of people’s lives. I think this is something we’ve learned in the pandemic very clearly. Music is an essential part of our lives.”
The concert, filmed at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Dec. 18 by Don Hamilton of Hamilton Studios, features the orchestra’s string section, led by concertmaster Mateusz Wolski, performing a variety of pieces, including “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker” to make up for the lack of “Nutcracker” performances at the Fox and Johann Strauss Sr.’s “Radetzky March.”
“You can’t really have a New Year’s concert if you’re not going to play Beethoven’s Ninth, and you’ve got to have some Strauss in there,” Lowe said.
The concert will feature a little Beethoven in honor of 2020 being the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Lowe said this piece is Beethoven at his most amusing and slightly silly.
The brass section also gets a chance to shine during the concert, as its performance of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” from the virtual Symphony Gala 2020 will be included in the concert.
Spokane’s Cami Bradley, who was originally going to perform with the symphony during its Holiday Pops concerts, will perform three songs, two solo and one with the strings.
Bradley said it’s been her dream to perform with the symphony for years, and after previous offers to perform together didn’t work out for one reason or another, she did what she needed to do to make this concert work.
Calling back to her time on “America’s Got Talent,” Bradley will perform a cover song. With the symphony, she’ll perform a song from the “Sleepwalking” EP she released with Whitney Dean as the Sweeplings. She will also perform an unreleased song from her new project, Carmen Jane.
“I felt like having these three pieces brought together a collection of what I’ve been working on these last six years,” Bradley said. “I wanted to be able to showcase those in different ways.”
Recording the New Year’s Eve concert marked just the second time Bradley has performed during quarantine, outside performances at her church, after a performance for a Lucky You Lounge streamed concert. She enjoyed being in a venue with other musicians while filming, but she’s really looking forward to the days when she can once again perform in front of an audience.
“I think for a lot of artists, you draw off that energy and connection when you’re performing, so to not have that in the room, you’re almost having to either manufacture it or remember it from the past in order to give your all, so that’s the part I’m most excited about,” she said.
During the New Year’s Eve concert, Spokane’s Jess Walter, whose new novel “The Cold Millions” was released in October, will share an inspirational message for 2021. The concert will close with a pre-taped performance of Auld Lang Syne from members of the Spokane Symphony Chorale.
“It’s been a very difficult year for everyone, and part of music’s job is to be cathartic so we have some beautiful, intimate music in the middle,” Lowe said. “I think every concert should take the audience on a bit of a journey, and the energy changes, and it comes back out the other end, so it should be a lovely mix of musical energy.”
Lowe will host the show from his home in Scotland, while Terrain’s Luke Baumgarten and Ginger Ewing host the concert from the Fox.
Over the course of the pandemic, Lowe said he’s become quite adept at turning his front room into a filming studio, save for the occasional interruption from his dog. Thanks to technology like Zoom, he’s been able to participate in concert prep even while at home.
“Mateusz Wolski, our concertmaster, is leading the music from the violin, but he and I prepared the music together, and I’ve been listening in to the rehearsals and providing comments,” he said. “We call it rehearsing by carrier pigeon. That’s been really interesting for me, a totally different way of working.”
Symphony musicians are also using Zoom to virtually carol at care homes and hospitals, a program Lowe is looking to expand in the coming years. Lowe is also looking forward to conducting Beethoven’s Ninth next year.
“If I had to choose a single composer to get us all through the pandemic, I think Beethoven would be a very good choice because he’s a man who suffered really terribly his whole life,” he said. “His childhood was horribly difficult, and he grew up, and just as he was becoming a successful composer and performer, he went deaf. He suffered as tough a life as anybody, and yet every piece he writes ends with hope.
“No matter how dark or dramatic it gets, there’s always hope at the end, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, of course, is the perfect example of that. It starts with this really tragic first movement, and then by the end, it’s this huge, warm embrace of humanity.
“That’s one of the main reasons I’m missing doing it this year is that it would so perfectly put a cap on the end of 2020 and give us some hope for 2021, but I think it’s something we can look forward to. Cling on to the hope because if Beethoven could do it, then I think so could we.”
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