The Spokane Symphony announced Thursday that, due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the entire 75th season, which was scheduled to begin in September, will be moved to September 2021 at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.
The 75th season includes Classics concerts and Pops concerts and special events like “The Music of ‘Harry Potter,’ ” “Movies and Music,” ” ‘Star Wars’ in Concert,” “The Nutcracker” and New Year’s Eve with Beethoven’s Ninth.
The symphony’s free Labor Day weekend concerts also are canceled this year due to restrictions on large gatherings. This year’s performances would have marked the 20th anniversary of the Pavillion Park concert in Liberty Lake and the 35th anniversary of the Comstock Park concert on the South Hill.
Executive Director Jeff vom Saal said the decision to postpone the season came from a desire to “move from this place of chronic unknowing and trying to reposition things to one of being able to focus on what we can do.”
But even though the season has been moved, neither the Spokane Symphony nor the Fox is going dark. The symphony has now turned its focus to presenting smaller performances, community engagement and educational opportunities.
“The drive-home message is we’re not simply in suspended animation for a year,” vom Saal said. “We want to begin to focus on what we can do, and so for that to happen, we need to become a little more concrete in naming the things we cannot do. That’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
Music Director James Lowe, who is quarantining in Scotland, said while a few orchestras are planning on going ahead with September concerts and others are shutting down entirely for the whole year, most are adjusting their seasons like the Spokane Symphony has.
“Transplanting our season (September to May) and then having interim work that is a bit more pop-up in style is the right solution for us,” he said in an email. “Of course nobody has a crystal ball, and so we’ll have to remain open and adaptive as the situation evolves.”
Though the decision to push the 75th season to next year has, ironically, created some momentum for the symphony, it was not an easy decision to make.
Elizabeth Kelley, president of the Spokane Symphony board of the trustees, said the decision came after many painful discussions between herself, vom Saal and Lowe in which they asked themselves difficult questions. Ultimately, the safety of the musicians, staff and audience was paramount.
“The symphony has always been a responsible member of this community, and we want to not only take care of our musicians, but we want to keep our community safe,” she said. “Some time ago, we canceled the remainder of our calendar year 2020, and it became increasingly apparent to us that we could not plan for the rest of the season, January 2021 through July or so, with any degree of certainty, not only in terms of how many audience members could we admit? What could we do to ensure the health and safety of our musicians on stage? Could we bring in visiting artists?”
Kelley, who was born and raised in Spokane and currently works as a criminal-defense lawyer with a nationwide practice that focuses on representing people with mental disabilities, brought the idea of moving the season to next year to the executive board, who unanimously agreed with the suggestion. The full board also agreed unanimously and approved a three-pronged motion.
The motion moves to “transplant the 2020-21 season to 2021-22, give staff the authority to make all arrangements necessary to achieve this, consistent with the guidelines of the Finance Committee, and to fill the 2020-21 season with activities which are consistent with the Symphony’s artistic and financial goals, as well as with community engagement and public health standards.”
Kelley said the board is operating with the best interests of the symphony as a community and an institution in mind. The board set up a relief fund for musicians, the organization is covering all health insurance through the end of the year, and the Spokane Symphony Associates, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is hard at work figuring out how to safely present Christmas Tree Elegance, a fundraiser for the symphony, this year.
“It is the board’s responsibility working with the entire community to make sure that the institution of the Spokane Symphony endures,” she said. “That is to say to make sure that at the end of this season, at the end of this pandemic, that the institution of the symphony is alive, it is financially viable and it is ready to meet the needs of the Spokane community.”