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Support for cancellation of Spokane Symphony season is all-around

UPDATED: Fri., July 24, 2020

While quarantine has been understandably difficult for the musicians of the Spokane Symphony, concertmaster Mateusz Wolski said he is pleased with the decision to move the season to next year because it gives them a more tangible timeline to work toward. He likened the decision to going from struggling in quicksand to now having some idea of where solid ground might be.

“It gives you a point on the horizon to which we are all working toward,” Wolski said. “That ray of hope for musicians and for the audience is something that is very important, so hopefully, we’ll all arrive there in one piece.”

In the meantime, Wolski has spent his time at home teaching lessons via Skype and FaceTime and spending more time with his wife and son. And while he’s enjoying sharing music with his students and spending more time with his family, not being able to perform has made him feel like a doctor who is not allowed to perform surgeries.

“You become a musician because you want to perform,” he said. “I find, especially with the great performances, when they happen, everybody gets almost in communion together. … On a good day, it’s transcendent for all of us and the connection with the group of people, it’s why we do what we do. When that is taken away from you, life becomes very, very different.”

Musicians, he said, have an uncommon skill set that makes it difficult for them to simply find another job.

“It’s very, very difficult when you become an expert in your field and all of a sudden the reality tells you that doesn’t matter anymore,” Wolski said. “It does matter, but there is this huge challenge of grappling with that for all of us.”

Wolski also hopes quarantine makes people realize just how important the arts are.

“When you’re stuck at home in quarantine, what do you do? You read books, you listen to music, you watch movies, you play computer games,” he said. “All of this stuff is not generated by any other industry, but it’s generated by art.

“I would beg to argue that the arts are as essential to survival, especially in this trying time, as a grocery store. … The way artists are being rewarded for their work, in comparison, the hourly wages are minuscule in comparison to anybody who has high degrees of education.”

Music Director James Lowe, like Wolski, has been adjusting to spending more time at home quarantined in Scotland, saying via email that he hasn’t spent so much time in one place in more than 20 years.

He has connected more with the nature around him and spend time with his fiancée, Charlotte (the two postponed their wedding from last week to August), and their new puppy.

He spends his days working remotely for the symphony, though he’s also started to learn “a few wee tunes” on the Scottish folk fiddle.

Lowe said to say this is not how he wanted his first year with the Spokane Symphony to go would be an understatement, “even for an Englishman,” but that he’s looking forward to one day returning to Spokane and kicking off the new season with Mahler’s Second Symphony, “Resurrection.”

“I was talking to Larry Jess, our principal trumpet, last night, and we wondered how we will make it emotionally through such a profoundly moving work,” he said. “But get through it we will, just as we will get through this pandemic, and by the time we get to it, Mahler’s message of hope will be even more meaningful to us all.”

Wolski and Elizabeth Kelley, president of the Spokane Symphony board of trustees, touched on the power of music and how that power can go missing without live music.

Technology, Wolski said, can only do so much to replicate what is shared between musicians and the audience during live performances.

“Everybody’s affected by what’s happening, and music has this amazing ability to, just for a moment, take you out of it and remind you about our humanity,” he said. “When we cannot perform it live, it’s a shadow of what really we can do for a community when we do it.”

“We are all very sensitive to the fact that for generations, for centuries, music has been an agent of healing,” Kelley said. “Perhaps at no time in recent history more than now do people need music, not only for healing, but also for being an instrument, an agent of joy. We are committed to providing that insofar as possible.”

The Spokane Symphony’s 75th season might be on hold, but, in some ways, the anniversary celebration has already begun. Historian, journalist and The Spokesman-Review contributor Jim Kershner wrote a history of the Spokane Symphony titled “The Sound of Spokane: A History of the Spokane Symphony,” which features a foreword by Lowe. The book will be published in September and is available for preorder on the Fox Theater website.

And, as long as the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is allowed to reopen in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, symphony fans can stop by the museum to see “Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony” in conjunction with an exhibit about the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The exhibit is scheduled to run from Oct. 20 through Jan. 10, 2021.

Symphony Executive Director Jeff vom Saal anticipates the symphony’s 75th anniversary celebration will be stretched between this year and the 2021-22 season.

“We have all these nice things planned, having (previous Music Directors Eckart Preu and Fabio Mechetti) come back, those can be some really neat moments,” vom Saal said. “I don’t want to dilute them and be dousing them with Lysol this year. Let’s wait until we can do it right and really do it right.

“We need to do the season and the organization and the community justice in celebrating what’s been so many consecutive years of wonderful music making. I think the right thing to do is take a pause and reassemble our forces when we can really do it the best way possible.”

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