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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Unfortunate finish can’t dampen Spokane Symphony’s hopes for fall return

James Lowe is music director of the Spokane Symphony. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

After an unlucky end to the Spokane Symphony’s 2019-20 season, the symphony’s management team looks forward to the next for a better turnout.

“We’ve been through difficult times, like all institutions,” music director James Lowe said. “We have an incredible team and a wonderful group of musicians. I don’t doubt that we’ll still be here this time next year.”

Previously programmed for the current canceled season, Gustav Mahler’s second symphony, also known as the “Resurrection Symphony,” will now begin the new season.

“I have to say, to start the season with the ‘Resurrection Symphony’ from where we are right now, seems to be quite appropriate,” Lowe said. “Of course, it’s an incredible piece, but, more importantly, the message of it will be very important by the time we (perform it). It’ll be absolutely the right piece to start with.”

The 2020-21 season will mark Lowe’s first year programming for the Spokane Symphony.

“Programming a season is one of the most fun parts of my job, but it’s also one of the most difficult,” Lowe said.

He starts with a stack of “file cards” (flashcards), writes down the instrumentations and narrows down to the major building blocks – big-name symphonies and showpieces.

“In the end, we have to see if we have enough of this kind of music, enough of that,” Lowe said. “It’s a little bit like playing 3D chess, but, if you’re a nerd like me, it’s actually terrifically good fun, as well.”

“I’m not a great fan of fusion cuisine,” Lowe said, explaining how easy it can sometimes be to build a program of pieces you love that still might not fit together. “It’s a bit like having a few really tasty ingredients but just throwing them together on a plate.” Instead, Lowe puts a great deal of work into making certain that each concert has its own logic to it.

“I always end up coming back to food metaphors for these things,” Lowe said. “You know how they say ‘every salad needs vinegar’ – you’ve got to have something acidic to make it work.” And likewise in a concert program. “If you just have music that is too rich and too lush, it can be overwhelming; if you have music that is angular the whole evening, that doesn’t work, either.”

Another large factor for Lowe in programming comes with thinking about the orchestra itself and the skills you want that orchestra to be developing. For example, he knew very early on that he wanted to work toward Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” So, leading up to that final piece of the season, you find several similar pieces.

“It’s an absolute showpiece for an orchestra, and I think all the musicians enjoy it,” Lowe said. “But it’s a bit like bungee jumping. It’s an extreme sport, but somehow there’s still a real buzz from it.”

In addition to Lowe, the season will welcome guest conductors, two of which, Eckart Preu and Fabio Mechetti, are the only living previous conductors or “conductor laureates” of the Spokane Symphony.


Masterworks concerts will be conducted by Lowe unless otherwise specified.

Sept. 19-20: “Start the Celebration” with guest pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Featuring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (“Elvira Madigan”) and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.2 , also known as the “Resurrection Symphony.”

Despite it being the first symphony of the season, Mahler’s “Resurrection,” rescheduled from 2019-20, was actually the last to be programmed. The symphony had originally asked Parker to play another piece altogether, but when the coronavirus quarantine made it necessary to reschedule the Mahler symphony, rather than canceling, Lowe asked if Parker could instead play Mozart’s “Elvira Madigan” concerto, a piece that better aligns with the resurrection themes in Mahler’s piece.

“Mozart captures this feeling for me, unlike any other composer, a sort of happy resignation and solace that comes from his music,” Lowe said. “I think that we shall be needing that feeling by then, so to start with Mozart seemed the most appropriate thing we could do.”

Oct. 10-11: “Slatkin Conducts Brahms” with guest conductor Leonard Slatkin. Featuring Cindy McTee’s “Double Play,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini” and Johannes Brahms’s “Symphony No. 1.” Slatkin, who coincidentally is married to McTee, “is one of the great orchestra builders of our time,” Lowe said.

“I’m just thrilled to have a conductor of his status and caliber coming to work with the orchestra,” Lowe said. “I’ve been sitting on the knowledge that he was coming for some months now, and it’s been very hard for me to not tell everybody because I’m so excited.”

Oct. 24-25: “Beethoven’s Soul” with tenor guest Ilker Arcayürek and the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Featuring Ludwig van Beethoven’s Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage).

Rodion Shchedrin’s “Beethoven’s Heiligenstädter Testament” , Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Elegischer Gesang” (Elegiac Song), Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved)” arranged by Felix Weingartner and Beethoven’s fourth symphony.

This program “looks into Beethoven’s soul,” Lowe said. The first half will be played without breaks for applause. Before the symphony performs Shchedrin’s overture, there will be a reading of Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter from Beethoven to his brothers on the advancement of his deafness. “Beethoven lived this incredibly tragic life,” Lowe said. “And yet his music is always ultimately full of hope and optimism.”

Nov. 7-8: “Debussy’s La Mer” with guest flutist Lorna McGhee. Featuring Nikolai Tcherepnin’s “Prelude to the Distant Princess,” Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, Lili Boulanger’s “D’un matin de Printemps” (Of a Spring Morning), John Luther Adams’ “Dark Waves” and Claude Debussy’s “La Mer (The Sea).”

Lowe is especially excited to conduct Tcherepnin’s “Prelude to the Distant Princess.” After listening to the piece at the suggestion of a friend, Lowe immediately fell in love with it. “I’ve been programming it everywhere I can since,” Lowe said.

Jan. 23-24, 2021: “The Two Mahlers” with guest mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon and the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Featuring Alma Mahler’s Sieben Lieder (Seven Songs), Valentin Silvestrov’s Stille Musik (Silent Music) and Gustav Mahler’s first symphony.

When Alma married Gustav Mahler, he essentially insisted that she stop composing. Later in his life, he realized his mistake, but she never composed in the same way after that. Lowe designed the program for this concert with that loss very much in mind. “You have Alma Mahler’s seven songs, which are absolutely exquisite, it’s such a tragedy that she didn’t write more,” Lowe said. Then to follow, we hear Silvestrov’s ‘Silent Music,’ full of ghostly echoes and hints of the past, which builds “a sort of bridge from Alma to Gustav.”

Feb. 13-14, 2021: “Eckart Returns” with conductor laureate Eckart Preu and concertmaster Mateusz Wolski. Featuring Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and Anton Bruckner’s fourth symphony.

Mar. 6-7, 2021: “The Genesis of the SSO” with guest pianist Archie Chen. Featuring Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Overture from “Iphigenie in Aulis” (Wagner ending), Robert Schumann’s piano concerto, George Frederick McKay’s “Suite on Fiddler’s Themes” and Antonín Dvořák eighth symphony. Gluck’s overture was the first piece of music and includes the first three notes that the Spokane Symphony ever performed.

Mar. 27-28, 2021: “Fabio Returns” with conductor laureate Fabio Mechetti and guest violist Dana Zemtsov. Featuring Antônio Carlos Gomes’ “Overture From Il Guarany,” Paul Hindemith’s “Der Schwanendreher,” Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan” and “Der Rosenkavalier Suite.”

Apr. 17-18, 2021: “Behold, the Sea” with guest violinist Bella Hristova and the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Featuring Jean Sibelius’ violin concerto and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, also known as “A Sea Symphony.”

May 8-9, 2021: “Rites and Riots” with guest pianist Inon Barnatan. Featuring Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor,” Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, traditional Lithuanian folk songs and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

When Stravinsky premiered “The Rite of Spring” in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the audience famously rioted, leaving the dancers and musicians fearing for their lives. The unorthodox choreography and pagan subject matter was seemingly too much for the audience of that day, but when we listen to Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” and through the rest of the program now, Stravinsky’s “Rite” starts to be cast in a light of evolution rather than revolution.


Where applicable, conductors for the following concerts will be announced at a later date.

Oct. 3: “Havana Nights” Latin jazz ensemble the Mambo Kings and star soprano Camille Zamora join forces with the Spokane Symphony for an evening of music from Cuba, Spain and Latin America.

Nov. 14: “Ella Forever.” Jazz singer Carmen Bradford and the symphony honor Ella Fitzgerald with an evening of jazz standards made famous by the “First Lady of Song.”

Dec. 19-20: “Holiday Pops with the Sweeplings.” Spokane’s own “America’s Got Talent” finalist Cami Bradley and her musical partner Whitney Dean together form the nationally acclaimed pop-folk duo the Sweeplings. This Christmas, Bradley and Dean will join the symphony for Christmas music, carol singing and a visit from Santa.

Feb. 6, 2021: “Pink Martini.” The swingy, eclectic group returns to Spokane once again for a musical tour through the 20th century with the symphony.

Mar. 13, 2021: “Cirque Heroes & Villains.” Cirque Musica joins the symphony for an evening of acrobatic acts with a superhero comic twist.

Apr. 24, 2021: “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony.” Watch Warner Bros.’ Bugs Bunny cartoons as the symphony performs some of the classically infused scores of Carl Staling and Milt Franklyn.


Chamber Soirees

This season the Chamber Soiree series will take place at Barrister Winery and Rockwood South Hill Event Center.

Soirees at Barrister Winery will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Feb. 17 and Apr. 7 and Thursday, Nov. 12, Feb. 18 and Apr. 8. These soirees will include wine, refreshments, coffee and dessert with each ticket. Tickets: $68 for one concert ticket or $150 per person for three Wednesdays or Thursdays.

Soirees at Rockwood South Hill Event Center will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, Feb. 16 and Apr. 6 with refreshments and beverages available from the event center. General admission subscription is $54; $45 for Rockwood residents.

Arbor Crest Sunset Symphony

The season’s only concert at Arbor Crest will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 1. Tickets are $22 for general admission lawn seating and $55 for table seating. (Age 21 and older only)

Free Summer Concerts

Jul. 4: “4th of July” at Riverfront Park in the U.S. Pavilion with James Lowe conducting at 9 p.m.

Sept. 5 and 7: “Labor Day Free Concerts,” at Pavilion Park in Liberty Lake at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 and Comstock Park on the South Hill at 6 p.m. Sept. 7, with James Lowe conducting.


Oct. 30-31: “The Magic of Halloween: Music of Harry Potter and Other Spooky Favorites.” The Fox is transformed into Hogwarts, so join the fun by dressing up in a “Harry Potter”-themed costume, and explore the magical world of wizards through Harry Potter movie music, other spooky music selections and fun lobby activities. Doors open 90 minutes before each performance.

Dec. 3-6: “The Nutcracker with State Street Ballet.” Santa Barbara’s State Street Ballet returns for the 10th time to perform Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” joined by 70 local young dancers and the symphony. This event usually sells out quickly.

Dec. 31: “New Year’s Eve: Beethoven’s Ninth.” Lowe conducts his first Beethoven’s Ninth on New Year’s Eve with the symphony.

Feb. 27, 2021: “Movies & Music Series: The Princess Bride.” The symphony accompanies “The Princess Bride” according to composer Mark Knopfler’s score. This marks the first time Knopfler’s score has ever been arranged for performance by a symphony orchestra.

May 22, 2021: “Jurassic Park.” The symphony performs John Williams’ iconic score live as the film is projected in HD on the Fox Theater’s giant screen.

Other concerts

July 18: “Lyle Lovett & His Large Band.” Lyle Lovett brings his 12-member band to the Fox to perform their genre-bending music. The group plays everything from country, blues, retro-jazz and folk to gospel music.

Nov. 12: “Napoleon Dynamite – the Film and a Conversation With the Stars” with guests Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Jon Gries, the actors responsible for bringing Napoleon Dynamite, Pedro and Uncle Rico to life. After the screening, the guests will be onstage for a moderated discussion of the film.

Rescheduled concerts

Although the Fox Theater was forced to cancel the remainder of this season, some of the concerts were able to be rescheduled for next season. Tickets for these concerts will be honored on the new dates.

Jun. 5: Walt Wagner Trio

Sept. 28: Ronnie Milsap

Mar. 22, 2021: Glenn Miller Orchestra

Subscription prices

Masterworks: $195-$405, free admission for those younger than 17. Coordinate with the ticket office to reserve your free youth tickets.

Pops: $195-$387.

Single ticket prices for symphony specials are $25-$96 for adults and $18-$68 for children depending on the concert. Visit for more details.