Today, the Spokane Symphony celebrates its 75th anniversary. And, although this past year has been less than kind to the symphony, its members continue to draw hope from the countless other trials and tribulations over which they have triumphed during the previous 74.
As author Jim Kershner suggests in his newly released book “The Sound of Spokane: A History of the Spokane Symphony,” if 75 years of operation – despite enough turmoil, emotion and general drama to fuel a symphony written by Beethoven – has proved anything, it is that the symphony is as important to Spokane as Spokane is to the symphony.
The symphony owes its longevity to several factors: first, the timely string of music directors whose particular skills pushed the symphony to greater heights of musical excellence one after the other; second, the community of music lovers who continue to sustain it financially; and, last but by no means least, having built an orchestra full of musicians as committed to one another as to their art.
“The really special thing about the Spokane Symphony is the attitude of the group … we really love what we do. We care about the music and each other in a way that you don’t find most other places,” said first violin Elizabeth Lund, recalling what has made her proud of the symphony over the years.
“When things have gotten rough over the years, the musicians have sacrificed a lot at different times to help keep things going,” she said. “It’s been a team effort with all constituents being willing to do what it takes along the way.”
Despite recessions, budget crises and even a few tense confrontations between musicians and conductors, a significant percentage of the symphony’s current members have played in the orchestra for at least 30 years.
One of the orchestra’s longest-serving members herself, Lund remembered hearing the Spokane Symphony for the first time as an 8-year-old.
“All of the different instruments onstage playing together – I just thought that was the coolest, most fabulous thing I’d ever seen, and I wanted to do it,” she said. “And now being onstage in the middle of a huge group of musicians all playing these beautiful things – it’s just so musically satisfying to play with such a group of talented people.”
“I was overwhelmed by the magnificence of the symphony orchestra, and then suddenly, there I was, playing with them,” percussionist Rick Westrick said, remembering his first day on the job back in 1981.
These musicians have watched the Spokane Symphony develop from a “really good community orchestra” into a truly “professional orchestra” and what some have called “the smallest major orchestra in the United States.”
At 75, the orchestra is the best it has ever been, principal trumpet Larry Jess said.
“The quality of musicians and the conductor … it’s the best orchestra that I’ve ever played in,” Jess said. And “it makes me want to keep playing for a while.”
“The Spokane Symphony has been a huge part of what makes Spokane a special place,” Westrick said. “Being a percussionist, I feel like I’ve got the best seat in the house … and I’m completely astounded by the level of brilliance of the players and of the music itself. To have been given this unbelievable opportunity in my life … I’m very humbled to be part of it.”
Kershner’s “The Sound of Spokane: A History of the Spokane Symphony” is available at Auntie’s Bookstore. For more information, visit spokanesymphony.org.
Northwest Passages Book Club – “The Sound of Spokane”
In honor of the Spokane Symphony’s 75th birthday, Kershner will join Jess to discuss the history of the symphony in a virtual forum with yours truly at 4 p.m. Wednesday. No ticket is required. For more information, visit spokesman.com/northwest-passages.
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