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‘And there was music again’: Spokane Symphony presents five ‘Symphony @Home’ concerts virtually

UPDATED: Fri., April 2, 2021

After more than a year, Spokane Symphony Music Director James Lowe returned to the stage of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, “and there was music again,” a video posted to the symphony’s Instagram account announced.

Audience members may not be allowed back into the downtown theater just yet, but that doesn’t mean the stage has to stay quite so empty.

For the past few weeks, limited, socially distanced groups of musicians have been gathering to record live performances for a series of virtual spring concerts.

“It’s not just any concert; we’re not just putting the orchestra on stage and recording them,” Lowe said, explaining the complex multi-camera setup provided by Hamilton Studios.

In total, the symphony will broadcast five “Symphony @Home” themed concerts this spring, the first of which will be available on demand at noon Friday. Subsequent concerts will broadcast every two weeks.

All of the concert recordings will remain available for repeat viewings online for at least a year following their initial broadcasts.

Organized around the theme of “Folk Roots,” the opening concert will include classic works by Antonin Dvorak (“Serenade for Winds”), Bela Bartok (“Rumanian Folk Dances”) and Ralph Vaughan Williams and newer works by McKay Stout, a traditional folk duo from Scotland featuring harpist Catriona McKay and violinist Chris Stout.

Stout performed on the soundtrack to Pixar’s “Brave” (2012). The concert will also feature the Spokane Symphony Chorale.

“Mixing music and ideas,” each broadcast will also include a series of recorded talks and discussions specific to each theme given by musicians and other local experts.

During “Folk Roots,” trumpeter Chris Cook will share a traditional Czech folk tale, and concertmaster Mateusz Wolski will discuss Polish folk traditions.

Before programming could begin, there were several concerns, artistic and logistical, that needed to be ironed out. For example, string players are required to sit at least 6 feet apart, but wind and brass instruments require at least 9 feet.

“There’s a very strict limit on how many people you can have on stage at any given time, but we wanted to make sure that everybody in the orchestra got to play in something,” Lowe said.

And so, although social-distancing requirements have prevented the symphony from performing at full capacity, at one point or another, every member of the orchestra has been able to participate in the creation of “Symphony @Home.”

“The COVID era has really encouraged everyone to examine the way we do things,” Lowe said. “It was a steep learning curve, but we’ve been pretty innovative.”

The second concert’s theme is “Classical Perfection: What Does ‘Classical’ Mean in Music and in Art?”; the third concert is “Individualism”; the fourth concert is “Light”; and the fifth and final concert is “Heaven & Earth.”

“The thing I’m most looking forward to is what we’ve started doing already, making music,” Lowe said. “That was for me really a watershed moment … when we finally sat down for that first rehearsal … just making music again is such a privilege.”

All Spokane regional health care workers will receive free tickets for the “Symphony @Home” performances. For tickets and information, visit foxtheaterspokane.org/packages.

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