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Many happy returns: New Year’s Eve with Spokane Symphony includes Eckart Preu, Beethoven

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 31, 2021

Taking over at the last minute for James Lowe, former Spokane Symphony music director Eckart Preu will once again conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony during Friday night’s New Year’s Eve concert at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

Especially now, with COVID-19 numbers soaring and flights getting canceled left and right, Preu was more than happy to spend a little more of the holiday season at home in Spokane.

“And it’s fun – I’ve done this so many times,” Preu said Wednesday morning. This will be his 11th time conducting the classic work with the Spokane Symphony. “It’s nice to revisit an old friend,” or rather, a whole orchestra of old friends.

“It’s going to be fun to see each other again and kind of see how they have changed, how I have changed,” Preu said. It’s as if “you know, we used to be married once, and now we’re divorcees that still hang out together. It’s really a nice thing.”

Preu began the Spokane Symphony’s New Year’s Eve tradition of performing Beethoven 9 in 2008, inspired by performances he attended growing up in East Germany.

“This was something that was on every New Year’s Eve – I mean that was just law,” he said.

So when the question arose of establishing a New Year’s Even tradition for the symphony, Preu knew just what to do.

“And it caught on right away,” he said.

Despite the number of times Preu has conducted Beethoven’s symphony, coming back to it every year continues to inspire him.

“Every single year when I come back to this, I realize how hard it actually is and how phenomenal it is,” he said.

“This is one of the very few pieces that never, ever gets old no matter how often you do it. Every time, every single time, I open the score, I’m in awe.”

It’s not the monumentality of it, he explained. The length of the work is a challenge itself – clocking in at just over an hour – but the complexity is also on another level.

“The way he writes is very different – he went a very interesting way – inserting doublings and counterpoints that are really odd … it has so many layers in the score,” he said.

“The way it’s written, it’s much less obvious than his earlier works. And so I think he was really searching beyond the grandeur and the big gestures; he was searching for something else, as well … a new way of writing a symphony.”

Lowe agreed.

“It’s not so much a few corners that are harder than others – it’s just all one big corner,” Lowe said. “But still, it’s obviously a masterpiece, and it’s hugely fun to do. It’s that same thrill you get if you do an extreme sport.

“You know, it’s a little bit like bungee jumping or snowboarding where in the background, there’s this kind of slightly terrifying thing, which, in the end, is extraordinarily satisfying when it works.”

The concert will feature the Spokane Symphony Chorale, baritone Derrick Parker, tenor Christopher Pfund, soprano Amy Porter and mezzo-soprano Patti Blankenship-Mortier.

Preu returns in January for the symphony’s Masterworks 4 concert.

“This is an extra bonus for me … it’s something that’s very dear to my heart as a tradition, but also as a piece that has a very personal meaning to me,” he said. “Before I didn’t know what I was going to do on New Year’s Eve – now I do, and it couldn’t be any better.”

For more information, visit spokanesymphony.org and call the box office at (509) 624-1200.

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