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Spirit of 76: Spokane Symphony’s new season features seven masterworks and three pops concerts

UPDATED: Fri., July 16, 2021

After more than a year of empty chairs and silent halls, the Spokane Symphony is just months away from returning to the stage of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for its 76th season.

“We’re back, we are bringing live music to Spokane again, which is what we do best,” music director James Lowe said. “I’m really proud of the digital season we did. But I have to say, nothing beats the thrill of hearing a live orchestra.”

As a conductor, he explained, your back might be turned, but you can always feel the presence of the audience.

“Music – live music – is a shared experience,” he said. “I love the digital platforms. They’re a great way of disseminating this fantastic music … but there’s something very special about people sitting in the same room listening to the same piece of music at the same time.”

When it came time to program the 76th season, Lowe had the lost 75th at the front of his mind. Some concert lineups, ones that were just too good to pass up, have been transplanted “wholesale” while others have been augmented or pared back as needed.

The new season will feature seven masterworks concerts and three pops concerts, among others. “It’s a little bit like it’s all desserts,” Lowe said.

“But sometimes, you know, that’s just what you need.”

When doors open for the first concert on Sept. 18, tickets will be sold at full-capacity indoor seating, and masks will not be required for vaccinated patrons, executive director Jeff vom Saal said.

“When we start having concerts, they will feel like regular concerts,” vom Saal said, explaining the euphoria that comes with getting to bring the full complement of the orchestra back to the stage.

“This combination of entertainment, enrichment, education and experience … the flow state that you get into being in the hall, being surrounded by the beauty and hearing it,” he said. “Orchestras epitomize what is possible when a group of people comes together around a common goal with uncommon fervor.”

Masterworks Series

The Masterworks concerts will be led by Lowe unless otherwise specified.

Sept. 18-19: “The Return of the Symphony” with guest violinist Bella Hristova. Featuring Adolphus Hailstork’s “Fanfare on Amazing Grace,” Jean Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47” and Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op.73.”

After a year of uncertainty, Lowe was moved to open the new season with gratitude; Hailstork’s “Fanfare on Amazing Grace,” based on one of the most well-known tunes in the English-speaking world, seemed exactly the place to start.

Hristova will follow with the Sibelius Violin Concerto, a landmark in the violin repertoire lauded for its originality and dynamic expression. The orchestra will close with Brahms’ second symphony, a piece Lowe is particularly excited to revisit.

“This is music that I’ve been studying for 20 years now and one of the first pieces I ever conducted, and every time I open the score, I see something new,” he said.

Oct. 9-10: “Beethoven’s Soul” with guest artist tenor William Ferguson and the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Featuring Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Elegischer Gesang,” Rodion Shchedrin’s “Beethovens Heiligenstädter Testament,” Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte” arranged by Felix Weingartner and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60.”

Taking a step past Beethoven’s greatest hits like “Symphony No. 5,” Lowe has delved deeper into the composer’s collected works to showcase some of the more hidden gems.

Nov. 13-14: “Points North” with guest cellist Inbal Segev. Featuring Felix Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides Overture, Op.26,” Anna Clyne’s “Dance,” Nikolai Tcherepnin’s “Prelude to the Distant Princess” and Jean Sibelius “Symphony No. 5, op.82, E-flat major.”

Opening with Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides Overture,” the through line of this masterworks concert is Scotland. Segev will perform “Dance,” a cello concerto in all but name composed by Grammy nominee Anna Clyne, a fellow graduate of Lowe’s alma mater, the University of Edinburgh.

Jan 15-16: “Eckart Returns” with former Spokane Symphony music director Eckart Preu conducting. Featuring Richard Wagner “Prelude and Liebestod From Tristan und Isolde” and Anton Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 3 in D minor.” Bruckner dedicated the symphony to Wagner after their first meeting.

Feb. 5-6: “Pictured Within” featuring Spokane Symphony concertmaster Mateusz Wolski as soloist. The lineup includes William Grant Still’s “Wood Notes,” Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35,” Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Danse nègre” and Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

Following Tchaikovsky’s monumental violin concerto and two other lesser-known gems, the symphony will conclude with Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” With each variation, Elgar builds individual portraits of his closest friends woven from elements of the same original tune.

March 5-6: “The Genesis of the SSO (Spokane Symphony Orchestra)” with guest pianist Archie Chen. Featuring Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Overture From Iphigenie in Aulis (Wagner Ending),” Robert Schumann’s “Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54,” George Frederick McKay’s “Suite on Fiddler’s Themes” and Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op.88.”

Paying homage to the orchestra’s early history, this lineup begins with Gluck’s Overture to Iphigenie in Aulis, that is, the very first notes the symphony ever played. Chen will perform Schumann’s piano concerto, and the orchestra will conclude with Dvorak’s eighth symphony, a jaunty and cheerful piece inspired by Bohemian folk tunes.

April 23-24: “Russian Tales” with guest pianist Inon Barnatan. Featuring Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances From Prince Igor,” Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade, Op.35.”

An absolute knockout of a lineup, these pieces are truly dessert all the way through. Starting with Borodin’s playful and multifaceted dances, Barnatan will perform Tchaikovsky’s “sweepingly romantic” first piano concerto.

And as if that wasn’t enough to spoil the audience, the evening will conclude with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” an orchestral showpiece overflowing with tales of shipwrecks and romance.

Pops Series

And the new season’s Pop Series is:

Dec. 18-19: “Holiday Pops” featuring guests Cami Bradley and Whitney Dean, the Sweeplings (and Santa Claus) with Morihiko Nakahara conducting.

Jan 28: Pink Martini with James Lowe conducting.

May 21: “Havana Nights” featuring the Mambo Kings and guest Camille Zamora with Nakahara conducting.

For the full symphony schedule, visit spokesman.com/ae and spokanesymphony.org.

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