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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Symphony returns with two free Labor Day weekend concerts ahead of 76th season

Sept. 2, 2021 Updated Sat., Sept. 4, 2021 at 8:18 a.m.

Just one week ahead of the Spokane Symphony’s official season-opening concerts in the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, the orchestra will treat audiences across the Inland Northwest to two free outdoor concerts over Labor Day weekend.

The Labor Day concerts will feature a “tasting menu” of selections from the symphony’s upcoming 76th season as well as audience favorites like John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare” and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” famous for its use of cannons – sometimes real, sometimes recorded. Performances will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at Pavillion Park in Liberty Lake and 6 p.m. Monday at the Pavilion at Riverfront Park.

“Of course, ‘1812’ has to be in there,” music director James Lowe said, remembering the uproar former music director Eckart Preu unwittingly stirred up after leaving the piece out a few years back. “He got so many complaints, he said he was never going to do it again.”

Coincidentally, the Pavilion at Riverfront concert will represent a conglomeration of happy returns, not only for the orchestra as a whole, but also for Lowe himself. The pavilion was the first venue where Lowe conducted the Spokane Symphony after taking on the music directorship in 2019.

“It was such a memorable day for me … so it seems nice to come back and start again there,” Lowe said.

Full of classical gems and hints of the season to come, these concerts are a gift to the community, executive director Jeff vom Saal said.

“The Spokane Symphony exists for the community,” vom Saal said. “We work really hard to provide this intersection of entertainment, education and enrichment, but I think right now the word is healing.”

Lowe agreed.

“When something dreadful happens, we listen to music, it’s part of our DNA somehow,” Lowe said. “It may not be classical music that you listen to – it doesn’t really matter. Music seems to have this huge power, and when you multiply that by the 73 musicians onstage for a specific concert, it’s really a visceral experience.”

Looking ahead, Lowe and vom Saal hope to continue fostering a kind of “cultural living room” in the symphony’s home, the Fox Theater, now celebrating the 90th anniversary of its opening.

In honor of this “birthday,” the Fox will open its doors for self-guided tours, refreshments and a program of virtual Spokane Symphony concerts at noon Friday. Author Jim Kershner, a columnist for The Spokesman-Review, will be signing copies of his recent book “The Sound of Spokane: A History of the Spokane Symphony.” The box office will also be open at this time. Masks will be required.

“It’s the place you know you can trust to go when you want to see something that is consistently high-quality,” vom Saal said. “When all cylinders are firing, (the orchestra) is a beast. But it’s a wonderful beast, and we love it.”

Back in full force for the first time since the symphony’s March 7, 2020, concert featuring Grammy Award-winning Irish fiddler Eileen Ivers, the symphony is eager to begin working together in front of an audience again, reuniting and interacting with the community within the confines of evolving health and safety precautions.

As far as health guidelines, organizers will require attendees to provide proof of full vaccination or documentation of a negative COVID-19 test from within a 72-hour window at the Riverfront Park concert at 6 p.m. Monday. Use of face masks is suggested but will not be required.

At the Liberty Lake concert Saturday, however, no proof of vaccination or documentation of a negative COVID-19 test will be required. Use of face masks will not be required.

Future concerts will require proof of full vaccination or documentation of a negative COVID-19 test from within a 48-hour window until further notice.

Face masks will be required at all indoor concerts for audience members and musicians alike. But to the orchestra, at least, wearing masks seems a small price to pay for the joy of playing for a live audience again.

“A performance with no audience is just a rehearsal,” vom Saal said. “But we’re not the industry of rehearsal, we’re in the industry of performance.”

Despite suffering a dramatic loss in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic – dropping from approximately $3 million in revenue to just $50,000 and shrinking administrative and backstage staff from approximately 30 to less than 10 last year – the symphony’s overall momentum now is positive.

“People are buying tickets,” vom Saal said, explaining how the spike has given his team the space to start refilling positions in development and marketing while also searching for a permanent music librarian, which is no job for the faint of heart.

“We always need support from the community, and right now they’re really demonstrating that they can’t wait to see us.”

And for the orchestra, the feeling is mutual.

“The biggest thing is that we can do this again live,” Lowe said. “We can bring people together to enjoy this music in the same space. And that’s just magic.”

Stephanie Hammett can be reached at (509) 459-5013 or at

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