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Spokane Symphony cancels ‘Masterworks 4: Eckart Returns’ featuring Wagner, Bruckner

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 14, 2022

Eckart Preu was music director and conductor of the Spokane Symphony from 2004-19.  (Hamilton Studio)
Eckart Preu was music director and conductor of the Spokane Symphony from 2004-19. (Hamilton Studio)

Editor’s note: The Spokane Symphony decided Thursday to cancel this weekend’s two performances due to COVID-19 precautions and plans to reschedule with ticketing options. Here is the original story:

You might expect an evening programmed with works by Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner to fall on the heavier side as far as concerts go, but, as Spokane Symphony conductor laureate Eckart Preu explained, you might be surprised.

“There are all these preconceived notions of what these composers are like,” Preu said. “When we hear a name, a certain image pops into mind … with Wagner, it’s these heavy, long operas.”

Far from the 4-hour runtime of “Tristan and Isolde,” however, the symphony program “Masterworks 4: Eckart Returns” at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, will feature only the Prelude and “Liebestod,” “the alpha and omega,” Preu said.

“I find this music incredibly engaging because it’s all about love and passion. It’s really the essence of Wagner compressed together into an appetizing 90 minutes,” Preu said. “Two snippets of one of his greatest operas, an opera that changed music history.”

Wagner’s ability, and later Bruckner’s, to convey a feeling of inevitable climax without changing tempo makes each piece increasingly engaging, The program continues with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3, which was, in some ways, his life’s work. He spent nearly 30 years writing and revising the piece. Some of his first revisions were spurred by advice given to him directly from Wagner.

When Bruckner went to Wagner for advice on a pair of symphonies, he asked Wagner to choose one over the other. Wagner told him he preferred Symphony No. 3. After a long night and too much drinking, Bruckner forgot the answer. Shy and religious, Bruckner was embarrassed but worked up the courage to ask again and got to work.

The first drafts show Wagner’s influence more obviously, but as the versions progress, the piece becomes entirely Bruckner, Preu said. “The more you highlight the differences in their personalities, the weirder it gets. They have such an opposite approach to music.”

Where Wagner favored a more “in your face” brand of theater in his work, Bruckner was working on the other end of the emotional spectrum. There was real humility and reverence in his work, Preu said. “I find it fascinating that Wagner and Bruckner get thrown in this, in the same pot, when really they’re more like yin and yang,” he said. “They belong together, but as opposite sides of the same coin.”

Both created beautiful works, but if Wagner’s were castles, Bruckner’s were cathedrals. When Preu first encountered Bruckner’s work as a teenager, he related to it as a young man “with emotions running wild,” not knowing what the future held.

“I found that again, during the pandemic,” he said. “This message of humility, of compassion, of resilience also was incredibly tenacious yet humble. … It kept me sane.”

The pre-concert talk will begin one hour before each concert. For more information, visit spokanesymphony.org and call the box office at (509) 624-1200.

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