It’s a homecoming for Eckart Preu who returns to serve up Bruckner and Wagner
Feb. 23, 2023 Updated Thu., March 2, 2023 at 4:16 p.m.
The third time will be the charm for Eckart Preu and the Spokane Symphony.
Preu will conduct Anton Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 3 in D Minor” and Richard Wagner’s “Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde” Sunday at the Fox Theater.
“This is our third try to do this concert with the same program,” Preu said. “I’m thrilled this is finally going to happen.”
The initial event was wiped out in 2020 due to the pandemic. The second attempt was cancelled after Preu and the symphony completed a pair of rehearsals in 2022. “COVID came back and that was the end of that but it all looks good now,” Preu said. “We finally get to perform these works.”
Preu, 53, who was the music director and conductor of the Spokane Symphony from 2004 to 2019, is particularly a fan of Bruckner’s work. “Bruckner was a very sensitive composer and created very charming and intimate music,” Preu said.
Preu believes Bruckner and Wagner’s 19th century compositions are quirky and unpredictable since both were characters.
“Both of those guys were total oddballs,” Preu said. “They weren’t people you would like to hang out with but they made great music. Bruckner was very needy and insecure. Bruckner had this depressive side to him and he had OCD in which he had to count everything.”
But strange is a positive for a composer, Preu said. “I think being weird and having a strong personality is beneficial when it comes to creation,” Preu said. “Some really cool music comes out of neurosis. Just look at how bad Bruckner’s personal life was.”
Bruckner asked nine women to marry him and was turned down each time. “So he took that rejection and all of that pain and put it into his music,” Preu said. “It worked out for us.”
Preu believes pain and agony are better for composers than comfort. “I think having a rough time helps the creative process,” Preu said. “Look at the music that was made while being under dictators like Stalin and Hitler. Bruckner and Wagner had issues and they made great music. That was not a coincidence.”
There is room in their music for Preu to take some liberties. “There’s a lot of artistic freedom in what they created,” Preu said. “I’m looking to finding new ways or more valid ways to play this music. I look forward to the challenge.”
Preu also looks forward to returning to Spokane where he lived from 2004 to 2022. Even though Preu became the music director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Portland, Maine in 2019 and relocated to New York City in 2022, he still considers Spokane home.
“Spokane is the place I’ve lived the longest in my life,” Preu said. “I find it very comforting coming back. Spokane is where I raised my two children. I have many memories and it’s so familiar. Coming back to this city is like coming back to meet an old friend. I get to come back here and play a new piece for me and the city.”
Preu plans to spend some time in his old Seven Mile neighborhood. “I love it there,” Preu said. “Most people come in and move to the South Hill but I was attracted to the outdoors, which for me, makes Spokane so special. Downtown is close by but what I loved about living on the North Side was that I was a five-minute drive to being in the middle of nowhere on these beautiful nature trails. If I wanted to walk, I was five minutes from being in a state or national park. I loved being close to nature.”
New York couldn’t be more different than Spokane and that was part of the attraction for Preu.
“I wanted to move to an environment that is the polar opposite,” Preu said. “I found it in New York. It’s stimulating in a very different way and I’m enjoying it. I made the decision to alter my life. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. I miss the feeling of belonging like I did when I lived in Spokane. It’s so different in New York.”
Preu spends about a week a month in the Big Apple. Preu, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, flies to Portland and Long Beach, California where he is also the music director of the Long Beach Symphony.
“What’s great is that I don’t have to be in a particular city to work in that city,” Preu said. “I can always jump on a plane. I enjoy being in so many parts of America. I appreciate living in this country.”
As a child Preu never thought he would have such an opportunity. However, when serving in the East German army during the late ‘80s, the Berlin Wall came down, which Preu witnessed. “It was the most unreal and unlikely thing to happen,” Preu said. “I recall what it was like being in the military there. There were so many protesters just before the wall came down. I was just this 19-year-old kid in the army and they were about to give us guns to shoot at the protesters and then the wall came down. I then had the opportunity to go to America.”
Preu relocated to New York City during the early ‘90s since he was enamored of a pair of skyscrapers. “When I saw the picture of the World Trade Center I was compelled to go to New York,” Prey said. “It was where I had to be.”
After the Twin Towers were toppled, Preu conducted a concert in Richmond, Virginia. “I’ll never forget that feeling,” Preu said. “I felt the power of music pull people out of grief and sadness. I remember when we played (Pyotr Ilyich) Tchaikovsky and it had this galvanizing effect. People from all walks of life came together and we were all moved and we felt better because of the music and the unity at the concerts.”
The landscape has changed a great deal since 9-11. One difference is what and how people view entertainment. “I see it with my own children (who are 15 and 11) and they tend to watch television on their own. But there is something about the communal experience that you have when you come out to see the symphony. There’s nothing like that social experience you have with other people in the same room. No one is on their phone. We’re all just connected with the music. There’s nothing like it, particularly if you’re at a performance and the work is on the level of what Bruckner and Wagner composed.”
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