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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Symphony will celebrate Expo ‘74 with concerts this weekend. Three players will be on stage who also played in Expo a half-century ago.

The first time Paul Raymond played with the Spokane Symphony in Spokane, the governor was in the audience. On stage was international opera star Roberta Peters, renowned ballet dancer Edward Villella and ballerina Lucette Aldous, who was more accustomed to playing world-famous venues like the Sydney Opera House.

It was a monumental night for the symphony and Spokane, the grand opening of the symphony’s new home, the Spokane Opera House, and a celebration of Expo ’74, the six-month party about to start that would bring millions to the Inland Northwest.

The program was long and ambitious and included Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Strauss.

Raymond had moved to Spokane from Michigan after barely a year of college mid-winter in his Ford Pinto station wagon after he met Spokane Symphony timpanist Martin Zyskowski, who had been on sabbatical and was teaching where Raymond was in school, Eastern Michigan University.

“He told me that, ‘You know, you should come out to Spokane because the world’s fair’s coming and there’s gonna be a lot of work for musicians.’ So I thought, ‘What the heck.’ And that’s how I ended up here, sight unseen,” Raymond said.

But less than five months after his move, after the grand opening show in Spokane, he was downcast while riding home with Zyskowski and another percussionist.

Raymond was sure he was about to be fired.

The last piece of the program, “Image of Man,” was written for the event by Michael Colgrass, a percussionist and composer who would later win the Pulitzer Prize. With Washington State University’s Concert Choir and Singers, it took more than 200 people to perform it.

In one frenzied part of the song (which included well over a dozen percussion instruments including a “large cooking pot”), Raymond needed to quickly transition, perhaps to a bass drum – he doesn’t fully remember . In the chaos, a cymbal fell from a table. He described the sound of it hitting the floor as a loud crash that rattled on as it rolled around – and around.

“And I thought, ‘Well, there goes my career,’ ” Raymond said in an interview earlier this week.

In the car after the concert, he assumed everyone noticed the cymbal crash not written in the music.

“I was bummed. This is it,” Raymond said. “And they said, ‘What do you mean?’ There was so much going on. It was so loud. They didn’t even notice it back in the section with me.”

So Raymond’s career continued with the Spokane Symphony as he earned music degrees and became the symphony’s principal percussionist.

This weekend, as he nears retirement, Raymond will be on stage as the symphony celebrates the 50th anniversary of Expo ’74, partially replicating the concert that Raymond once feared had ruined his career.

Joining him will be two other members of the symphony in 1974 who have retired but are back as substitutes: Kelly Farris, who was the Juilliard School-trained concertmaster and retired in 2006, and Roxann Jacobson, who was the principal violist.

As the symphony prepared for Expo and its new home, it worked to boost its experience and quality, said Verne Windham, who was selected as the symphony’s principal French horn player in 1971 after studying at the Eastman School of Music.

“It just pulled itself up to the next level,” said Windham, who played with the symphony until 1988 and later became program director for KPBX.

The symphony played 20 Expo concerts in its extended season with many major stars, including Itzhak Perlman and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Ella Fitzgerald headlined the closing concert on Nov. 3.

“I still remember sitting backstage by the door inside in the hallway where the dressing rooms were and heard a door open,” Raymond said. “Ella Fitzgerald walked out and came walking down towards me, and I was just so star struck.”

Jim Kershner, who wrote “The Sound of Spokane, A History of the Spokane Symphony,” said Expo gave the members tremendous experience as well as exposure to prominent musicians. Also booked to play at Expo were the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Utah Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“They were accompanying some of the biggest stars of the international classical world,” Kershner said. “The consensus was that Expo really upped their game.”

Jacobson said Expo “put Spokane on the map.”

“The whole feeling in those days was one of optimism and idealism. The hippie generation, it really impacted the general zeitgeist, I guess you could say,” she said. “We were just very optimistic and excited that we had a new opera house for a home for the symphony.”

The anniversary concert

Conductor and Music Director James Lowe poured through archived symphony programs from 1974 to select pieces for the anniversary program, which is the last Masterworks concert of the 2023-24 season.

He settled on three pieces from the Opera House’s opening night: Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture”; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate”; and Riccardo Drigo’s “Pas de Deux” from “Le Corsaire.”

“Ending on a bang was a really important thing for me, and similarly the Shostakovich, the way it opens the concert, it starts with this kind of high energy, high octane music, and then going into the Mozart, which is really extremely beautiful,” Lowe said.

He chose Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony as the finale, which differs from the Tchaikovsky piece on the program 50 years earlier.

“I mean, the Tchaikovsky symphony certainly doesn’t start with an air of celebration,” Lowe said. “It’s all about struggling against fate, but it ends in absolute triumph.”

In the 1974 concert, the symphony played from the pit in the first half, to make room for Villella and Aldous who performed on stage while the orchestra played Tchaikovsky and Drigo. Raymond had never heard of Villella until the rehearsal before the concert.

“This guy comes out wearing a Bruins hockey jersey, and he’s just kind of walking around the stage. I thought, ‘What’s the big deal with this guy?’ ” Raymond recalled. “And then when the lights came on for the concert, this guy came bounding out from backstage. I swear he was 10 feet in the air and then he just was bounding around the stage like a deer. I’d never seen anything like that.”

Lowe opted against bringing back the commissioned piece Colgrass wrote for the opening of Expo.

“Image of Man is a concert theatre piece for chorus and orchestra where soloists from the chorus sing and speak about contemporary man and his environment,” Colgrass wrote.

It was heavy on percussion and included a bass drum, glockenspiel, triangle, xylophone, timbales, bongo drum, chimes, cymbals, crash cymbals, tambourine, sleigh bells, cow bell, anvil, large cooking pot, car horn, suspended cans, metal ratchet, kitchenware, gong and a vibraphone, according to the program.

Among the lyrics:

A bird came to me one day/With a strange complaint/I can’t sing/Bloodshot eyes/Flabby wings/Decreased sexual activity/Was this some terrible disease/That could make our birds extinct

Raymond and Windham remembered liking the work, though it was panned by the Spokane Daily Chronicle’s symphony reviewer.

And Windham said it probably wouldn’t be appreciated by a modern audience.

“It has sideburns down to the floor and bellbottom pants,” Windham said. “I was a hippie and loved it.”

Farris, who joined the Spokane Symphony in 1969, was no stranger to world’s fair concerts. He also played at the grand opening concert for the 1962 world’s fair as a member of the Seattle Symphony.

Before the Opera House, the orchestra played at the Fox Theater, which the symphony would buy and remodel years later. But at that point, the Fox mostly was a movie theater and showing its age.

Farris remembers preparing to play a concerto before a show around 1970 with January air wafting in through a broken window.

“We had limited access for rehearsals and it was not being kept up very well,” Farris said.

Jacobson joined the Spokane Symphony in the mid-1960s when she was a 16-year-old student at S

hadle Park High School. She earned her master’s in music from Eastern Washington University around the time of Expo. Farris was her teacher at Eastern.

She left not long after Expo and played with Burt Bacharach in the late ‘70s as his electric solo violinist. She retired in Spokane after three decades in the San Francisco Symphony.

“I’m a sub here, you know, but they’ve welcomed me so much and been so kind,” Jacobson said. “It just feels like a welcome home.”

Farris and Jacobson said in interviews this week that one of the best memories of Expo was when they were featured in an outdoor concert playing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante.

Jacobson has high praise for the public schools that sparked her interest in music as well as the many musicians in Spokane in the 1960s and ‘70s who encouraged and inspired her long music career.

“I could just name so many people. They were so passionate and dedicated about what they were doing and they really passed on that dedication and passion to the students,” Jacobson said. “I just am so grateful I got to be a recipient of that.”

After the concerts Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, audience members are invited to mingle with the symphony at a “wrap party.” Cupcakes will be provided.

The symphony also will open a time capsule that was sealed in 1996.

The theme for the weekends’ concerts is celebration: “So we’re kind of recreating that experience from 50 years ago,” Lowe said.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at (509) 459-5442 or