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Spokane Dixieland Jazz Festival, Friday, May 31, Masonic Temple The Spokane Dixieland Jazz Festival seems to be in fine shape for its second year. This year's festivities included nine solid bands battling it out. Nine bands may seem like small potatoes compared to the number of bands at a few of the big and long-running traditional jazz festivals, but when the bands are all of the caliber that the Spokane Dixieland Fest has drawn, there is no need to apologize.
Moody Blues Saturday, May 18, Gorge Amphitheater When it was announced that the Moody Blues was to play the Gorge Amphitheater for the umpteenth time, some people reacted, "Yuck, not them again." It was a fair comment, being that the band is like the Energizer bunny - "It keeps going and going and going..." - and, to some, it wore out its welcome years ago.
Spokane String Quartet Sunday, May 19, at The Met Tadeusz Majewski has certainly found his niche playing the piano music of Chopin, or it has found him. Sunday's Spokane String Quartet program was carried mainly by Majewski; three from the SSQ joined him on one number. It doesn't violate any conventions to expect the right notes from a performer, but Majewski played all the notes with the right attack, the right length, and the right volume and balance. Every moment was well-considered and startlingly appropriate.
"The reason I latched on to this folk thing is, similarly to punk, it's of the people. It's subcorporate music," DiFranco says.
Spokane Symphony, Symphony Chorale and Whitworth Choir Friday and Sunday, the Opera House The great choral shouts of joyful affirmation that conclude Beethoven's Ninth Symphony seemed entirely appropriate to end the Spokane Symphony's 50th season. The orchestra performed the work twice over the weekend, once Friday night and again Sunday afternoon. It was a joy to hear both times. I had not put Sunday's matinee on my schedule, but curiosity got the better of me. This was not just an ordinary second performance. On Saturday, between the two public performances in the Opera House, the orchestra, the combined chorus of the Symphony Chorale and the Whitworth Choir and the solo quartet - soprano Julie Newell, mezzo JoAnne Bouma, tenor Jon Garrison and bass Terry Cook - spent seven hours recording the work. The intense concentration of a full-scale public concert plus a grueling day of recording can produce either exhilaration or exhaustion. Sunday's performance showed more of the former, with an elevated sense of confidence and freedom not heard Friday night. The many fine qualities of Friday's performance were still present. Conductor Fabio Mechetti's view of Beethoven's complex symphony seems always to have a classical poise despite its "revolutionary" and romantic qualities. I was impressed by the wide range of dynamics and the responsiveness Mechetti elicited from his huge group of performers in making swift changes from a great outburst of sound to the quietest hush, or the reverse. These quick changes achieved their most obvious effect in the choral finale, but they were present throughout the other movements as well. The program booklet quoted English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams' observation on Beethoven's ability to write music that is "at the same time serious, profound and cheerful." Time and again Mechetti underscored those qualities. Two examples from the finale: The introduction of the "Ode to Joy" theme began ever so quietly, then was joined by Lynne Feller's fine bassoon obbligato in a delightful juxtaposition of nobility and humor. Mechetti was also able to bring a startling logic to the sudden appearance of a serious and intense double fugue coming from nowhere out of a whimsical Turkish march. These examples could be multiplied. The orchestra's playing was significantly less tense and more accurate in Sunday's performance. Woodwind players who Friday seemed to disagree about the tempo here and there moved toward greater unanimity Sunday. And the brass, whose Friday performance revealed a scattering of flawed chords and cracked horn notes, remedied most of these gaffes (though not all) on Sunday. The Symphony Chorale and Whitworth Choir, trained by chorusmaster Randi Ellefson, was impressive as usual. The choristers brought a quiet magic to Beethoven's meditation on Schiller's verses about "the star-canopied universe" and exhibited nimble clarity of articulation in the rush of the final exultant praise of joy. The quartet of vocal soloists was also impressive, from Cook's commanding bass recitative to Newell's floating high notes in the final bars of the notoriously difficult cadenza. The high quality of these performances made a spectacular end to the symphony's golden anniversary season and makes me look forward to the CD release of the Spokane Symphony's Beethoven Ninth in August.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Friday, May 3, at The Arena When the history of country music is written, Tim McGraw's name won't be found in the chapter titled "Great Singers, George Jones and Beyond." More likely, he'll be there in the one called "Great Showmen, The Loud Spawn of Bacchus." With McGraw, country music has fully appropriated the trappings of arena rock. McGraw's show doesn't nod toward rock's excesses - it plants both feet in the fog machine.
1. Bush performed Sunday at the Spokane Arena with Goo Goo Dolls and No Doubt. 2. Goo Goo Dolls
The Spokane Symphony Sunday, April 28, at The Met Joseph Haydn wrote music just perfect for spring. But it sounds so fresh and breezy that you sometimes forget there is something profound behind all that bubbling energy and good humor. The musicians of the Spokane Symphony played a delightful afternoon of Haydn on Sunday at The Met. The same program will be repeated tonight, ending the symphony's chamber orchestra series for this season.
Foo Fighters, Friday, CUB Ballroom in Pullman There are qualities to Foo Fighters vocalist-guitarist Dave Grohl that makes it entirely enjoyable to be in his presence. Maybe it's his happy-go-lucky personality. Or maybe it's his down-to-earth charm. Those are a couple of them. But what truly made his concert with the Foo Fighters Friday at the CUB Ballroom in Pullman a winner was his total sincerity and his enthusiastic insistence to connect with the audience.
Spokane Symphony, with guest clarinetist Sharon Kam, Friday night at the Opera House. The mime Marcel Marceau used to do a turn in which he imitated a clarinetist. He held no instrument, and there was no music, but Marceau bobbed and weaved, crouched and lifted his phantom clarinet to sky. Soon you heard music in your mind, and it was glorious. Friday at the Opera House, Sharon Kam did the same thing but with a real clarinet. Her music, too, was glorious.
Petra pleased the near-capacity crowd at the Opera House
"Bravo Broadway!," Spokane Symphony SuperPops Saturday, April 13, Spokane Opera House Nothing against a fully staged Broadway musical, but maybe this is the way to hear these songs. "Bravo Broadway!," featuring three veteran Broadway singers, has hit upon a sure-fire crowd-pleasing formula. Take a basketful of show tunes, forgo the sets and the spectacle, and simply present them as concert pieces backed by the lush sound of a full orchestra. For outside evidence of this formula's appeal, check out the PBS broadcast of the concert version of "Les Miserables" last month. It was one of the most-watched programs in PBS history.
Darlene Kagele, 69, took one look at the George Strait fans gathered at the Spokane Arena last night and sized up the situation for her husband, Louis, who's 72. "My God," the Odessa, Wash., woman said. "We're the oldest people here." She had a point. The country music torch has been passed to a new generation, and those who worry that the youngsters can't appreciate tradition should have been there last night. The pedal steel cried and the fiddle sobbed, and Strait sang a country song the way Hank meant it to be sung.
Spokane Symphony Friday, March 30, Opera House Does the combination of the highly romantic music of Robert Schumann and the presence of a Spanish pianist suggest something a bit on the wild side? If so, you would have been surprised, as I was, at Alicia de Larrocha's aristocratic performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Spokane Symphony Friday. De Larrocha, now 72, has been playing the piano in public longer than many in Friday's audience have been alive. Her performance proved two important things to me. First, experience counts. Her grasp of Schumann's Concerto was as secure as any I've ever heard. The technical acumen of her playing produced great clarity, even in spots such as the opening flourish of the finale which in other hands (some of them far younger) sounds blurry. Second, there are many different ways of interpreting a masterpiece. Schumann's music is a weird mixture of the intimate and flamboyant, the poised and the nearly-out-of-control. De Larrocha's Schumann seems downright classical, aristocratically elegant. She makes that approach work. (Remember, "experience counts"). Under her fingers, Schumann's piano figuration dances around the first movement's clarinet and oboe solos and responds playfully to the cellos' ardent melody in the Intermezzo. But where, I wondered, was the thrill in Schumann's headlong rush to the end of the first movement? And what about the jolt I usually experience in the piano's stubborn insistence on the waltz rhythm in the finale when the orchestra breaks into a march? I missed the tingle of those moments. But when a great artist such as De Larrocha plays in a way counter to my expectations, it does cause me to think hard about the music we are sharing. And for that, along with the beautiful control she brought to her playing, I am grateful. If rushes and jolts were missing from the Schumann Concerto, they were present in abundance in Smetana's symphonic poem "Moldau," with which conductor Fabio opened the concert and in Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with which he closed the program. Mechetti drew the course of the River Moldau with photographic accuracy: its origins in a quiet flute dialog, its broadening course with the addition of strings, its flowing passage by a scene of peasant dancing, and its thundering surge through the chasm of St. John's Rapids. The orchestra gave an virtuoso performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. Most impressive were the solo woodwinds throughout the work, the brass in the chorale ending of the first movements and their anguished outbursts in the Elegy. There were unruly moments in the fugal parts of the finale and some questionable intonation and balance in the woodwinds when the section plays together, rather than as soloists. None these problems kept Mechetti and the orchestra from producing a performance that crackled with intensity and a highly emotional variety of moods.
John Prine Wednesday, March 20, Masonic Temple Let's hoist one to the idea of hanging in there. This is the story of John Prine, who years ago left the major-label world and rode it out with his own, independent releases until finally they began producing rich fruit. His two most recent records - "The Missing Years" and "Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings" - are the best one-two punch of his career, and he drew heavily on both Wednesday night. Happily, the new material is just as good as his older, better-known work, which also was well-represented Wednesday.
Allegro Tuesday, March 19, at The Met For the final concert of Allegro's 1995-96 season, artistic directors David Dutton and Beverly Biggs took their audience to Helena to hear a sampling of the music played there during boom-town days. In addition to the music, there were snippets of stories about Helena and its characters, as well as life in the West in the last century. Between numbers, Dutton shared some of these tidbits culled from the archives, but the best nuggets were provided in a good historic overview by Bernadette Curran in her preconcert talk.
Spokane Jazz Orchestra Saturday, March 16, at The Met Until Saturday night, Charlotte Carruthers had never sung in front of a big band. "I want you to know I'm fulfilling a lifetime dream," she told the near-capacity Met crowd. Carruthers should make a habit of it.
The Spokane String Quartet Sunday, March 17, at The Met The music of Arnold Schoenberg still has the power to shock audiences. The Spokane String Quartet and its guests, reciter Johanne Blank and pianist David Rostkoski, proved it with a fierce performance of Schoenberg's raging "Ode to Napoleon" at The Met Sunday. The program included more familiar works by Haydn and Beethoven and a couple of short surprise pieces.
Michael Martin Murphey
Critic-at-large Nobody knows exactly how many choirs there are in the Northwest. But it seemed that most of them were in Spokane last week. Some 1,500 singers and more than 300 choral directors came here for the Northwest Chapter meeting of the American Choral Directors Association. Such professional meetings involve the usual number of workshops and discussions, but the choral directors' gathering here includes some glorious singing in public performances as well.