Returning in full force: Spokane Symphony launches season 77 with 9 Masterworks, 5 Pops and special events
Apr. 21—As the Spokane Symphony prepares to close out its 76th season, music director James Lowe is already looking forward to the next.
"Pulling together a season program is like the most complicated kind of 3D chess you can imagine," Lowe said. "Over the whole season, you want to make sure that music from different kinds of composers are represented from different countries, (and) each concert has to have something familiar, but it also has to have something new and unfamiliar to take the audience on a journey."
There's a great deal that goes into ensuring what comes through in the end isn't some kind of "music salad."
After three years of abbreviated seasons, postponements and cancellations, Lowe, who has extended his contract into 2025, is excited to finally be presenting a program that's entirely his.
"Let's just say the first three years were not going entirely according to plan," he said. "But we did a lot of work in the pandemic with the Overtone Series, and I have to say, some of the work which I'm most proud of.
"That really pushed us, all of us, into territory that was absolutely unknown. And we — the musicians and everybody else — did an amazing job on that."
With nine Masterworks, five Pops Series concerts and a host of other special events set to start in September, the symphony is returning in full force.
"I genuinely love this orchestra, this town," Lowe said. "The musicians are just wonderful — I've never worked with an orchestra that has such an overwhelmingly positive rehearsal process.
"It's really lovely. We just want to make music with each other, which is astonishingly rare. You will be surprised how rare it is to find an orchestra that works in that way."
Season subscriptions for all nine masterworks concerts are $153-$549. Note: Saturday evening concerts will at 7:30; Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.
Sept. 17-18: "Fantastique!" With guest pianist Natasha Paremski and Lowe conducting. Featuring Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique," Jessie Montgomery's "Starburst" and Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto.
Oct. 8-9: "James Conducts Rachmaninoff" with guest flutist Demarre McGill. Featuring Sergei Rachmaninoff's second symphony, Anna Clyne's "Masquerade" and Carl Nielsen's flute concerto.
"I was so thrilled with the reception of 'Dance' last year," Lowe said, mentioning the symphony's performance of Clyne's earlier work. "People literally came up to me in the street to tell me how moved they were by it, how surprised and delighted."
Lowe and Clyne were contemporaries at the University of Edinburgh.
"If there was one piece in last season that was a standout for me, that would be it — Anna has this ability to write music that is new and modern and different, but also emotionally connecting. It's not just a collection of sounds."
Oct. 22-23: "Fabio Returns" with music director laureate Fabio Mechetti conducting. Welcoming back Mechetti, who directed the symphony from 1993-2004, to the Fox Theater stage, this concert features Richard Strauss's "Don Juan" and "Suite From Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59" and three excerpts from Richard Wagner's "Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg."
Nov. 12-13: "Fire & Ice" with guest pianist Tanya Gabrielian. Featuring Nikolai Rimksy-Korsakov's "Dance of the Skomorokhi" from "The Snow Maiden," Edvard Grieg's "Piano Concerto, Op. 16 in A Minor," Stephen Montague's "Snowscape: St. Pölten" and Carl Nielsen's "Symphony No. 4, Op. 29: The Inextinguishable."
Jan. 21-22: "Slatkin Conducts" with guest conductor Leonard Slatkin. Featuring Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32," Johannes Brahms' "Symphony No. 1, Op. 68 in C Minor" and "Double Play" by Slatkin's wife, composer Cindy McTee.
"I would love to take total credit for Slatkin coming here," Lowe said, explaining that this particular concert was actually down to symphony executive director Jeff vom Saal.
"Jeff has been working on getting him here for some years. We finally managed it in the COVID year — then of course it got canceled — but now he's rescheduled.
"It's such a coup to get him here. He is a world class conductor — extraordinarily famous, probably the most famous, if not the most famous living American conductor who's not yet retired. And for the orchestra — it's going to be huge experience to work with him."
Feb. 4-5: "Made in America" with concertmaster Mateusz Wolski soloing. Featuring Samuel Barber's "Violin Concerto, Op. 14," George Frederick McKay's "From a Moonlit Ceremony," William Grant Still's "Symphony No. 1: Afro-American Symphony" and a new work for chorale and orchestra from Sydney Guillame commissioned by the Spokane Symphony, Eastern Washington University and Ron and Sue Runyon.
Guillame, who had collaborated with Spokane Symphony Chorale director Kristina Ploeger-Hekmatpanah, was at top of mind when Lowe went looking for choral works.
"Kristina said, 'Well, why don't we just get get something written?' " Lowe said. "And I thought, 'Oh, well, that fits perfectly — I mean, how could you top a piece tailor-made in America.' "
Lowe is also thrilled to be highlighting Wolski in this concert. Wolski, he said, is one of many "secret ingredients" to the orchestra's success.
"Mateusz is hugely important," Lowe said. "Because if, as a music director, your relationship to the concertmaster doesn't work, you don't stand a chance — you're really sunk."
Luckily, the two share a strong sense of humor.
"We just get on so well, and that makes my life actually really, really easy."
March 4-5: "Welcome Back, Eckart" with conductor laureate Eckart Preu. Featuring Richard Wagner's "Prelude and Liebestod" from "Tristan and Isolde" and Anton Bruckner's "Symphony No. 3 in D Minor." Rescheduled from the 76th season, the symphony looks forward to welcoming back Preu to Spokane for the weekend.
Don't let the composers scare you.
"I think when we hear a name, a certain image comes to mind," Preu said. "But it's not a Wagner opera where you have to sit there for four or five hours — it's really the essence of Wagner compressed together into an appetizing 90 minutes."
And the Brookner, "There's an incredible draw throughout his business music, so people won't get bored. There's no way."
April 15-16: "James, Zuill & Mozart" with guest cellist Zuill Bailey, soprano Amy Porter, alto Patti Mortier, tenor Nicholas Klein and bass Derrick Parker. Featuring Edvard Elgar's "Cello Concerto, Op. 85 in E Minor" and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Requiem, K. 626."
"The Elgar is a kind of meditation on a lost England," Lowe said. "He wrote it after the First World War, looking back on this changed world, an old man. And I think that the Mozart 'Requiem,' obviously written at the end of his life — both have this retrospective, elegiac feeling about them."
May 14-15: "Stravinsky's Firebird" with guest violinist Benjamin Beilman. Featuring Béla Bartók's "Hungarian Sketches," Johannes Brahms's "Violin Concerto Op. 77 in D Major," György Ligeti's "Concert Româesc" and the 1919 version of Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird: Suite."
Season subscriptions for all five Pops Series concerts are $200-$425. Note: All Saturday concerts now begin at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Oct. 1: "Classical Mystery Tour: A Tribute to the Beatles," conductor to be announced. Featuring "the best of the Beatles" from early works on into each member's solo careers.
Nov. 5: "John Williams' 90th Birthday Celebration," with Lowe conducting. Featuring works from every stage of Williams's iconic movies scores, including "Jaws," "E.T.," "Superman," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jurassic Park," "Harry Potter" and "Star Wars."
Dec. 17-18: "Holiday Pops," with the Spokane Symphony Chorale and Spokane Area Youth Choirs. Featuring traditional holiday favorites, a carol singalong and a visit from Santa Claus.
March 18: "Cirque Musica Symphonic," conductor to be announced. A troupe of professional aerialists and acrobats perform accompanied by the symphony.
April 29: "Movies & Music: Jurassic Park" with Morihiko Nakahara conducting. The symphony will perform Williams's iconic score live as "Jurassic Park" plays on the Fox Theater's 20-by-40-foot screen.
"Masterworks & Mimosas": Patrons will now have the opportunity to sit in on final rehearsals on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. before select Masterworks concerts. Drinks and pastries will be available. Tickets are $25 per rehearsal. "Masterworks & Mimosas" concerts include Masterworks 1: "Fantastique!" on Sept. 17, Masterworks 5: "Slatkin Conducts" on Jan 21 and Masterworks 9: "Stravinsky's Firebird."
"Chamber Soirées": This three-concert series featuring a mix of baroque, classical and contemporary music will be offered at Barrister Winery, 1213 W. Railroad Ave., throughout the season. Concerts are table seating only with refreshments; dessert, wine and coffee are included with the ticket price. Tickets are $246 for all three and $99 for single tickets. "Chamber Soirée 1": Oct. 12-13 at 7:30 p.m.; "Soirée 2": Feb. 15-16 at 7:30 p.m.; and "Soirée 3": April 19-20 at 7:30 p.m.
Special Subscription Packages
1-2-3 GO! Recommended for newcomers, this package offers a special rate for any three concerts selected from the Masterworks, Pops and other symphony performances, excluding Fox Presents shows. Prices are $104-$256.
Take 5: This package offer a special rate for any five concerts selected from the Masterworks and Pops series. Note: Take 5 subscriptions can include no more than two Pops concerts. Prices are $116-$338.
Other Symphony Specials
Patrons can add symphony specials to their season subscriptions before tickets go on sale to the general public in August.
Oct. 29-30: "The Music of Harry Potter and Other Halloween Favorites" with Lowe conducting. The symphony is bringing back its annual Halloween concerts featuring soundtrack favorites from the "Harry Potter" films. Costumes are encouraged. Tickets are $25-$46 for children and $35-$64 for adults.
Nov. 19-20: "Handel's Messiah" with the Spokane Symphony Chorale & Chamber Singers under the direction of Ploeger-Hekmatpanah and Lowe conducting. Bringing back another holiday tradition, this concert will take place at St. John's Cathedral. Tickets are $13.50-$32.
Dec. 1-4: "The Nutcracker Ballet" with the State Street Ballet. Welcoming the State Street Ballet once again, Nakahara will lead the orchestra and dancers through Tchaikovsky's iconic score. Performed at the Fox, shows will begin Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25-$77 for children and $35-$109 for adults.
Dec. 31: "New Year's Eve With Beethoven's Ninth" with the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Continuing a New Year's Eve tradition brought to Spokane by Preu, Lowe will lead the symphony and choir through Beethoven's joyful masterpiece. Tickets are $35-$74.
Summer 2022 Symphony Concerts
June 21: "Summer Solstice at Brick West Brewing Co." An ensemble of symphony musicians will visit Brick West Brewing for a casual evening of classical music and local beer. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 without dinner and $30 with dinner provided by Brick West.
June 29: "Arbor Crest Wine Cellars." The symphony continues its summer tradition of performing on the Cliff House Estate grounds at Arbor Crest Wine Cellars. The winery offers various food options and a selection of Arbor Crest wines by the glass or bottle, among other beverages. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $55 for table seating and $25 for lawn seating.
July 4: "Patriotic Pops at the Pavilion at Riverfront Park." The symphony will visit Riverfront Park for an evening of classical and patriotic favorites starting at 9 p.m., with a pyrotechnic show to follow. This concert is free and open to the public.
Sept. 3 and 5: "Labor Day Weekend Free Concerts." Continuing an annual tradition, the symphony will offer two free concerts on Labor Day weekend. Shows begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 3 at Pavillion Park in Liberty Lake and Sept. 5 at Comstock Park on the South Hill.
Aug. 10: Amos Lee. Singer-songwriter Amos Lee will visit the Fox to perform a blend of folk, rock and soul music at 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 6: Postmodern Jukebox. Famous for their Gatsby-era reimaginings for popular music, Postmodern Jukebox is set to "make the '20s roar again." This concert begins at 7:30 p.m.
Educational and Outreach Projects
"The Lowedown Series": Lowe will provide a series of educational talks in the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture's Eric A. Johnson Auditorium at noon Thursdays prior to Masterworks concerts.
June 19: "Free Family Concert." The symphony will offer a free concert for families at the Fox at 3 p.m. on Father's Day.
"Young Musicians Education Program": Symphony musicians will begin providing one-on-one instruction for students classroom ensembles.
"Link Up": From the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall, this program provides instructional materials and recorders to students and teachers. The program concludes with a concert at the Fox in which children have the opportunity to play along with the orchestra.
"Guest Artist Master Classes": Guest artists visiting for Masterworks concerts offer one-on-one and group instruction to local students on Fridays from 3-5 p.m. before each concert.
"Re-Connect": Made possible in partnership with Fieldstone Memory Center, this program aims to reach those living with dementia through music.
"Lullaby Project": The program pairs professional artists with new and expecting parents as the groups work together to write personalized lullabies.
"Symphony Sessions": In what Lowe hopes will be the first of many similar outreach concerts, the symphony will visit the Wonder Building, 835 N. Post St., for an informal evening of "classical music in a casual setting." Grab a beverage and feel free to check your phone as the symphony dives into all the questions about classical music you've been too afraid to ask.