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James Lowe, conductor
Mateusz Wolski, violin

A vibrant array of works handpicked by the Spokane Symphony musicians, including a contemporary piece based on artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat, the champion of street art and neo-expressionism. We expand our symphonic color with the sound of the organ for Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony.”

Johannes Brahms
Academic Festival Overture, Op.80 
Felix Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Hannah Kendall
Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama
Camille Saint-Saëns
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, “Organ Symphony,” Op.78


LoweDown: On Thursday, October 5 at Noon, Music Director James Lowe gives you the “LoweDown” on the music. It’s a free, fascinating, and light-hearted talk about the music. Held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC).

Masterworks & Mimosas: Get a behind-the-scenes look at how the symphony perfects their work in the final moments with James at the dress rehearsal. Masterworks & Mimosas lets you be a part of the inner workings of the orchestra while enjoying a mimosas, coffee, and gourmet pastries. Join us at 10am on Saturday, October 7th.

You can also subscribe to all 6 Masterworks and Mimosas for only $156.

Johannes Brahms

Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80

Composer: born May 7, 1833, Hamburg; died April 3, 1897, Vienna

Work composed: Johannes Brahms completed his Academic Festival Overture (a working title he disliked) in the summer of 1880. The work was a musical thank-you note to the philosophy faculty at the University of Breslau, which had awarded Brahms an honorary doctorate the previous year.

World premiere: Brahms led the Breslau Orchesterverein in the premiere at the University of Breslau on January 4, 1881.

Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings.

Estimated duration: 10 minutes

For Johannes Brahms, a man of humble birth and no university education, receiving an honorary doctorate from the philosophy department at the University of Breslau in 1879 was no doubt a particularly sweet vindication of his well-deserved status as Germany’s leading composer. His diploma formally declared him an artis musicae severioris in Germania nunc princeps (the most famous living German composer of serious music). Although Brahms appreciated the gesture, the piece he wrote in thanks contains a few not-so-subtle digs at the university establishment. Instead of a formal tribute to his honorary alma mater, Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture is populist in nature – more town than gown – and celebrates the irrepressible energy of university student life.

Brahms described the Academic Festival Overture as a “boisterous potpourri of student songs à la Suppé,” a reference to fellow composer Franz von Suppé and his popular operettas. The Overture features several well-known songs of the day, beginning with a chorale-style hymn for brasses, Wir hatten gebauet ein staatliches Haus (We had built a stately house). This song had been popular among students earlier in the 19th century, but was later banned by the oppressive policies of Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and his followers. The Overture continues with the lyrical violin melody Hochfeierlicher Landesvater (Most Solemn Song to the Father of the Country), another semi-political tune that referenced earlier conflicts between students and faculty. Two bassoons present a freshman initiation song, Fuchsenritt, as a brief joking duet before the whole orchestra launches into the famous student anthem Gaudeamus igitur (Let us now enjoy ourselves while we are still young). Here Brahms pulls out all the stops, writing for the largest orchestra he ever used, by enhancing the timpani with the “Turkish” percussion instruments Beethoven had included in the Ninth Symphony: bass drum, cymbals, and triangle.


Felix Mendelssohn

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 64

Composer: born February 3, 1809, Hamburg; died November 4, 1847, Leipzig

Work composed: July 1838 – September 1844

World premiere: Niels Gade led the Gewandhaus Orchestra and violinist Ferdinand David in Leipzig on March 13, 1845

Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

Estimated duration: 27 minutes

“I would like to write a violin concerto for you next winter,” wrote Felix Mendelssohn to his longtime friend and colleague Ferdinand David in the summer of 1838. “There’s one in E minor in my head, and its opening won’t leave me in peace.” Mendelssohn, then conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, had known David for years. The two prodigies met as teenagers; 15-year-old David was a budding violin virtuoso and 16-year-old Mendelssohn had just completed his Octet for Strings. Years later, when Mendelssohn was appointed director of the Gewandhaus concerts in 1835, he hired David as concertmaster. In 1843, Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory and quickly appointed David to the violin faculty.

Mendelssohn had played the violin since childhood, and by all accounts was quite accomplished. However, the E minor Violin Concerto required a level of technical knowledge and skill beyond Mendelssohn’s abilities, so he turned to David for hands-on advice. During the composition of the E minor Concerto, Mendelssohn wrote the melodies and designed the overall structure, while David served as technical consultant.

In this concerto, the violin is always and indisputably the star, while the orchestra’s role provides what the late music critic Michael Steinberg called “accompaniment, punctuation, scaffolding and a bit of cheerleading.” Music this familiar can be difficult to hear as a “composed” work at all; instead, it seems to emerge sui generis, like Athena bursting fully formed from the head of Zeus.

In a break with convention, the solo violin rather than the full orchestra opens the Allegro molto appassionato with the main theme. Mendelssohn also defied expectations by placing the first movement cadenza, which David composed, between the development and return of the main theme, rather than at the end of the movement.

A solo bassoon holds the last note of the Allegro and pivots without interruption to the Andante. Here the soloist leads with a lyrical, singing melody full of tender poignancy. The gentle Andante flows almost without pause into the Allegro molto vivace. The exuberant quicksilver theme of the finale contrasts sharply with the intimate Andante, and demands all the soloist’s technical and artistic skill.

Op. 64 turned out to be Mendelssohn’s last completed orchestral work; he died two years after its premiere. Scholar Thomas Grey observed, “It seems fitting, if fortuitous, that [the Violin Concerto] should combine one of his most serious and personal orchestral movements (the opening Allegro) with a nostalgic return to the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the finale – the world of Mendelssohn’s ‘enchanted youth’ and the music that, more than any other, epitomizes his contribution to the history of music.”


Hannah Kendall

Tuxedo: Vasco “de” Gama

Composer: b. 1984, London

Work composed: 2020. Commissioned by BBC Radio 3.

World premiere: Sakari Oramo led the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall on August 28, 2020, as part of the BBC Proms.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes (doubling C & D harmonicas), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (doubling C & D harmonicas), 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, music box, percussion, and strings

Estimated duration: 5.5 minutes

Known for her attentive arrangements and immersive world-building, award-winning composer Hannah Kendall expands the traditional the boundaries of composition. “Conjuring evocative imagery within dramatic constructs form the main components of my compositional style,” she explains. “I sometimes draw on aspects of my African-Caribbean-European heritage; finding ways to garner a deeper understanding of how musical engagement through cultural discovery might influence my music’s aesthetics.”

Kendall’s music is much in demand, and she has been commissioned by renowned ensembles, including the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, LA Philharmonic, and New York Philharmonic, among others. She is currently a Doctoral Fellow in Composition at Columbia University.

Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama takes its title from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic 1982–3 artwork Tuxedo, a collection of 16 diagrammatic block pieces that come together to form a figure adorned with Basquiat’s trademark three-point crown symbol,” Kendall writes. “It highlights recurring notions of majesty in his output, as does the tuxedo itself, which is a garment associated with luxury and elegance.

“A multitude of Basquiat’s thematic preoccupations are displayed in the intricate hand-drawn and hand-written iconographic detail, encompassing a variety of histories. Indeed, his reference to Vasco da Gama (written as ‘Vasco de Gama’), the first European to voyage to Asia by sea, offers a commentary on exploration and the seeds of globalization and multiculturalism …

“The music moves between bright and buoyant moments of high energy and expansive stillness, underpinned by the incorporated harmonicas, which also function as a nod to the blues.”

Linking the old world to the new, Kendall also incorporates the innovative use of music boxes playing fragments of both Swan Lake and The Blue Danube.


Camille Saint-Saëns

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, “Organ Symphony”

Composer: born Oct. 9, 1835, Paris; died Dec. 16, 1921, Algiers

Work composed: The London Philharmonic Society commissioned Saint-Saëns’ third and final symphony in 1886. In the published score, Saint-Saëns dedicated his Symphony No. 3, “Á la mémoire de Franz Liszt, who died two months after its premiere.

World premiere: Saint-Saëns led the London Philharmonic on May 19, 1886.

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, organ, piano (four hands), and strings.

Estimated duration: 34 minutes

Camille Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony, one of his most popular compositions, pays homage to Franz Liszt in more than its dedication. In Liszt, Saint-Saëns found inspiration for a new direction for French music, which in the 19th century had swerved so far away from the course of innovation that even Hector Berlioz’s music was viewed by many as the irrelevant product of a musical crank.

When the London Philharmonic Society commissioned a symphony from Saint-Saëns in 1886, the composer was interested, but Saint-Saëns was also aware of the massive project he was undertaking. In a letter to his publisher Durand, Saint-Saëns wrote, “You ask for the symphony: you don’t know what you ask. It will be terrifying … there will be much in the way of experiment in this terrible thing …” Despite his concerns, Saint-Saëns never wavered from his original conception of this symphony as an extraordinary work, and with the addition of both piano and organ to the large orchestra, as well as the innovative structure of the work, his “experiment” became clear.

Liszt’s influence is perhaps most clearly found in the construction of the symphony, which distills the usual four movements down to two, each with its own two sections. When listening to the Symphony No. 3, however, one gets the impression less of a symphony than of a tone poem, Liszt’s most lasting contribution to orchestral music. The Romantic arc of the music, the unifying presence of the opening movement’s agitated, rustling violin theme, which recurs throughout the symphony, and the grand apotheosis of the organ finale, all suggest a symphonic narrative, a linear journey full of emotion and atmosphere.

The second movement, whose doom-laden prophecies are sounded by strings and timpani, attracts particular notice. After this initial statement, Saint-Saëns observes, “there enters a fantastic spirit that is frankly disclosed in the Presto. Here arpeggios and scales, swift as lightning, on the piano, are accompanied by the syncopated rhythm of the orchestra … there is a struggle for mastery [between a fugal melody for low brasses and basses and the “fantastic spirit” theme], and this struggle ends in the defeat of the restless, diabolical element.” All turmoil is settled by the pomp and majesty of the organ, which announces itself with a monumental C major chord. Saint-Saëns unleashes the full power of his contrapuntal inventiveness in this final section, in which each part of the orchestra, from strings to winds to brasses, gets its chance to shine.

Although critics were unsure what to make of the Symphony No. 3, audiences responded with enthusiasm. After Saint-Saëns first conducted the symphony in Paris, his colleague Charles Gounod declared, “There goes the French Beethoven!” a reference to Saint-Saëns’ standing as France’s pre-eminent composer, rather than to Saint-Saëns’ particular compositional abilities. Saint-Saëns himself might have agreed; his reported assessment of himself as “first among composers of the second rank,” suggests as much. Whether it had any bearing on his evaluation of his own compositional legacy, Saint-Saëns’ third symphony was also his last. He later explained, “With it I have given all I could give. What I did I could not achieve again.”

© Elizabeth Schwartz

Ticket Information:

Tickets On Sale: Monday, August 14, 2023
Single Ticket Prices: $19 – $68
Phone: 509-624-1200
Box Office: Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, 1001 West Sprague Avenue

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