Yo-Y0 Ma and more will be part of the Spokane Symphony’s 23-24 season

By Ed Condran
The Spokesman-Review
September 15, 2023

Iconic cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who will make his Spokane debut, is the preseason event. The virtuoso will perform Sept. 6 at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. The 19-time Grammy winner will perform Franz Schubert’s 8th in B minor “The Unfinished.” Ma will also play Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor.

“It’s huge to have Yo-Yo Ma come to Spokane,” Spokane Symphony music director James Lowe said. “We’ve tried for so many years to get him here. I’m thrilled. He’s been a musical hero of mine since I was a kid, but then again, he’s every musician’s hero.”

Season subscribers will have priority access for Ma.

It’s difficult to follow a legend, but the Spokane Symphony will launch the season Sept. 16 and 17 with Masterworks 1’s “A Place Called Home.”

“Where is home and who belongs are some of the questions,” Lowe said.

A traditional Salish hymn will be sung by Barry Moses, a member of the Spokane Tribe and a leader in preserving Salish languages. “Old American Folk Songs” by Aaron Copland will be sung by baritone Derrick Parker. The evening starts with Bednch Smetana’s “My Country, No. 2, The Moldau,” which is about a river running through Prague. “That connects with Spokane since we have a river running through our city,” Lowe said.

“Symphonic Graffiti,” which is slated for Oct. 7 and 8, features the violinist Mateusz Wolski.

A contemporary piece inspired by the artwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the champion of street art and neo-expressionism, will be featured for Masterworks 2.

Johannes Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Hannah Kendall’s “Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama” and Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 in C minor and “Organ Symphony,” will be rendered.

Morihiko, Masterworks 3, is set for Oct. 21 and 22 and will feature the symphony’s longtime resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara and violinist Zhu Wang. Amy Beach’s Symphony in E Minor, will be presented. Beach is the composer of the first published symphony by an American woman, weaving old-world folk song into symphonic form. Mozart’s 1875 piano concerto No. 21 in C Major, also will be performed.

“Behold the Sea,” which is Masterworks 4, slated for Nov. 4 and 5, is a bit left of center. Whale song recordings will be played with the orchestra. Alan Hovhaness’ “And God Created Great Whales, No. 1” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “A Sea Symphony,” will be performed while backed by video footage of Earth’s largest creatures.

“The recordings are fascinating,” Lowe said. “It’s amazing what comes out from the whales who are singing underwater. Perhaps the intelligence in the animal kingdom is greater than we ever thought.”

“Holly Rachs,” a combination of conductor Holly Hyun Choe and the works of Sergei Rachmaninoff, is set for Masterworks 5, Jan. 20 and 21. Charlie Albright will play piano as the symphony delivers Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Johannes Brahms’ Third Symphony in F Major, and Britta Byrstrom’s “A Drama in the Air,” will make its America debut.

“Holly is a previous student of mine who is doing great things,” Lowe said. “Her career has taken off in Switzerland, and we’re just glad to grab her while we can. And then there is Charlie Albright, who is a real genius.”

“A Message to the Stars,” which is a space age symphony, is Masterworks 6 and will be performed Feb. 6 and 7. “This will be about music performed in space or inspired by space,” Lowe said. “We’re going to perform the first song ever played in space.”

That’s “Watching the Sky and Thinking a Thought,” which is a traditional Ukranian folk song that was sung by a Ukranian cosmonaut in 1962. “Voyager Concerto,” by Dario Marianelli, “Primal Message” by Nokuthula Ngwenyam and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C minor, which was featured on the “Golden Record” placed aboard the Voyager space probe, will be presented.

“Along the Silk Road,” which is Masterworks 7, is a nice change up, and features Sandeep Das, a virtuoso on tabla drums. Das and conductor James Ross will lead the symphony through a performance of propulsive rhythm. Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja” and “Anthem of Unity,” Dinuk Wijeratne’s Tabla Concerto and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 also will be performed.

“Sandeep is like Yo-Yo Ma,” Lowe said. “He brings absolute joy to the stage.”

“Power to the People,” Masterworks 8, which is slated for April 20 and 21, features violinist Glenn Dicterow, who worked with iconic conductor Leonard Bernstein. Dicterow will reprise Bernstein’s “Slava” with Lowe. “No pressure for me, right,” Lowe said with a laugh.

Bernstein’s “Serenade,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and Ethel Smyth’s Overture to “The Boatswain’s Mat” are scheduled.

Smyth, a prominent women’s voting rights campaigner, was quite the character. “Smyth was walking down the street (in London) and asked a policeman if Lord so-and-so lived at the house they were in front of,” Lowe said. “After she was told that was so, she threw a brick through the window and went to prison for a few days. We feel that it would be great to have Ethel as a part of ‘Power to the People’ since politics is going to be a big part of 2024.”

“Expo ’74” will conclude the season as Masterworks 9, May 11 and 12, with a tip of the cap to the Spokane Expo’s 50th anniversary. Lowe will joined by soprano Dawn Wolski. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Mozart’s “Exsultate, Jubilate,” Riccardo Drigo’s Pas de Deux from “Le Corsaire” and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony will be performed.

“It’s been fascinating looking back at the Expo and seeing what happened,” Lowe said. “The symphony performed with Ella Fitzgerald, and it was a great time for Spokane and we believe it will be a great time throughout our 23-24 season.”

Pops and specials

The pops season will begin Sept. 30 with “The First Ladies of Song,” an evening of jazz and swing with vocalist Carmen Bradford, conducted by Nakahara. On Nov. 11, the symphony celebrates Veterans Day with “A Symphonic Salute to the USO,” featuring conductor Shira Samuels-Shragg and the Spokane Jazz Orchestra.

After taking the 2022 holiday season off, Nakahara returns to the symphony’s Holiday Pops concert for “A Bing Crosby Christmas,” featuring vocalists Jake Bergevin and stories from Howard Crosby, Bing Crosby’s nephew. That concert is Dec. 16.

March 16’s concert is themed “Music of the Night,” featuring tunes from popular Broadway shows such as “Wicked” and “Phantom of the Opera,” and will include vocalist Morgan James and pianist Hugh Panaro. The pops season will conclude with “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” on April 13. The symphony will perform as 16 Looney Tunes are screened, including the iconic shorts “What’s Up, Doc?,” “The Rabbit of Seville,” “Coyote Falls,” “Long-Haired Hare,” “Baton Bunny,” and “Corny Concerto.”

There is a host of special programming. The orchestra will perform free public concerts on July 4 at the Pavilion in Riverfront Park, and two shows Labor Day weekend, one at Comstock Park and other at Liberty Lake.

On Oct. 28 and 29, “Symphonic Con,” the orchestra will perform music from movies, TV and video games, including “Game of Thrones,” “Star Trek,” the Harry Potter films and “The Lord of the Rings.”

What, no “Star Wars?” Don’t worry, the Skywalker saga is getting a dedicated program with “The Empire Strikes Back” on May 4-5, 2024. Nakahara will conduct as the iconic film is played on the Fox’s movie screen.

Handel’s beloved “Messiah” will be performed on Nov. 16-18 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, while the State Street Ballet returns to once again bring “The Nutcracker” to life, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at the Fox.

On April 26, the symphony will host “An Evening With Jess Walter.” The Spokane novelist will read from his works, set to music by the orchestra musicians.

For more information about next season, visit foxtheaterspokane.org.