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From Brahms to "A-Punk" 

Forget the BBC’s Desert Island Discs. Let’s have Spokane Symphony musicians pick their favorites in Palouse Valley Playbacks

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Welcome to Palouse Valley Playbacks, in which we ask nine current and former musicians of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra our perennial question:

“You’re going to be abandoned in a remote corner of the Palouse, and you can only bring along 10 recordings (five popular, five classical). What are your musical selections?”

Now it’s all very well learning which classical works are preferred by people like the SSO’s principal players — along with conductors like Eckhart Preu and Morihiko Nakahara — because, after all, it’s their job to perform classical music.

But what we wanna know is: When they’re marooned in some remote Palouse valley, would they bring along any rock music?

Morihiko Nakahara would. He’s the SSO’s resident conductor, and he loves the “rhythms and use of acoustic instruments” in “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend.

Principal timpanist Adam Wallstein would, too: Synchronicity by the Police and Hotter Than July by Stevie Wonder, along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

And that’s not all.

Our survey of two conductors and seven current or former SSO section leaders reveals plenty of rock and pop Playbacks for their Palouse Valley experiences: James Taylor, Carole King and Paul Simon, but also the Beatles and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Of course, our musicians also have definite favorites when it comes to the classical symphonic repertoire.

As you can see, the most frequently requested symphonies — each selected by three respondents — were Brahms’ Fourth and Mahler’s Ninth.

“I listened to the Ninth during my growingup years… over and over again,” Eckart says.

He considers the fi rst movement one of the most beautiful opening movements of any symphony. And the fi nal movement, an adagio hinting at death, he calls “heart-wrenching” and “tragic”: “For me, the Mahler Ninth has always touched my soul.”

Morihiko had a similar reaction in 2001 after hearing Seiji Ozawa conduct a Japanese orchestra in Mahler’s Ninth. After that performance in Detroit, he was stunned: “I couldn’t manage to get into my car. I just walked up and down Michigan Avenue in the cold,” he says. “I could do nothing else. The memory of that performance has stayed with me ever since.”

We often choose our favorite music for similar, emotional reasons. During his service in the East German army, Eckart says, the Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss was his “constant companion.” Former concertmaster Kelly Farris chose as his favorite symphony and concerto a couple of works that were given to him as recordings when he was 10 years old.

Musical experts choose music not so much for all those esoteric things they learned when studying in music conservatories, but for personal reasons.

They head back to music that recalls important moments, associations, and feelings of nostalgia — a childhood experience here, a walk down icy cold Michigan Avenue there, an old Army remembrance long past.

Don’t we all do this? Don’t our musical favorites often evoke memories of pleasing experiences — but also painful experiences like failed relationships or deaths in the family?

On the other hand, members of our musical panel here on Palouse Valley Playbacks don’t always get all weepy and sentimental over recordings.

Concertmaster Mateusz Wolski may listen to a CD that his wife Dawn has recorded for him, but otherwise, he doesn’t listen to much music. He prefers instead to rehearse and perform.

And Eckart confesses that he might never have taken his iPod to that forlorn and isolated valley in the Palouse. “I really don’t listen to that much music,” he says.

“I conduct it — I don’t listen to it.”

In fact, he says, “I might have just taken a book.”


Morihiko Nakahara, resident conductor: Vampire Weekend, “A-Punk”

Adam Wallstein, principal timpani: The Police, Synchronicity; Stevie Wonder, Hotter Than July; Michael Jackson, Thriller

Eckart Preu, music director: Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2

Mateusz Wolski, concertmaster: Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Brahms’ Fourth Symphony

Verne Windham, former principal horn and now KPBX program director: Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2

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