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Hampson's Home 

by ANN M. COLFORD and ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & fter a busy December of concerts around Europe -- including a Christmas Day event with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam -- baritone Thomas Hampson journeys home to Eastern Washington for the final event in the Fox grand opening festivities.





Hampson, who spent most of his childhood around the Tri-Cities, went to high school at Upper Columbia Academy in Spangle and first studied voice with Sr. Marietta Coyle at Spokane's Fort Wright College. As a teenager, he visited the Fox for a concert by the Spokane Symphony, an event that sparked his interest in classical music and set him on his life's path.





"I became a human being in Spokane," he told The Inlander two years ago. "I was very involved in the community, and the Spokane Symphony was fundamental in my psyche. If Spokane had not been the community it was, I'd be a different person."





For this recital, Hampson will sing works by Schubert, Liszt and others, along with seasonal delights and favorites from the tradition of American song -- one of the singer's passions. He will be accompanied by pianist Craig Rutenberg. Hampson's 2005 benefit recital at the pre-construction Fox was an event to remember, and this time the magnificence of the music will unfold in an appropriately beautiful environment.





-- ANN M. COLFORD





Thomas Hampson "Home for the Holidays" * Saturday, Dec. 29, at 8 pm * Tickets: $25-$100; $250-$500, including reception * The Fox * 1001 W. Sprague * Call: 624-1200 or 325-SEAT





MIRACLE ON WEST SPRAGUE


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he restoration of the Fox never should have happened. No way. Too many moving parts. Too much time. Too many competing initiatives. Too costly.





We know who saved that other phoenix of downtown, the Davenport Hotel -- that would be Walt Worthy. But the Fox? It took not just a team, but a small army of capable and dedicated citizens to save the Fox and create in it the Martin Woldson Theater. These citizens were bound together only by belief, faith and commitment.





The aftershocks of that commitment will actually be far greater than what followed Expo '74. The ripple effects of this amazing civic effort will extend far beyond our borders or our region -- and they will continue to be felt for generations to come.





The Spokane Symphony Orchestra managed to do the impossible -- turn Murphy's Law on its head. In contrast, with the Fox restoration, what could go right did go right -- and at the best possible time.





That's the definition of "serendipity" -- the term that developer Ron Wells and accountant Bill Simer use to explain the success of this long-shot project. Wells may have been the first to see the possibilities of the Fox as a new home for the symphony, and Simer served as the symphony board president in the early days of the project -- the dark post-9/11 days when funding for such projects had all but dried up.





In the late '90s, the Fox, reduced to a discount movie theater, continued to limp along making a small profit for its absentee owners. Wells recalls making an exploratory phone call to the Fox owners: Would they be interested in selling? Nope, they said, we aren't making a fortune, but the theater is holding its own. Wells then reminded them of the soon-to-open AMC 20 at River Park Square. How did they think they were going to do once that multiplex was up and running? Presto, the building goes on the market. No River Park Square, maybe no sale. Serendipity.





About this time, the Spokane Club unwittingly helped out. The club leadership announced its intention to buy the old Fox, tear it down and put up a parking lot. Tear it down?! The Fox instantly became a political issue -- which meant publicity, which jump-started public support for the SSO plans. Serendipity.





Still, says Wells, the project had no legs -- until, that is, The Phantom of the Opera came to town in 1999. The Opera House management summarily kicked out the SSO for eight weeks while Phantom played, thus messing up the orchestra's annual programming. And while the Symphony had never been happy with the acoustics at the Opera House, the impetus for moving to the Fox originally was scheduling control. I asked Betsy Cowles, who preceded Bill Simer as president, if the SSO knew at the time about the acoustics. She indicated that they really didn't -- it was just that Phantom underscored the need to get out of the Opera House. Serendipity.





About this time, the SSO executive director, the hard-driving John Hancock, managed to get money to fund a preliminary study of the potential acoustics in the Fox. The acoustics experts came back with a glowing report: If the SSO could make the necessary improvements, the Fox would not only have satisfactory acoustics -- it would be "an 8.5 or 9.0 on a scale of 10." Serendipity.





By 2000, the SSO found itself the owner of a worn-out old movie house but without the money to restore it, let alone make improvements. Fund-raising proceeded slowly, then not at all. The pre- and post-9/11 stock decline had dried up funding sources.





Right about this time, a beleaguered Bill Simer got a call from an agent representing an anonymous client who wanted to make a sizeable gift in exchange for naming rights: $1 million up front, with $2 million more to follow if matching money could be raised. A windfall -- except that the SSO couldn't raise the matching dollars in time. Simer wrote a letter explaining his problem -- and the benefactor, Miss Myrtle Woldson, generously forgave the matching requirement. The project continued. The timing of her involvement proved critical. Serendipity.





Over the next several years, the SSO changed board presidents, executive directors and music directors. And here's the amazing part: turns out that all these changes proved to be for the better. Capable people move on to be succeeded by other capable people who, in almost every instance, prove to be better suited for the changed circumstances. Whether it was the critical and successful effort to gain tax credits, or the fortuitous election of Christine Gregoire, a governor who actually took interest and invested political capital and personal interest in the project, the moving parts continued to work in harmony.





Where serendipity wasn't working its magic, good decision-making was. Consider the selection of contractors and the many technical decisions that had to be made by this ever-changing SSO leadership. As for the acoustics, the SSO eventually made the call to let the building stand on its own without structural expansion on the west end; the acoustical experts, who had done such excellent work, were concerned. But they deferred judgment, and the musical power of the Fox has been evident right from the start.





The contributions made by local contractors, from NAC Architecture to project management to Walker Construction, weren't merely excellent -- several people I interviewed called them "heroic." At the same time, the SSO leadership understood the need to go elsewhere to find the necessary critical talent in some areas. For acoustics, interior painting and theatrical work, SSO went after the very best. And got it.





That all these moving parts stayed together and on the same page from beginning to the end -- and very close to on-budget -- was an absolutely incredible institutional feat.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & week prior to the first Classics concert at the Fox, I drove by the building. It appeared that much outside work was left to be done. Workmen were scurrying here and there. After the concert's success, I asked Executive Director Brenda Nienhouse if she was worried. She broke out in a big smile. "I wasn't worried at all," she said. "I knew they would get it done." And so they did, all of them.





Belief, faith and commitment. The only explanation. That and serendipity.





And the result? This Christmas season, nothing less than a miracle on West Sprague Avenue.





-- ROBERT HEROLD

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