by Clint Burgess & r & The Makers at St. John's Cathedral, or the Spokane Symphony at the Big Easy -- which is the sign of imminent apocalypse? I guess the Symphony wins this round, because they'll appear in the rock 'n' roll venue Saturday night, when "Symphony on the Edge" presents a dance-mix in search of a new demographic. Last year's dressed-down event was a smashing success, prompting Eckart and Co. to expand the series to two performances this year. Associate Conductor Morihiko Nakahara will direct the 50-piece orchestra on Saturday, while attendees are treated to modern and classic compositions that are sure to skew perspectives and sway some tastes in music.
Still early in his career, Nakahara has an impressive resume and is hailed as an up-and-coming talent in the world of conductors. Having studied and performed all over the world, Nakahara also holds down orchestra direction for Eastern Washington University.
While clanking beer glasses aren't the norm for a symphony, the Big Easy offers something that a more formal atmosphere doesn't. Nakahara explains: "It's much more intimate in there. People can really get a good look at what we do as musicians." Add elements like rock 'n' roll stage lighting, jumbo video monitors and the swanky d & eacute;cor of the concert house, and there doesn't seem to be much room left for the symphony itself. That's where the program makes a difference.
The symphony will be performing pieces from well-known composers such as Beethoven and Mozart, as well as compositions from more contemporary composers like Arturo Marquez. "I've always enjoyed performing 'Danzon No. 2' by Marquez," says Nakahara. "It is a very recent piece, so it is quite accessible to the listener."
The program for the evening, entitled "Dance Mix," is infused with specific compositions designed to evoke a universal desire to dance -- and not just strictly in a physical sense. "I've always been fascinated by dance," says Nakahara. "There's a common misconception that because of what we do behind the podium as conductors that we can dance -- but I can't. I think as a musician that everything needs to dance. Music is something that needs to awaken the dance in each of us -- that's what I aim for."
The opportunity to play diverse pieces in a venue like the Big Easy is attractive to Nakahara because it offers a performance atmosphere unlike the typical classical venue. "Classical musical presentation is pretty set in its ways," he explains. "We play and you sit. There is an element of presentation involved, but it's pretty straightforward. Many of the pieces we're doing are quite visual -- there's a lot happening with all the pieces of the orchestra. It will be exciting to see how the video will affect the performance."
Yet as stimulating as the visual elements may be for this performance, there will be an equally strong aural presence. Pieces like Christopher Rouse's "Ogoun Badagris" draw heavily on the sound of what is happening as much as the look. This piece in particular offers a blend of the multiple senses as it employs a number of percussion instruments -- in fact, it's musically based on a Haitian voodoo ritual.
It's possible this may be the first time some attendees have ever heard a classical performance. Conversely, symphony regulars don't usually step into a nightclub. The nature of the venue allows for what Nakahara describes as a "cross-pollination -- we tend to influence each other as far as pop music and classical music are concerned." He also asserts that because of technology -- "the iPod age," as he puts it -- listeners are much more adaptable. "Listeners are capable of flowing from one genre to the next and can appreciate many different kinds of music."
This fluidity of tastes in -- and appreciation for -- music prepares listeners for a performance precisely like "Symphony on the Edge." Nakahara thinks progressively about communicating to a diverse audience. "The words we are looking for here are fun and friendly," he says. "This is a perfect way for us to break barriers and focus on some cool music together."
"Symphony on the Edge" features conductor Morihiko Nakahara and the SSO on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 7:30 pm at the Big Easy, 911 W. Sprague. Tickets: $27. Visit www.spokanesymphony.org or call 624-1200.