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Test-Driving the Fox 

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he acoustics at the Fox will change the way audiences listen and musicians play -- and Musical Director Eckart Preu, still unsure of the results, is thoroughly enjoying the experimental break-in stage.





"We have to reconfigure a lot. We are learning where are the hot spots onstage, who's on what kind of riser and where -- the basses farther back, horns to the side, timpani to the side or middle? Percussion needs to come out farther from the wall.





"We don't know our hall well yet. One major problem -- or opportunity -- is that the hall feeds back: You don't have to push or press it so much. We have a multitude of colors that we didn't have before -- the dynamic range is greater."





Preu reports that at last week's opening gala, when the musicians heard that first round of applause, "We almost fell off our chairs because it was so loud. People looked around and said, 'This hall is alive.'"





It's alive to the softest, quietest sounds: "everything below mezzo," Preu says, grinning and savoring the prospect of soloist Cecile Licad performing Fr & eacute;d & eacute;ric Chopin's second piano concerto (1830) this weekend. "I've been waiting for four years to play Chopin" with this orchestra, Preu says. Chopin's music requires "a lot of transparency -- it's highly delicate. At the Opera House, that's difficult to do, but the Fox will be phenomenal," with its improved lower-range acoustics.





It's the kind of hall necessary for truly hearing Chopin's ornamented style.





"When you play lightly, you just fly over the keys, and the sound goes away quickly too," says Preu, spreading his fingers. Chopin "doesn't operate with the big chords that much." The fingers pound a tabletop, then lightly tickle the surface. "The second movement is beautiful but very difficult to do. He gives you all these little grace notes -- and not just two or three of them, but 12 or 16."





The contrast between the pianissimo effects of Chopin's delicacy and the famous pounding fortissimo chords of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is intended to show off what the Fox can handle. "From [the opening] single bassoon to all hell breaking loose -- and everything in between," Preu remarks. "There's so much color with The Rite of Spring. We remember the wild things -- that's only natural," he says. But achieving soft-to-loud contrasts "can be more intriguing than everybody just hammering their brains out."





As for Mozart's overture to The Magic Flute, it's first on the program this weekend because it's some of the greatest music ever written, says Preu. Clearly, he enjoys playing with expensive toys -- $50,000 cars, $31 million orchestra halls, they have similar effects on him.





"Every day since I bought my Beemer, I have enjoyed [driving] it," he says, grinning. "Well, I hope that three years from now, people will still be walking into the Fox, looking around, and saying, 'This is a great hall.'"





Eckart Preu is taking the Fox on a little test drive. He's got room for 1,600, and he's about to floor it.





The Spokane Symphony will perform music of Mozart, Chopin and Stravinsky at the Fox on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 8 pm and on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 pm. Tickets: $17-$37. Visit www.spokanesymphony.org or call 624-1200 or 325-SEAT.

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