by Ann M. Colford

Quick -- how many ways can you say, "Spokane Symphony?" The orchestra will showcase the diversity of its musical presentations with five concerts in the next 10 days. The first Classics concert of 2002 leads off the musical potpourri with a visit from cellist Wendy Warner on Friday; the Chamber Soiree series at Cameo Catering continues next Wednesday and Thursday. The latest SuperPops concert follows on Saturday, February 2; and, finally, on Sunday, February 3, the Opera House is the scene for a SymFunnies concert for children, focused on the themes of carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations around the world.

While the basic mission of any symphony orchestra is to perform the traditional symphonic repertoire, orchestras in mid-size American markets like Spokane must go beyond the basics and reach out to a broader segment of the community, says Music Director Fabio Mechetti. Over the past decade, the Spokane Symphony has expanded its offerings, adding in the Symphony at the Met and the Chamber Soiree series and bringing in a diverse array of visiting performers for the SuperPops series.

"The Pops and Chamber Soiree concerts broaden our base of support, but there's an educational component as well," Mechetti explains. "Especially with the kids' concerts. It gives kids the chance to listen to a live orchestra."

The newest concert format for the Spokane Symphony is the Chamber Soiree series, hosted at Cameo Catering on West First Avenue. Audience members have the choice of cabaret-style seating at small tables, with wine and hors d'oeuvres, or gallery seating along the walls, sans snacks. The soirees have grown in popularity since their inception, and this year the Symphony added a second night for each soiree program.

"The chamber series is more informal and intimate," Mechetti says. "It's in a smaller, different place, and that gives the audience the chance to get closer to the musicians."

Mechetti thinks Spokane is one of the few places to combine cabaret seating with a chamber music performance. "The cabaret concept is done elsewhere, but it's generally for pops concerts -- the Boston Pops being the most notable example -- or for special concerts. It's not often done for chamber music."

The musicians for the soirees are chosen from the orchestra's core players, and programs often feature the section principal players. The musicians make suggestions for favorite pieces to include in the chamber concerts, so the programming becomes a collaborative effort. "Because the musicians have an interest in playing a certain repertoire, I give them first choice of what to play," Mechetti says. "So, we end up with some newer things alongside the more traditional chamber pieces."

A good example is the program for the upcoming soirees. The compositions span three centuries, and only one selection utilizes the standard violin-viola-cello instrumentation. The concert opens with Trio in c minor by Georg Philipp Telemann, a piece from the 18th century for flute, cello, oboe and harpsichord, followed by Jet Whistle, a piece for flute and cello by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Closing the first half of the program is the Quintet in g minor by Taffanel.

"He's a composer that most people don't know," says Mechetti, "but for woodwind players, he is a very famous name." The quintet is scored for four woodwinds and horn.

The final selection of the evening is Serenade, Opus 10 by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnanyi, whose work spanned the turn of the last century. "This is another piece that was recommended by one of the musicians," Mechetti says. "It's a complex piece. His music is not as modern as Bartok; it's still more of the Romantic period. It's a nationalistic, romantic music based on the folklore of Hungary."

If your musical preference runs toward the bright lights of Broadway, then check out the Bravo Broadway SuperPops concert on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Opera House. The program celebrates the music of Richard Rodgers in this 100th anniversary year of his birth. Fabio Costa leads the Spokane Symphony and Chorale in the tribute, joined by three veterans of Broadway: Christiane Noll, Doug LaBrecque and Ron Raines.

"These performers have done this show with many orchestras," Costa says, adding that the show will bring a little bit of Broadway to the Opera House stage. "It's not only the music, but also acting and telling stories. And it's exciting that the chorale is there, too. That makes it a very diversified show with lots of variety."

The soloists bring a wealth of stage experience to the show. Soprano Christiane Noll starred on Broadway in Jekyll & amp; Hyde and has been a guest soloist in many concerts. Tenor Doug LaBrecque appeared with the Spokane Symphony in May 1999 as a soloist with Bravo Broadway; he has also appeared as The Phantom and Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. Baritone Ron Raines may be recognizable for his role in the daytime series Guiding Light, but the actor is a veteran of the New York theater scene and has also appeared on PBS.

For the young and the young-at-heart, there's the second SymFunnies concert of the season, Carnival Internationale, on Sunday, Feb. 3. Fabio Costa will conduct the orchestra in a musical romp through the cross-cultural pre-Lenten celebrations of carnival and Mardi Gras. Costa has fond memories of carnival in Brazil, and he shares that enthusiasm with the orchestra and the kids.

"Everything stops in Brazil for four days during carnival," says Costa. "It's not only the big carnival in Rio de Janeiro that we see here on television, but there are street carnivals all around the country. It's just a national feast where all differences between classes and races are abolished while it's happening. Carnival is a time we enjoy very much because it is a celebration of joy."

The musical styles range from Cajun to samba, and selections vary from the Jamaican Rumba to the Mexican Hat Dance, complete with dancers from the Academy of Dance. A steel drum ensemble from Rogers High School will join in the fun. "Every show has a few surprises," Costa promises. And he reminds kids and parents about the Fun Fair that begins an hour before the concert. "With all the kids' concerts, we have the Fun Fair where the kids can join in activities and see the instruments up close," he says. "It's especially good if kids are coming to the symphony for the first time."

The string of upcoming shows gets underway this Friday evening when cellist Wendy Warner joins the orchestra. Warner burst onto the musical scene back in 1990 when, at the age of 18, she won First Prize in the Fourth International Rostropovich Competition in Paris and then debuted with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of her mentor, Mstislav Rostropovich. Since her initial success, Warner has appeared with major orchestras around the world, including Dallas, Boston, London and the Moscow Virtuosi. In recent seasons she has toured North America extensively and performed with orchestras from Omaha to Quebec.

For her Spokane appearance, Warner will begin with a Leonard Bernstein composition, Three Meditations from Mass for Cello and Orchestra. After intermission, Warner returns to the stage for the Cello Concerto in a minor by Camille Saint-Saens. The orchestra rounds out the evening's program with The Chairman Dances by John Adams, a work derived from Adams' 1987 opera, Nixon in China, and Franz Liszt's tone poem, Battle of the Huns.

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