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Jubilant Reunion 

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & n Saturday, Wolfgang Mozart -- that brash youngster -- turns 252. And Fabio Mechetti -- the Spokane Symphony's conductor laureate -- makes his debut at the Fox. It's a date doubly worth celebrating.

During his 10 years as music director in Spokane, Mechetti pushed for acquiring a new home for the Symphony. He was involved in the plans for acquiring and renovating the Fox, of course, "but what I really wanted to do," he says, "was experiment with the fruits of all that planning. Coming back now is basically the culmination of that process."

Mechetti praises Spokane's orchestral organization both in terms of business and of artistry. "Even during the campaign to renovate the Fox, when dipping into the pockets of basically the same people was a challenge, the development department did well in maintaining fiscal integrity," he says. Perhaps even better, he recalls 10 years of musicians rising to "rather daunting" challenges -- concerts devoted to demanding works by Russian composers like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, or to massive Mahler symphonies -- and playing "beyond everyone's expectations."

The challenge in Mechetti's two homecoming concerts this weekend, moreover, involves showing off what the renovated Fox can do with works old and new, joyous and somber, thunderous and hushed: the eight-minute roller coaster ride of Paul Richards' "Trip Hammer" (2002), followed by Mozart's Symphony No. 36, "Linz" (full of Enlightenment exuberance) and, from the 1930s, the Fifth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich. The highs of Mozart's scintillating celebration will be set against the Russian composer's stubborn resistance against Stalinist oppression.

Mechetti is straightforward about his program, saying simply, "It is Mozart's anniversary week. Paul Richards is a composer who I have been pushing because of his outstanding work, and the Shostakovich Fifth is a piece that both Eckart [Preu] and I were in agreement about, considering it a great test for the Symphony at its new hall."

Mechetti has been Richards' proponent ever since judging him the winner of a 2002 competition for new composers, held in Florida, where Richards is a professor and Mechetti is music director of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. Mechetti clearly admires Richards' professional polish, saying that "Paul is very talented and, what is somewhat unusual these days, extremely competent in musical matters." In "Trip Hammer," a short motif sets in motion some intricate musical structures that range from soothing to violent; Richards' Florida overture, like the two symphonies to follow, will demonstrate the broad range of what the Fox can do from high notes to low.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & lassical, rational, jubilant; modernist, ironic, gloomy. That's the contrast in the remainder of this weekend's concerts between the Linz symphony (1783) and Shostakovich's orchestral protestations of a century and a half later. Mozart's 36th was written in just five days during a break in the composer's honeymoon, so you know he was full of pent-up, nervous energy. (You can just picture a frustrated Constanze having to send out for more parchment and ink.) After an Adagio introduction (there's that classical restraint), the opening Allegro spirituoso sprints through lively, infectious patterns that point to the optimism of a country dance.

In contrast, says Mechetti, "I don't see much rejoicing at all in the Shostakovich symphony. Everything has a sarcastic and rather ironic quality to it. It is a completely different approach toward emotions than the Linz symphony, which is obviously a really jubilant piece."

Shostakovich's second movement is a grotesque dance, and the third is so bleak that it's as if the orchestra can barely rouse itself to make any sound at all. After the xylophone accentuates some frenzied anxiety, the movement's conclusion resembles the pulsing of a barely beating heart.

Writing in the midst of worldwide Depression and the Stalinist purges, Shostakovich was so sure of official reprisal that he made a habit of sleeping in the foyer just outside his apartment: When the Soviet henchmen came to deport him to Siberia (or worse), he didn't want his family disturbed. Even now, 70 years later, music historians debate the extent to which Shostakovich was complying with or defying his oppressors.

But Mechetti -- predictably but eloquently -- discounts the value of such historical and contextualizing details. The music has to stand on its own, he says: "I believe that any piece of music, programmatic or not, has to speak by itself without any exterior context. If we think otherwise, we should not believe that music is a universal language. Great masterworks are so exactly because, independent from their inner workings, they touch people on many different levels. All these pieces, including the Richards, are pieces that have that quality, even though they are as different from each other as can be. It is our job as performers to bring those emotions to our audiences."

At this point, though, you can sense the maestro's eagerness to get to work in a hall dedicated to orchestral pursuits. The Fox's acoustics should be able to pull off the fortissimos of the Russian composer's ironic "big finish" finale even as it conveys the third movement's quiet sadness. Contrasts like that, says Mechetti, are "probably the main difference between trying to make music at the Opera House [INB Center] and making music now at the Fox. I hope that our audience will agree with that."

And this weekend, in welcoming back Fabio, they probably will.

Conductor Laureate Fabio Mechetti leads the Spokane Symphony Orchestra at the Fox in works by Richards, Mozart and Shostakovich on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 pm and on Sunday, Jan. 27, at 3 pm. Tickets: $19-$41. Visit or call 624-1200 or 325-SEAT.

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