by Ann M. Colford

Winds of change are blowing through the Spokane Symphony this fall as the orchestra begins its 57th season, and its 10th under Music Director Fabio Mechetti. This is Mechetti's final full season, although he will still conduct several concerts in 2003-04. He has programmed the year knowing that his chances to work with the orchestra are now limited.

"Things that I've always wanted to do and haven't had the opportunity to do before, I'm forcing the issue this year and doing it no matter what," Mechetti acknowledges. Works like Mahler's Symphony No. 6, scheduled for Oct. 11, and The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz, planned for April, are among those "must-do" pieces, he says. "And also I wanted to bring back certain guest soloists, friends who I really respect and who've had an impact here, some of whom have become favorites here."

One of those returning friends is Mechetti's fellow Brazilian, pianist Arnaldo Cohen, who will be the guest artist Friday night for the season opener. Cohen, who now makes his home in Europe, will play Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2. Recent reviewers of his performances in Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta have complimented Cohen's energetic yet delicate touch. The Variations on America by Charles Ives (arranged for orchestra by William Schuman) and the Symphony No. 9 by Shostakovich round out the opening program.

Later guest artists in the season include Benedetto Lupo, piano; Gustav Rivinius, cello; Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; and virtuoso solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie. "So we have a lot of great artists and a very challenging and varied repertoire to go along with it," Mechetti confirms.

In addition to the Classics series at the Opera House,

the orchestra continues its successful Met series and its crowd-

pleasing Super Pops (which begins with the Kingston Trio on Sept. 28, and includes Club Swing, a Big Band extravaganza, and Broadway superstar Craig Schulman). The symphony is also expanding the wildly popular Chamber Soiree series.

"In the Met series, we're going to feature a different musical form for each concert," Mechetti explains. Programs exploring the Concerto, the Symphony and the Opera will help expand knowledge of each form while demonstrating how the forms have evolved over time. "The Met series is meant not only to attract people who might not normally go to a symphony concert, but even for subscribers and long-time patrons there's always something new to learn. And the intimacy of the Met allows us to be more informal."

This year, the Chamber Soiree series is moving to a larger space in the newly refurbished Davenport Hotel, and an extra performance of each program has been added. "That will be a beautiful venue for the concert and will add another dimension to enjoying chamber music," Mechetti says. The first Chamber Soirees are planned for Oct. 16-17.

After he completes this season, Mechetti will conduct the season opener next year, then won't return until around February. Finalists for the Music Director position will each come in and conduct a Classics concert to help determine the fit between orchestra and candidate. After the selection has been made, Mechetti will return to complete the rest of the schedule, wrapping up in May 2004. And after that?

"Because I've had two orchestras forever, I haven't had openings in my season for guest conducting," he says. "It's one of the things I've been missing. Especially now, I'm reaching the point in my career that I cannot really pass up the opportunity to guest conduct more. So that, basically, will be my goal over the next few years. That, and working to improve the orchestra in Jacksonville."

Looking back over the past decade, Mechetti judges his perfor-

mance primarily by the concerts that he and the orchestra have

played. "The peripheral things about how we're now much more identifiable in the community, and our educational programs have expanded -- that's all good, but I think the measure of success is the concerts you've conducted."

He's proud of the orchestra's first CD, recorded for the 50th anniversary in 1995, and recalls one concert a couple of years ago, with a difficult program consisting entirely of Russian dance pieces. "The orchestra really played very well, which didn't surprise me, because I know that they're capable," he says. "But when you see that the challenge is high and you're actually able to jump a foot higher, it's really very rewarding for the musicians."

The biggest challenge he has faced in his tenure here has been attracting and keeping top-caliber musicians due to the low salaries here in Spokane. Even though he and the orchestra's administration have worked to improve salaries, the pay is still low. "Because of the low pay for the musicians, the biggest frustration has been an inconsistent string section," he says. "Over the past few years, we've had a different string section for each concert, with people moving in and out all the time. It's very difficult to build a unified sound when you have different personnel each week. That's been a difficult challenge that we hope to be able to correct as salaries get better and people start to settle here."

As for this being his last season, Mechetti says he's trying not to think about it much. "It's going to be a difficult moment, because Spokane has meant a lot to me and my wife, not only musically but personally. So we will always have a strong attachment to the community.

"But it's one of those things in life, where you have to understand when it's time to go," he says. "It's been a great experience for me and, hopefully, for the orchestra. I think now of the advancements we've had, our growth artistically, and now with the Fox coming on as the future site of the orchestra, it's great."

Laughing, he adds, "I wish I would be the next conductor."

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