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Symphony chooses churches as venues for two baroque concerts in December

Eckart Preu plans two series of baroque concerts.

Photo courtesy of the Spokane Symphony

In early December and again in March, Spokane Symphony musical director and conductor Eckart Preu will present baroque music in its intended setting—churches.

A “big fan” of baroque music, he said he chose churches for the concerts instead of the symphony’s home at Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, because they offer a smaller, more intimate setting than a concert hall, with acoustics appropriate to that musical genre.

Thirty-six of the symphony’s 70 musicians will perform “A Festive Baroque Christmas” at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9, at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ, 411 S. Washington, and at 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10, at Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene, 15515 E. 20th Ave.

The repertoire will include sacred as well as non-sacred baroque music. The baroque period from 1600 to 1750 after the Renaissance includes such composers as Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and Corelli.

“We are going not only for intimacy, but also for outgoing, shiny, brilliant, joyful music,” he said.

The concerts will be filled with nostalgic Christmas music, trumpets, harpsichord, violin solos by Concertmaster Mateusez Wolski and Principal Second Violinist Amanda Howard-Phillips, and Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music.

“In early times, the church was one of the big employers of musicians like Mozart and Bach. Churches and aristocrats were the employers of baroque musicians. There was much music composed for churches in the baroque or classical styles, such as requiems, masses and cantatas,” he said.

For Eckart, music meets an inner need like food.

He grew up with music in a town near Dresden, then in East Germany. He was singing and playing piano at the age of four. At 10, he began singing in the Dresden Boys Choir, Dresdener Kreuzchor, becoming a soloist, rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor.

He earned a master’s degree in conducting from the Hochschule für Musik in Weimar, and also studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris in France.

As winner of the National Conducting Competition of the German Academic Exchange Service, Eckart came to the U.S. in 1996 for graduate studies at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.

To Eckart, music is more than something he does just for himself. Because he performs music professionally, he shares his passion for it with others.

While performing symphonies is an art form, it is not like writing or painting that produce art to be read or seen later.

Music is performed and the response is immediate in the energy and applause of the audience. Performing artists face the audience.  There is no time separation between creating it and performing it.  It’s right there. There’s risk in performing, but there is also spontaneity and immediacy,” Eckart said.

As a result, every time he performs the same piece it is different, based on the different atmosphere of the audience.  Even if he knows a piece well, he said that each time it’s different.

“It never gets old.  There’s always a renewal process, viewing the musical notes differently, so they do not mean the same,” he said.

Eckart likened it to reading Shakespeare.  The letters and words do not change, but how it is read and interpreted every time changes, depending on one’s mood, maturity and age. 

“Music is nonverbal, but similarly, even though the music notes are the same, they mean something different.  The wonderfulness and cursedness of music is how we interpret what it means,” he said.

As Eckart prepares for the December and March baroque concerts, he said variations will result with the 36 musicians, the different instruments used and different interpretations.

“Even if the people in the orchestra are the same, their mood and atmosphere may be different.  I am different.  They are different.  We are professional and we play the same notes, but the performance and flow, the presence and energy are different every time,” Eckart said.

That sets an immediacy to the expression.  The orchestra rehearses and knows the tempo, but every time he adds something to the performance that was not planned, or something born out of the moment, changing the phrases and pace.

That’s why it’s important to be attentive to the conductor.  The orchestra is not just playing notes and rhythm. The musicians are responding to the conductor’s interpretation.

“People can read, but it’s about how they read.  People can cook, but it’s about how a chef cooks the ingredients that makes a difference,” said Eckart who lives in Spokane with his wife, Neeley, and daughters, Sophia and Victoria.

Eckart is in his 14th season as music director and conductor of the Spokane Symphony.  This fall he announced that next season (2018-19) will be his last one in Spokane.

This year, he added a new role as music director with the Long Beach (California) Symphony Orchestra and this summer he started conducting the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.  In addition to his Spokane Symphony duties, he, like many American conductors who are in demand, takes on several part-time conducting jobs.

 “Spokane is my American home,” said Eckart, whose wife is from Spokane, “but I need to follow opportunities, as I will do after the 2018-19 season.  We will return to Spokane to visit family and friends.”

Eckart said one of his goals during his tenure has been to improve the Spokane Symphony, and he’s pleased with the quality of the orchestra and its musicians. 

“I’ve introduced new music and the idea that music can be fun to attract new audiences,” he said.

“Opening the Fox was a big deal. It has community connections, support and recognition as a major part of the community, even beyond people who come to performances,” he said.  “It brings a civic pride.

“We go outside the Fox and into the community and churches to broaden the influence of the orchestra, to create new access points,” Eckart said.

Going into churches for the baroque concerts makes the concerts meaningful to people of faith, as well as people without religious affiliations. Symphony collaborations with churches are a possibility for the future, too.  This is a pilot year for the baroque concerts.  If response is strong, they will continue.

On Saturday, March 17, and Sunday, March 18, Eckart will again perform baroque concerts at the same churches, with concerts titled, “Venice, The Magical City.”

For information on tickets for single concerts or the two-concert series, call 624-1200 or visit 

Copyright © December 2017 - The Fig Tree