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In spite of smoke, Spokane Symphony forges on with Labor Day concert

Tuesday Sep 5, 2017 • Features • Spokesman Review

By Rachel Alexander

In spite of wildfire smoke in the air, a few thousand people turned out for the Spokane Symphony’s annual Labor Day concert in Comstock Park.

The pollution, which was at unhealthy levels for most of Monday afternoon and evening, caused a few hiccups, including a program cut nearly in half to reduce the time people were exposed to the air.

Harpist Earecka Treganza Moody and a few other musicians performed wearing masks, and a handful of performers opted to sit out, executive director Jeff vom Saal said. But by and large, the show went on.

Josh Armstrong said he lives across the street from the park and secured a cluster of blankets near the front for his friends around noon. The adults sipped wine and ate cheese before the concert began.

One member of the group, Kari Neff, was the middle of three generations of her family in attendance. She said her husband opted to stay home to avoid the smoke.

“He’s worried about his health and safety,” she said. That wasn’t enough to bother her.

“I’m getting my carcinogens that I feel like I missed from campfires all summer,” she said, laughing.

Longtime orchestra fan Kelly Strine took the stage about halfway through the concert to conduct Julius Fucik’s “Entrance of the Gladiators,” an upbeat march.

Strine’s grandmother, Joan Degerstrom, won the chance to conduct in a contest, but at age 93, opted to stay at her lake house out of the smoke. Strine stood in her place to honor a family tradition.

“We go to the symphony together. This is our thing,” she said.

She took the stage barefoot, moving her hips in time to the brisk tempo and swaying back and forth during a slower section towards the end of the piece. She’s a classical music fan, but her own experience on stage is from taiko drumming and performing improv comedy.

“I don’t know how he can stand so still!” she said, looking at assistant conductor Jorge Luis Uzcátegui moving his baton rhythmically during the following song, a selection from Star Wars.

The Comstock concert kicks off a busy symphony season of 68 performances, vom Saal said. The goal was to make the show a preview concert, featuring selections from events throughout the year in hopes of getting people to see the symphony perform indoors.

Musical director Eckart Preu took the stage for the second-to-last piece of the night, Bob Lowden’s Armed Forces Salute.

“Someone cut all my pieces!” he said, before adding sheepishly, “That was me, I guess.”

Strine said the symphony’s ability to play with an amateur conducting after just one rehearsal is a testament to their skill.

“They sound so great from the stage,” she said.

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