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Meet James Lowe, one of the Spokane Symphony candidates for next music director

Thursday Feb 14, 2019 • Features • The Inlander

By E.J. Iannelli

During the 2018-19 Spokane Symphony season, five candidates to take over for Eckart Preu as music director will lead shows at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. As they do, we'll be asking them a few questions to get to know them a little better.

Next up is James Lowe, chief conductor of the Vaasa City Orchestra in Finland, who will take the baton for this weekend's program, "Classics 6: Passion's Pursuit," which includes works by Zhou Tian, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms.

INLANDER: After all this time, people really need to get over the violin and start showing the viola more love. True or false? And why?

LOWE: The viola has been called many things — some of them printable, many of them less than flattering. Of course I think it's a wonderful instrument and love that it has a more introverted quality than the violin. So whilst as a violist I'd never suggest that people "get over the violin," I think sometimes it's good to appreciate that it's not just those with the loudest voices that are worth listening to.

To engage in a meaningful way with the public, orchestras need to:

a) Find out what on earth led to the vinyl resurgence and copy those steps exactly.

b) Work out a long-term artistic partnership with Taylor Swift. Or the Kardashians.

c) Give away fast food, beer and lottery tickets and at every concert.

d) Start more trending Facebook and Instagram memes.

e) Other: _____

I wish I had a simple answer to that question, as I'd probably be writing this from my private island. I think classical music suffers from an image problem: "it has nothing to do with me," "it's boring and stuck-up," "you have to be expensively educated or have special knowledge to understand it." All that's total codswallop! I think classical music has something to say to everybody and deals with emotions incredibly relevant to our lives today. What can be more moving than sharing a real and living emotion with someone who has trodden the same path long before us? In my experience people are incredibly engaged with this music if we can only get them through the door and into a live performance. How do we do that? I think by a wide range of initiatives that help to show people that this music is for and about them. One of the reasons I'm so interested in your orchestra here in Spokane is that the symphony here engages in exactly this kind of work.

Thought experiment: You're tasked with launching an American Proms. How does it differ from its long-running British counterpart?

Running every day for eight weeks in the summer the BBC Proms has become one of the biggest music festivals in the world and is incredibly popular. If you're happy to stand (or "Prom" short for "Promenade"), you can see some of the world's greatest musicians for about $8 per gig. I think that the popularity is down to two ingredients. The main venue is the Royal Albert Hall, a massive barn of a place that is used for a range of events, from classical and rock concerts to boxing matches, sumo wrestling, motor shows and even circuses. It's been called "the nation's village hall" and as such it feels like an accessible and democratic venue. Secondly listening to music standing up feels totally different. Recently I went to a folk gig in Scotland that was in a theater with everyone sitting down. It all felt a bit weird to me until I realized that this music isn't supposed to be just listened to passively, but is supposed to be a community event. Somehow we're more connected to our fellow listeners and the musicians on stage when we're standing up.

Your guiltiest pleasure?

Hmm, as long as your proclivities lie within the bounds of the law I'm not sure I believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. I love food and wine and could happily spend a lazy afternoon in an English village pub in front of the fire with a pint, a good book and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Guilty for skipping Pilates? No way!

If you weren't involved in music professionally, you'd be doing:

Music but as an amateur. What I'd be making a living from is a somewhat trickier question.

Please give us your "elevator pitch" on why everyone should come see the "Passion's Pursuit" concert.

You'll hear passion in its two most potent forms: The fire, fury and virtuosity of Liszt and the deep, profound expression of Johannes Brahms who, for my money, wrote some of the most expressive emotionally rich music of all time. Not bad for a few bucks. ♦

The Spokane Symphony presents Classics 6: Passion's Pursuit • Sat, Feb 16, at 8 pm and Sun, Feb 17, at 3 pm • $19-$60 • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • spokanesymphony.org • 624-1200

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