Spokane Symphony stays virtual despite Phase 3 openings

SPOKANE, Wash. — Many of the hardest hit industries of the pandemic are starting to come back, including live entertainment. The Spokane Symphony hasn’t hosted a live event in a year now, but under Phase 3 that could change.

For Executive Director of the Spokane Symphony Jeff Vom Saal, there is not going back to the way things used to be a year ago. He says you can only look forward. Last year they budgeted about $500,000 a month to spend, after the closures, they had to get that number down 95%.

Music Director James Lowe can remember exactly where he was when the pandemic became real to him. He was in Finland conducting an orchestra when it hit.

“The news came on first thing in the morning for me that said people from Europe were not going to be able to enter the United States, and I was supposed to be coming back in three weeks after that, and I thought ‘Ha ha, this is now a real problem,'” said Lowe.

During his time in Europe he was able to gain different perspectives on how the rest of the world responded to the virus. The differences between even England and Scotland were apparent.

“Scotland has been far more medically conservative about this, so the lockdowns were sooner and longer and slightly harder,” said Lowe.

Back home in Spokane, it was a year ago last week that Vom Sall and the rest of the staff were working to develop a response.

“‘This is more than a bad cold going around here, this is a real thing,'” recalled Vom Sall.

The response was simply to shut down, but a rest turned into an extended pause.

Currently, the Symphony is recording digital concerts as a way to present entertainment to their patrons. While donations are still coming in generously, the earned income is way down, largely due to the fact the Symphony owns the Fox Theater, which has now gone a year without selling tickets.

“Perhaps COVID does offer us opportunities to try different ways of doing things that are of huge benefit to the consumer and to the organization,” said Lowe.

The state will move into phase three later this month which will allow up to 50% capacity in indoor venues. Vom Saal says they would like to welcome people back into the theater, but they need to work though some of the challenges that come with that.