An interview with: Maestro Gary Sheldon with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

The Spokane Symphony has been a staple of the Festival at Sandpoint Grand Finale for decades. This year, in celebration of 20 years conducting the symphony for the Festival, Maestro Gary Sheldon and Festival Executive Director Dyno Wahl cooked up a special performance for the audience. We chatted with Sheldon to hear his thoughts on how the Festival has developed over the years and what we can look forward to in 2018. 

The Spokane Symphony’s grand finale. Courtesy of the Festival at Sandpoint.

Sandpoint Reader: Thanks for talking to us, Gary. First, could you give us an idea of your background as a musician and conductor? 

Gary Sheldon: Well, I’m very fortunate to be returning for my 20th summer at the Festival at Sandpoint. I came in 1999, the same year that Dyno Wahl came in as executive director. We had a great rapport … not to mention a great relationship with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. 

I’m from New York, and I currently conduct the Miami City Ballet during the winter season. I also have another festival in Lancaster, Ohio — the Lancaster Festival — so I’ve been doing that for 30 years. This (Festival at Sandpoint) is extra special, with a very special Grand Finale program as Dyno and I will be celebrating some of our personal favorites and some of the audience’s favorites over the past 20 years. 

In this time when orchestras and festivals around the country are doing their best to simply survive … the Festival at Sandpoint is a wonderful success story. The artistic level is still very high … and financially the board and community have done so much to keep this festival thriving and moving forward. 

SR: I’d imagine it’s been interesting to see the Festival at Sandpoint evolve over the past 20 years. 

GS: It’s been very interesting. I must say one of the programs I’m involved in on the educational side is the May outreach concerts. I come to Bonner and Boundary counties in May … and introduce symphony and classical music to students throughout all the fifth-grade classes in those counties. The Festival’s commitment to musical education continues to grow with awards for young musicians … and I’m very proud to be a part of those educational activities. 

SR: What are some of the elements you’re particularly excited about at this year’s grand finale? 

GS: Dyno and I had a lot of fun recounting our favorite performances from the past. We whittled it down to a handful of them. (We have everything) from Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro to The Birds from my very first program Au Naturelle. Dyno told me to be sure to dedicate a piece of music to the ospreys … so our first nod is to the ospreys who reside at Memorial Field. There’s the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp with Sandpoint native Rhonda Bradetich along with Earecka Moody. The suites from the movies will be lots of fun. (There’s) the theme from “Psycho” as well as the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto, which was the background music for the Marilyn Monroe movie “The Seven-Year Itch.” The Olympic Spirit by John Williams is a wonderful work composed for the Los Angeles Olympics 20 years ago. 

Then there’s something extra special. About 20 years ago we performed Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins with the then-concert master of the Spokane Symphony, Kelly Farris. He performed with a young student of his from Sandpoint named Jason Moody. Jason is now a member of that wonderful orchestra, and he will be joined by a student of his, Glorie Bojilov. Kelly has, in a way, passed the baton to Jason.  

SR: Given the Festival’s commitment to music education, that does have a cool thematic resonance.

GS: I’m glad you picked that up. Thank you for saying that. 

We also have the Meditation from Thais performed by three musicians including Jason Moody who are principal players in the community orchestra that plays the first Sunday night. That orchestra also includes students and music educators — lots of friends from all over the area and some from abroad. 

There’s also Haley Fuque, who performed a number of years ago, and she has gone on to be a professional opera singer. She is absolutely spectacular, and we have her doing one of the works she performed at her first performance, the Vocalise from Rachmaninoff, followed by the famous Gypsy Dance from “Carmen.” 

SR: In closing, is there anything you want to add about what this festival means to you personally?

GS: I’m very lucky to be returning for my 20th season. The relationships I’ve been able to form … have been important to me, and, as I see it, important to the mission of the Festival. Leonard Bernstein once said, “Music is nothing if you can’t share it,” and sharing is what the Festival is all about. 

Drop by the Festival Office or visit to pick up tickets for the Grand Finale featuring the Spokane Symphony. Preceding the concert, the annual “Taste of the Stars” Wine Tasting, now the largest wine event of its kind in the state of Idaho, is complimentary for all concert goers over the age of 21 years. The fireworks finale sponsored by Avista Utilities closes the Festival in spectacular fashion.

Gates open early at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, at Memorial Field for the wine tasting event. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.95 for adults and $10.95 for youth 18 years or younger.

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