SPOKANE, Wash. — For the last 15 years, Eckart Preu stood as the familiar face in front of the Spokane Symphony. Behind the scenes, the conductor also runs the show as music director.
This Sunday's concert will be his last in Spokane.
Preu said while many of us might see a conductor's job as a series of motions, he will tell you it's really about emotion.
"You know the connection between the conductor and the musicians is a mystery. Nobody really can explain. That's why we use words like chemistry," said Preu.
Preu cooked up a unique chemistry with the Spokane Symphony, starting with his first concert back in 2004.
"It was a very celebratory feel," he said. "And it was like, yes, this is my new family and they welcome me and I feel like I'm home even though I just arrived."
Preu is a long way from his childhood home. He was born in East Germany and attended the celebrated Dresden Boys' Choir.
"That's kind of where I learned conducting and where I kind of caught the bug," he said.
The bug brought him to the United States as winner of a National Conducting Competition and ultimately to Spokane where you could say he was bitten by the love bug too. Spokane is where he met his wife, Neeley. The couple now has two young daughters.
"I love Spokane. And my family loves Spokane," Preu said.
He's moving on from the Spokane Symphony and starting a new job in Portland, Maine while continuing as music director with the Long Beach Symphony too. But his family will remain firmly rooted right here.
"Even though I have orchestras on the east coast and the west coast we will remain here in Spokane because it's the perfect place to live, so why move," he said.
Preu says the Spokane Symphony's move into the Art Deco Fox Theater in 2007 was transformative. First, though, the Fox had to be transformed in a big way.
Preu recalled, "They had to take the wall about above here and it was all gooey and dark and there were all these layers of dirt and people used to smoke in here of course, you know it was in the 30s."
During restoration, they unearthed a kind of stateliness here that had long been concealed.
"They scratched at the walls and they found all those designs in here and thought oh that's pretty cool, we didn't know that existed," he recalled. "And I think it has exceeded all expectations."
The musicians that fill the hall have exceeded expectations too, and now Preu says it's simply time to affectionately step back as music director and allow another to grow this symphony in their own way.
"My gardening job is done," he said. "You have a garden and you water it and you do this and you improve this a little bit and you watch out there's no weed there, you know. And everything is beautiful and you say, okay, this is my garden now you take it over. And then the new gardener is going to come in and do different things."
It's clear this conductor has a fondness for the Spokane Symphony that will endure. So when the final note he conducts before this symphony fades this Sunday, one can only speculate which emotions will roll forth.
"I don't think I'm going to cry. I'm not a crier necessarily, I'm too German for that! But I think it's going to be a very satisfying feeling to have accomplished something and to be at the end of a journey."