25 Years of Mozart at Manito – Mozart on a Summer’s Eve
It was a grassroots effort on the part of a small group of music lovers who, 25 years ago, created what has become one of Spokane’s fabulous summer celebrations - Mozart on a Summer’s Eve.
Charlotte Lamp was on the Connoisseur Concerts Board when she, Susan Kennedy and Francie Kozinski, wife of Connoisseur Concerts Artistic Director Stefan Kozinski, were talking about there being no summer event since a change in state law eliminated the Connoisseur Concert’s annual wine auction.
“Someone said, Mozart in Manito and that sounded like such a good idea. Francie talked to Stefan about our idea,” said Charlotte as she shared her remembrances. Stefan, who died last year, must have carried the idea to Verne Windham, a well-known horn player with a reputation for loving to play music with his friends.
“I looked for any excuse to play music with my friends,” remembered Verne who organized the first wind band and has continued for the last 25 years. He said a wind octet was natural since it doubled the four wind instruments. The original octet included Verne and horn player Roger Logan who has played all 25 years, bassoonists Barbara Novak and Glenn West, clarinetists Anthony Taylor and John Fritz and oboists Barbara Cantlon and Susan Laney.
While Verne was selecting the music and organizing the musicians, Charlotte and Francie decided this should be a party, with refreshments of course. Charlotte made 150 cream puffs for all the ticket buyers.
They arranged to borrow tables and chairs. Charlotte “hoodwinked” her son and some 8th grade students from All Saints School where she taught to serve as waiters. “They dressed up in white shirts and did a great job making this a very special event,” she said.
That first year the event was held for the Connoisseur Concerts board members, their family and friends. They must have had a large number of friends since about 150 people attended the event with music by Mozart and cream puffs baked in the Lamp kitchen. The first concert was July 17, 1990.
According to an article by Travis Rivers in the Spokesman-Review Spokane Chronicle in 1992, the response was so great, the board decided to invite the public.
The Duncan Garden fountain was the location for the stage during the first few years. The patterns of flower beds were still on the sketchpad of a park gardener so the grass around the fountain made a great location for the midsummer musical experience.
Verne created a stage that wrapped around the fountain, which of course was turned off for the concert preparations. The back legs were placed in the fountain and the front legs on the grass.
“That worked pretty well until we added the Spokane Children’s Chorus. The weight of the additional bodies on the stage caused it to start sinking into the grass as the kids were singing,” Verne remembers. “The intrepid wind band finished the concert on a stage badly listing to the right, and the musicians suffered sore backs from trying to sit upright in their chairs,” recalls Gertrude Harvey, Executive Director. “The young singers jumped clear of the failing stage, and the show went on.”
The first year, the music was all instrumental and Stefan wrote a narration for the Mozart opera, “Cosi fan tutte” whose Overture is also on the 2015 program. After that first year, singers were added, much to the delight of the audience. Both Verne and Charlotte remember Frank Hernandez singing and wandering through the audience popping grapes into his mouth as he sang.
When the Duncan Gardens flowerbeds were expanded, the concert moved to its present site, the lawn East of the fountain in an area we call the Mozart Meadow. A beautiful and sturdy garden-arbor sound shell and stage were built with the help of a generous underwriter. Strings have been added to the music program. Audience appeal has steadily grown. A second performance has been added. The next stage of growth is being thoughtfully considered.
As the 25th Anniversary Year is celebrated, it is fun to look back. Volunteers still are an important part of the production, even as Mozart on a Summer’s Eve has evolved into a professionally-produced event. At the heart of Mozart on a Summer’s Eve, as the event looks ahead to the next chapters, the original idea of celebrating the beauty of music, nature, friendships and community in Spokane’s beautiful Manito Park remains primary.