About Us

Orchestra History

Whatcom Symphony – Four Decades of Excellence

Over the past four decades, the Whatcom Symphony has grown into a nationally-recognized orchestra, attracting acclaim from audiences, critics and artists.

Revered pianist Garrick Ohlsson exclaimed that he had “rarely worked with a community orchestra that played with such enthusiasm and commitment.” Famed violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg marveled at the orchestra’s “ability to adjust quickly to anything and everything happening musically”.

The Whatcom Symphony was founded in 1975, when local music mavens Claire Vg Thomas and Ethel Crook brought together a small group of area musicians to prepare a concert celebrating the Bicentennial. Joanne Donnellan, one of those founding members, recalls that “We were intent on coming together to put on a good concert. But we enjoyed the experience and camaraderie so much, we decided to continue on!”

With enthusiastic community support, the Orchestra continued to perform, first as the Whatcom Community Orchestra (under the baton of Frank Nielsen), and eventually as the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra with Nicholas Bussard conducting.

In 1991, the WSO began performing in the historic Mount Baker Theatre in downtown Bellingham. “Oh, when we moved into the Theatre, everything really changed,” said violinist Jane Lund. “After years of wandering from auditorium to auditorium, we finally had our very own home!”

In 1993, WWU professor Roger Briggs was named Associate Conductor, and later, Artistic Director upon the retirement of Mr. Bussard. During Maestro Briggs’ tenure, the Orchestra grew in size and stature, attracting world-class guest artists and winning national awards. Maestro Briggs stepped down in June 2012. During the 2012–2013 season, four remarkable guest conductors “auditioned” with the orchestra, and subsequently the WSO Board announced its appointment of Maestro Yaniv Attar, who first stepped up to the podium for the 2013–2014 season.

Today, the WSO is comprised of over 80 volunteer musicians, including local music teachers, active and retired professional musicians, and talented community members from all backgrounds. The orchestra performs six concerts annually at the Mount Baker Theatre, as well as providing many educational programs throughout Whatcom County.

Our Board, Staff, Musicians & Supporters

A native of Israel, Yaniv Attar is the 1st prize winner of the Duna Szimfonikus Conducting Competition Budapest, and the recipient of the 2010/2012 & 2014 Georg Solti Foundation US Award  and the 2009 Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation Award. Attar is the Music Director of the Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra, and Music Director of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra in Bellingham. Highlights of past seasons included collaborations with artists such as Alesio Bax, James Ehnes, Tine Thing Helseth, Sharon Isbin, Alex Klein, Jennifer Koh, Johannes Moser and Gil Shaham. Attar was also one of 10 conductors from around the world who were  invited to  INTERACTION, and conducted an orchestra composed of all of Germany’s top orchestras, including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Konzerthaus Orchestra, German Symphony Orchestra, and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin. Prior to his current music directorships, Attar completed his two years residency as the Assistant Conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, where he conducted nearly 100 performances, and worked extensively with Maestro Justin Brown.

Drawn to orchestral conducting from early age, Attar has studied with Israel Edelson in Jerusalem, Virginia Allen at the Juilliard School in New York and Neil Thomson at the Royal College of Music in London, where he was also the Associate Conductor and co-founder of the Tempus Chamber Orchestra. In 2008, Attar earned his Doctor of Music degree from McGill University where he studied under the tutelage of Alexis Hauser. Attar also studied with Kurt Masur, Leonard Slatkin, Janos Fürst, Jorma Panula, Gustav Meier, Johannes Schlaefli, Peter Gülke, Neil Varon, Carl St. Clair, David Effron, Donald Thulean and Michael Jurowski.  Attar has worked with the Cincinnati Symphony, Duna Szimfonikus Budapest, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Haifa Symphony, Hamburg Symphony, Israel Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali Milan, Jerusalem Symphony, Lithuanian State Symphony, London Solists Chamber Orchestra, Memphis Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, Mihail Jora Philharmonic Romania, National Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Rochester Philharmonic , Russe Philharmonic Bulgaria, Salzburg Chamber Soloists, and Virginia Symphony.

Attar is also an accomplished classical guitarist.  He has studied under Irit Even-Tov, Charles Ramirez and Sharon Isbin, for whom he served as teaching assistant at the Aspen Music Festival from 2003 to 2005. Attar was the first guitarist to win the Aviv Competition Prize in Israel and the Concerto Competition at the Juilliard School. Attar plays a 2014 Dake Traphagen Guitar. His studies have been generously supported by the America and Canada Israel Cultural Foundations, The Williamson Foundation for Music, Ronen Foundation, The Olga Forrai Foundation New York, the Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation, AVI Fellowships Switzerland, the Rislov Foundation, and the ISEF Foundation.

He assumed the role of Music Director for the Whatcom Symphony in July 2013. More information can be found on the Maestro’s website, www.YanivAttar.com

Takuya Nishiwaki

The 2017-18 season marks Takuya’s third season as Assistant Conductor of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. He has previously conducted the orchestra in both the Holiday and Family concerts.

His conducting experience has been with a variety of orchestras both in the United States and Japan ranging from community and youth orchestras to professional ensembles such as the Hartford Symphony. He was also invited to conduct the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in a public concert as a part of a masterclass.

Most recently, Takuya has taught a music class at Western Washington University’s Academy for Life Long Learning. As a scholar, ha has contributed a review of the new edition of Bruckner’s First Symphony to Nineteenth Century Music Review (Cambridge University Press).

He also served as an adjunct instructor at the Tokyo College of Music where he taught conducting students. While in Tokyo, he was active as a clinician and as a guest conductor for several community symphonies and wind orchestras.

Takuya completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Orchestral Conducting under the guidance of Professor James Ross at the University of Maryland School of Music, where he was the Music Director of the University of Maryland Repertoire Orchestra. Because of his passion for the music of Anton Bruckner, he focused on two versions of Bruckner’s First Symphony in his doctoral dissertation that is now available at www.abruckner.com.

His teachers and mentors have included Edward Cumming and Christopher Zimmerman, among others. Prior to pursuing conducting, he majored in music composition and briefly worked as a video game music composer in Japan.

The Whatcom Symphony Orchestra is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, incorporated in December 1976. The organization is governed by a board of directors representing the community. Board members serve no more than two consecutive terms of three years. The board of directors also has two seats designated for orchestra members: a seat for the sitting president of AWSOM (the Association of Whatcom Symphony Orchestra Musicians), and an orchestra representative elected by the musicians.

Board meetings are held monthly, and are open to the public when arranged in advance. Minutes from each meeting are made available to the musicians of the WSO, and to the public upon request.

Garland Richmond – President
Brian Hansen – Vice President
Nancy Sheng – Secretary
Ken Bronstein – Treasurer
Debbie Adelstein – Past President

Carol Comeau
Charli Daniels
Ryan Dudenbostel
Kathryn Hanowell
Kristi Kilgore
Trisha Norman
Carol Robinson
Patrick Roulet
Cinda Zemel
Cori Holquinn (Orchestra Representative)
Greg Verbarendse (AWSOM President)

Honorary Members
Kelli Linville, Mayor, City of Bellingham
Jack Louws, County Executive, Whatcom County

gail-pic Gail Ridenour – Executive Director

Music has always been a passion for Gail. She holds a Master’s in Oboe Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music where she studied with John Mack. Her background includes nine years of teaching elementary music where she partnered with numerous community and arts organizations to enhance student learning and bring a love of music to the next generation of arts patrons. She grew up participating in community orchestras and has served on the boards, furthering the collaboration between the arts and schools. She currently serves as co-principal oboe and English horn in the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and is an adjunct professor in the Music Education department at Western Washington University. She lives in Bellingham with her family and husband, Kevin Woods, who is Director of Jazz Studies at Western Washington University.

karenbailor_externalrelationsKaren Bailor – External Relations Manager

Prior to relocating to Bellingham, Karen worked for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She holds a Master of Arts in History with a focus on American cultural history as well as a Master of Science in Library and Information Science. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, baking, sewing, and snuggling with her fur-baby, Harvey the Cat. Karen has a deep appreciation for the transcendent and unifying nature of music, and she is thrilled to bring her experience and passion to the WSO.

lauraLaura Reed – Operations Manager

As a violinist in the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and resident of Bellingham, Laura is a dedicated music professional and advocate for community arts. Since earning her Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance from Western Washington University, she has worked with numerous arts organizations around the northwest; mentoring group and private students and volunteers. Laura’s diverse background includes over a decade of teaching, orchestral performance, and event planning experience. Some of Laura’s other interests include: performing traditional irish folk music and improvisational comedy, learning string instrument repair, and going on hikes in the beautiful Bellingham area.

Akilah Williams, Office CoordinatorAkilah Williams – Administrative Coordinator & Bookkeeper

A skilled administrative professional with education and experience in the arts, Akilah strives to create a balance between passion and practicality. She believes that solid planning provides the foundation for creativity to develop, and she is thrilled to be a part of that development here at the WSO. When not at her desk, Akilah can be found performing as an actor/singer on various stages around town.

Grant Donnellan – Principal, The Tucker Family Foundation Concertmaster
Gaye Davis – Assistant Principal, Assistant Concertmaster
Emily Bailey
Laura Barnes
David Bean
Tim Buck
Joanne Donnellan
Irene Fadden
Sandra Payton
Laura Reed
Krissy Snyder
John Tilley
Karen Visser
Bill Watts

Shu-Hsin Ko – Principal, The Jack & Marybeth Campbell Principal 2nd Violin
Emma Simmons– Assistant Principal
Linnea Arntson
Liza Beshara
Kathy Diaz
Geneva Faulkner
Timothy Freeman
Benjamin Morgan
Audrey Negro
Cecile Pendleton
Carla Rutschman
Kris Turner
Tara Kaiala Weaver
Joy Westermann

Morgan Schwab – Principal, The Bruce & Jeannie Cox Principal Viola
Betsy Stuen-Walker – Assistant Principal
Kacey Bradt
Joanne Dudley
Becky Elmendorf
Celeste Larson
Natalie Louia
Valerie McWhorter
Michael Neville
Antti Niemisto
Jim Quist
Yuko Watanabe

Nick Strobel – Principal, The Wilma & Bob Bryant Principal Cello
Talitha Jones – Assistant Principal
Franz Allendorfer
Noel Evans
Cori Holquinn
Kyle Matson
Celia Obrecht
Mary Passmore
Bette Ann Schwede
Daniel Watterson

Mark Tomko – Principal, The Garland & Cynthia Richmond Principal Bass
Anna Burrell Jull
Faye Hong
Amiko Mantha

Debbie Arthur – The Bob & Lois Nicholl Principal Flute (co-principal)
Nirvana Guernsey (co-principal)
Gena Mikkelsen (co-principal)

Kristen Fairbank – The Irwin & Frances LeCocq Principal Oboe (co-principal)
Ken Bronstein (co-principal)
Gail Ridenour (co-principal)

David Alex – Principal, The Gordon & Rosalie Nast Principal Clarinet
Barry Ulman (assistant principal)
David Kappele

Phillip Thomas – Principal, The Brian & Marya Griffin Principal Bassoon
Terhi Miikki-Broersma (co-principal)
Jackson Stewart-DeBelly (co-principal)
Joshua Zacharias (co-principal)

Brad Bigelow – Principal, The George & Crystal Mills Principal Horn
Jack Champagne
Kristi Kilgore
Greg Verbarendse
Brent Allen

Karolyn Labes – Principal, The Bill & Leslie McRoberts Principal Trumpet
Steve Sperry (assistant principal)
Del Vandekerk

Phil Heft – Principal, Garland Richmond and Richard Stattelman Principal Trombone
Brian Thomson (assistant principal)
Bob Gray

Mark Lindenbaum – Principal, The Marty & Gail Haines Principal Tuba

Stephanie Straight – Principal, The Wilma & Bob Bryant Principal Percussion
Jennifer Longstaff
Kay Reilly
Melanie Sehman

Andrea Rackl – Principal, The Sibyl Sanford Principal Keyboard

Jill Whitman – Principal, The Cinda & Stuart Zemel Principal Harp

Sustaining the Excellence of the WSO:

Music Director: Jack & Marybeth Campbell
Concertmaster: The Tucker Family
Assistant Concertmaster: Marcela Berg & Michael Addison
Second Violin: Debbie & Steve Adelstein
Viola: Byron & Becky Elmendorf
Cello, Percussion: Wilma & Bob Bryant
Bass: Tom Barrett & Kenni Merritt
Flute: Bob & Lois Nicholl
Oboe: Irwin & Frances LeCocq
Clarinet: Gordon & Rosalie Nast
Bassoon: Brian & Marya Griffin
Horn: George and Crystal Mills
Trumpet: Bill & Leslie McRoberts
Trombone: Garland & Cynthia Richmond
Tuba: Marty & Gail Haines
Harp: Cinda & Stuart Zemel
Keyboard: Sibyl Sanford

Please join us in thanking our Sponsors, Contributors, and Supporters!

Orchestra Auditions


Announcing the following openings:

Openings in All String Sections

Assistant Principal Bass

Section Percussion

Co-principal Clarinet

Substitutes for all Sections

Auditions to be held on August 13th and 14th, 2018 at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center (Room 16).

Please email our Operations Manager at operations@whatcomsymphony.com  to receive more information on audition materials and to schedule an audition time.

Deadline for contacting the Operations Manager and scheduling an audition is August 7th, 2018.

The all- volunteer Whatcom Symphony Orchestra presents six concerts each season at the Mount Baker Theatre. The orchestra also performs the occasional family concert and/or pops concert. A few positions in the orchestra receive small stipends. Auditions are held in August, before the beginning of each season. A second set of auditions are held in October. If you are interested in being considered as a regular member, sub, or for any open positions as they become available, please contact our Operations Manager by email at operations@whatcomsymphony.com or by phone at 360-255-5181.

Audition Materials

Click on the link below to download the audition form and instructions:

Audition Form and Instructions

Click on your instrument below to download excerpts. These materials may be updated each season.

If the audition instructions for your instrument indicate that a solo piece is required, please bring 6 copies of your solo piece to your audition. If auditioning for a Principal or Assistant Principal Position, the submission of a resume is also required.