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 became the resident orchestra of 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 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 seven concerts annually at the Mount Baker Theatre, as well as performing a free family concert and 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 newly appointed Music Director of the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra, and Music Director of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra in Bellingham. Highlights of past seasons included collaborations with artists such as Tine Thing Helseth, Sharon Isbin, 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. Most recently, 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 an 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, 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.
Yaniv Attar resides in Bellingham with his wife Meredith and their six-year-old son, Jonah. 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
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.
Debbie Adelstein – President
Garland Richmond – Vice President
Kathryn Hanowell – Secretary
Ken Bronstein – Treasurer
Bruce Cox – Past President
Cori Holquinn (Orchestra Representative)
Tallie Jones (AWSOM President)
Kelli Linville, Mayor, City of Bellingham
Jack Louws, County Executive, Whatcom County
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.
Ramona Abbott – External Relations Manager
With one foot in the arts and the other in business, Ramona enjoys bringing the two together in her work for the WSO. She also teaches a wide variety of managerial and communication topics. In her spare time, she acts, improvises, and creates jewelry and mixed media pieces.
Nirvana Guernsey – Operations Manager
Nirvana Guernsey holds a masters in music degree from Western Washington University, teaches a lesson studio in Bellingham, and performs as co-principal flute and piccolo in the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. She is happy to join the WSO staff during the 16-17 season as Operations Manager. She enjoys working closely with the members of the symphony and the guest artists in this role. Music has been a long-time passion for her, and she also enjoys hiking and swimming, and art projects of all sorts with her family.
Akilah Williams – Office Coordinator
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.
Patty Bean – Bookkeeper
Patty grew up in Massachusetts and made the Northwest her permanent home after graduating from WWU. Patty spent 14 years working as a naturalist for the National Park Service, where she met her husband. They have two sons and the whole family enjoys music, the outdoors and traveling. Her husband David plays in the first violin section for the WSO.
Grant Donnellan – Principal, The Tucker Family Foundation Concertmaster
Gaye Davis – Assistant Principal, Assistant Concertmaster
Amie Smit – Principal, The Jack & Marybeth Campbell Principal 2nd Violin
Ian Aegerter– Assistant Principal
Morgan Schwab – Principal, The Bruce & Jeannie Cox Principal Viola
Betsy Stuen-Walker – Assistant Principal
Nick Strobel – Principal, The Wilma & Bob Bryant Principal Cello
Talitha Jones – Assistant Principal
Bette Ann Schwede
Mark Tomko – Principal, The Garland & Cynthia Richmond Principal Bass
Debbie Arthur – The Bob & Lois Nicholl Principal Flute (co-principal)
Nirvana Guernsey (co-principal)
Gena Mikkelsen (co-principal)
Kristy Gillig – 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)
Kate MacKenzie – Principal, The Brian & Marya Griffin Principal Bassoon
Jackson Stewart-DeBelly (assistant principal)
Brad Bigelow – Principal, The George & Crystal Mills Principal Horn
Karolyn Labes – Principal, The Bill & Leslie McRoberts Principal Trumpet
Steve Sperry (assistant principal)
Phil Heft – Principal
Brian Thomson(assistant principal)
Mark Lindenbaum – Principal, The Marty & Gail Haines Principal Tuba
Stephanie Straight – Principal, The Wilma & Bob Bryant Principal Percussion
Andrea Rackl – Principal, The Sibyl Sanford Principal Keyboard
Music Director: Marcela Berg & Michael Addison
Concertmaster:The Tucker Family
Second Violin: Jack & Marybeth Campbell
Viola: Bruce & Jeannie Cox
Cello, Percussion: Wilma & Bob Bryant
Bass: Garland & Cynthia Richmond
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
Tuba: Marty & Gail Haines
Keyboard: Sibyl Sanford