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

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.

Ramona Abbott – Interim Executive DirectorRamona 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.

nirvanaNirvana 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 CoordinatorAkilah 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.

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
Shu-Hsin Ko
Sandra Payton
Krissy Snyder
John Tilley
Kris Turner
Karen Visser
Bill Watts

Open Position – Principal, The Jack & Marybeth Campbell Principal 2nd Violin
Open Position– Assistant Principal
Linnea Arntson
Liza Beshara
Kathy Diaz
Geneva Faulkner
Timothy Freeman
Benjamin Morgan
Cecile Pendleton
Carla Rutschman
Joy Westermann

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

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

Mark Tomko – Principal, The Garland & Cynthia Richmond Principal Bass

Anna Burrell Jull
Faye Hong

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)

Open Position – Principal, The Brian & Marya Griffin Principal Bassoon
Jackson Stewart-DeBelly (assistant principal)

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

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

Phil Heft – Principal
Brian Thomson (assistant principal)
Bob Gray

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

Stephanie Straight – Principal, The Wilma & Bob Bryant Principal Percussion
Scott Davis
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

The WSO presents six concerts per season at the Mount Baker Theatre, plus the occasional family concert and/or ‘pops’ concert.

Auditions for positions in the all-volunteer Whatcom Symphony Orchestra are held before the beginning of each season, in August. A few positions have small stipends.

Regular auditions for the 2017–2018 season have already occurred. WSO will be holding a second round of auditions for the season on Saturday, Oct. 7th, 2017 at Western Washington University PAC Room 16. Please see the audition flyer HERE.

If you are interested in being considered as a regular member, sub, or for any of our open positions, you must contact our Operations Manager, Nirvana Guernsey, at operations@whatcomsymphony.com or leave a message for her at the WSO office: 360-255-5181 to schedule an audition time. Resumes are required on all principal auditions.

Audition Materials

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

In many of the instruments below, a solo of your choice is part of the requirement. Please plan to bring 6 copies of your solo piece to your audition. Resume’s are a requirement for anyone auditioning for an open Principal Position.