Symphony opens season feeling patriotic

October 22, 2008

By Staff

For its 16th opening, the musicians of the Sammamish Symphony Orchestra are tuning their strings to the chords of American composers for the seasonal commencement, entitled Red, White and Rhapsody in Blue.

“This is going to be an all-American ensemble,” said R. Joseph Scott, music director and conductor for the orchestra. “We chose pieces that are very popular and that people can easily identify with.”

The concert will feature a compilation of four different musical pieces, all by American composers. The first, “Fanfair For the Common Man,” composed by Aaron Copland, will be performed by the orchestra’s brass section. The second will be William Schumann’s “New England Triptych” — a small suite of three movements adapted from the original war hymns written by William Billings, an 18th century American choral composer.

The third will be Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, subtitled “The Romantic,” which uses what Scott refers to as “very lush tunes.” The fourth — and the one the concert is named after — is George Gershwin’s iconic jazz piece, “Rhapsody in Blue,” which will be led by guest musician Kimberly Russ, the resident pianist for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

“I’ve performed this piece before,” Russ said. “The first time was in high school with an orchestra in Orlando, then last summer with the Tacoma Young Artist Orchestra.”

Russ studied piano at the University of Central Florida for her bachelor’s degree before she moved on to get her master’s at Julliard in New York. Afterward, she stayed as a staff pianist and did freelance performances with many musicians — mostly brass players —before her husband, Chris, was hired as the principal tubist for the Seattle Symphony in 2000.

“After the resident pianist at that time retired, I auditioned and got the position in 2002 and have been doing that ever since,” she said.

This is the second time Russ will be a guest musician for the Sammamish Symphony. Her first was a performance in October two years ago; her second was an appearance as a guest judge for the 2006 Youth Concerto Competition.

When asked about her enthusiasm for playing with the Sammamish Symphony again, Russ said, “Everyone in the orchestra is all so positive and friendly. They really enjoy what they’re doing, and it’s really inspiring.”

The Sammamish Symphony Orchestra is a nonprofit organization based on the Sammamish Plateau. It is made up of more than 80 volunteer musicians whose instruments include violins, cellos, flutes, French horns and a piccolo. All the musicians’ time is volunteered, and most have full-time professions outside of the orchestra.

The orchestra gives back to the community in a number of ways, primarily to youth. The symphony hosts an annual Youth Concerto Competition, where young regional musicians are allowed to perform a concerto — a large-scale musical composition. 

Finalists are chosen as well as first-, second- and third-place winners with cash prizes. The second- and third-place winners will be allowed to play a small part of their concerto with the orchestra in an upcoming concert, while the first-place winner gets to perform his or her entire piece with the accompaniment of the symphony.

Benjamin Schock is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.

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