When I attended the Mayor's Arts Awards ceremony a few weeks ago, a member of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra told me that the new director for the symphony had just been chosen, and this particular musician was thrilled. Each auditioning candidate, this musician told me, who had directed the symphony for the past season's concert during the selection process, was wonderful.
But the final selection, Yaniv Attar, was the best of all, according to the musician I spoke with.
"He even knew our names when he arrived," said this musician.
Having appeared as guest conductor for the final concert of the WSO's past season, Attar was received with great excitement by the orchestra musicians, audience members and arts community leaders, providing an impressive preview of what is yet to come for the orchestra.
Attar will begin his tenure in the 2013-2014 season.
"We could not be more pleased," WSO board president, Becky Elmendorf, said in a press release.
Attar has studied and conducted in Jerusalem, New York and Montreal, where he earned his doctorate of music at McGill University. Most recently, he served as assistant conductor for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham, conducting nearly 100 masterworks as well as youth concerts. His awards include recognition from the Solti Foundation and the Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation.
An accomplished classical guitarist, Attar attended Juilliard on full scholarship and studied under several world-renowned guitarists, including Sharon Isbin, who performed with him and the WSO in his audition concert. He was the first guitarist to win the Aviv Competition Prize in Israel and the Concerto Competition at the Juilliard School.
The selection came after a 17-month process involving all facets of the orchestra and community. A search committee with representatives from the players, board, staff and community, recruited 120 applicants from around the world, selected four finalists, and brought them to Bellingham to audition during the 2012-2013 concert season.
Each of the finalists collaborated with the orchestra to develop their audition repertoire and spent several weeks rehearsing and performing, showcasing what they could bring to the orchestra and community. After the concerts, the committee drew on the collective experience of the orchestra and audience to recommend a final candidate.
Former Bellingham Mayor Tim Douglas, a community member of the search committee, was gratified by the process and selection of Attar.
"The orchestra rose admirably to the occasion of four different conductors and often-challenging repertoire," Douglas said. "Each concert was a most satisfying experience for the entire audience. The energy invested by orchestra members, exceptional volunteers and support staff during this process underscores why Whatcom County is a great place to live. Yaniv Attar is an excellent fit for our community and will help music gain an even higher profile as a key element in our quality of life."
WSO violinist and search committee member Rosalie Romano has the perspective of the orchestra.
"A year of guest conductors provided an amazing year of growth for WSO," she says. "Many players remarked after each performance that we were playing above the level of the prior performance! We felt ourselves growing as a musical ensemble, listening to one another more sensitively and responding through the music."
She adds, "Attar brought out the best in us from his first downbeat. As Yaniv led the WSO, players kept that measure of excitement throughout the weeks of rehearsal, culminating in the triumphant performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and the 'Rodrigo' concert with Isbin."
Attar had this to contribute, "From the first moment I stepped on the podium, I realized that I was standing in front of a very sensitive and responsive group of musicians. During the process of preparation for the concert, I discovered how much potential for further growth there was in this group.
"I look forward to fruitful work with the orchestra, to keep raising the level and building the sound of the orchestra, and sharing great music with our audiences. In addition, I hope to expand our education activities and further our audience development endeavors. The WSO is a real jewel in Bellingham, and we want to share its gifts with as many people as we can. This is an exciting new era for the WSO, and I am honored to be part of it."
BARBERSHOP SINGING GROUPS TO PERFORM
I do love barbershop harmony! And my favorite chorus, the Mount Baker Toppers, have a couple of concerts coming up.
The Toppers recently took first place in the Evergreen District Division One competition held in Nanaimo, B.C., with choruses competing from northern Washington and British Columbia. They also won most improved chorus; and Whatcom County's Via Voice quartet won first place in the quartet division.
The Toppers join with the Swing Connection big band and the Jay Birds quartet at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at Whatcom Community College's Syre Center; and on May 21 at First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, to benefit Interfaith Coalition's homeless housing program.
Via Voice performs at 7:30 p.m. May 25 at Firehouse Performing Arts Center.
Details: topperschorus.org and Via Voice on Facebook.