By Leslie Kelly
It’s a true testament to the local community.
That’s how Maestro Alan Futterman sums up the 70th anniversary of the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra and Association.
“The fact that this community has supported the symphony for so long says it all,” Futterman said. “This anniversary is so meaningful especially because it comes at a time when many orchestras are failing.”
The season-long celebration will kick off Saturday with the “Salute to Music” concert at 7:30 p.m. in the Bremerton High School Performing Arts Center. Six concerts are planned for the 2012-13 season, each with a different theme, but all to honor 70 years of symphonic music.
The symphony orchestra had very humble beginnings, Futterman said. It was during the World War II-era and President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Americans to make music a part of the campaign to support the war efforts. A small group of local musicians answered the call and gave an impromptu concert on Memorial Day 1942. The group grew and by fall became the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra. Their first formal concert was Oct. 11, 1942.
Today it operates under the Bremerton Symphony Association and includes the orchestra, the concert chorale, and the youth orchestra. The Symphonic League is the volunteer arm that raises funds for the association, and there are educational programs as well.
It’s not just an orchestra, it’s a family
What makes the Bremerton Symphony Association so great is its community focus, said Tom Cameron, president of the association’s board of directors.
“Very few members of the orchestra and the chorale make their living off music,” he said. “Most of them are extremely good musicians who, for whatever reason, made the decision to do something else for a living. We have members who are lawyers, doctors, teachers, business managers, postal clerks and public employees. But they love music and make it a part of their lives by being a part of this association.”
The symphony has about 65 members, and the chorale numbers about the same. Each member has to perform in a tryout in front of the conductor, the assistant conductor and section leaders. They have to know how to read music comfortably and be able to learn to play or sing pieces within a short period of time.
And belonging to the orchestra or the chorale means practicing.
“Most orchestra members give 20 to 22 hours of rehearsal time in the three to four weeks before each concert. Chorale performers practice up to four hours a week throughout the entire season,” said Cameron, who sings second tenor in the chorale.
“What I love about it is the rigor of the work. We’re not a singing society. We are people who are interested in working with other people who want to hone in on their craft and do artistic performances.
“It’s much like the reason why anybody volunteers for any group. They are willing to do the work to make it work.”
Some of the orchestra members do teach music or perform to earn a living. Some are “ringers,” Cameron said, a term that means they perform with several orchestras.
“We have a few of those, but we continue to look for people who live in the area and want to perform.”
Those in the orchestra range in age from 17 to 70. Some of the younger members are still students but are so advanced in their musical talent that they are accepted to play with the main orchestra, rather than playing with the youth symphony. The youth symphony has three tiers and includes 100 students who begin at a novice level and move up as they advance their talent.
The focus of all of the groups in the association is to “do it for joy,” Cameron said.
“We do it because we love music,” he said. “It enriches our lives and the lives of others.”
Concert-mistress Blanche Wynne agrees. She’s played violin with the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra off and on for more than 50 years.
“For me it’s just because I love music,” Wynne said. “I’ve played with some orchestras that are considered to be more professional. But there, it’s kind of like a job.
“With this orchestra, it’s different. We are all friends and a core group of us have been together forever. It’s more like family.”
Wynne learned to play from her father, who was a violinist and a founding member of the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra. She started at 15 and slowly moved up as she became better until she was sitting with her father who was the principal violinist.
She’s played with orchestras in Tacoma, Spokane, Glendale, Calif., and Alaska. But she’s got a warm spot in her heart for this orchestra.
“As long as I can play, I will,” Wynne said. “And when the day comes that I can’t play anymore, I’ll be in the audience watching.”
Typically, 600 to 850 patrons attend its performances. Concerts are at the Bremerton High School Performing Arts Center, which seats up to 1,100 people.
“It’s the only place large enough for us on the peninsula,” he said. “There are plans out there for a concert hall to be built in Silverdale, and if one is built, we would be interested. People wish for a more dynamic sound, but the high school has a really good sound.”
In fact, he said, at a previous concert, the orchestra shell had to be removed to create more space, and still the sound was “remarkably good.”
“You’ll be delightfully surprised”
Bringing new audiences in to enjoy the symphony is part of what the 70th anniversary celebration is about, Cameron said.
“Anyone is welcome,” he said. “For those who haven’t attended, I’d tell them to come to the pre-concert chat that Alan (Futterman) gives. He gives a really down-to-earth, witty review of what the music is doing. It makes the concerts that much more enjoyable. Come with an open spirit and just see if you like it.”
For the more sophisticated listener who hasn’t come to hear the Bremerton Symphony before, Cameron said there’ll be no disappointment.
“For people like myself who are used to hearing symphony performances in larger cities like Seattle, give Bremerton a try. I predict you will be delightfully surprised.”
The Bremerton Symphony Orchestra has a history of having and keeping good conductors. Futterman came to Bremerton’s orchestra in mid-season 2009. “Alan is a musician to his bones,” Cameron said. “He is one of the least ego-driven conductors I’ve seen. He’s a great teacher and he’s a great leader and he knows when to do each, at just the right moment. It’s never about him. It’s always about the music.”
Futterman, a Seattle native, conducted in Dover, Del., guest conducted in Europe, and conducted for the Peninsula Ballet.
He was a technical adviser for the television show “Northern Exposure,” teaching actors how to pronounce their lines and speak Latin. He even wrote lines for the show.
He has been a guest conductor for the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bellevue Youth Orchestra. He also founded the Academy Chamber Orchestra, which has the top 30 young symphony musicians in the area — some of whom play with the Bremerton Symphony Orchestra when called upon.
He considers the Bremerton job among his favorites.
“It’s a unique group,” Futterman said. “It has the best sense of community of any orchestra I’ve been with. It is really a community orchestra. Its members are excellent musicians, but do something else for their day jobs. That makes for more of a tie-in with the community.”
In fact, Futterman said, one member who played cello was a commander of a Navy submarine.
“He called me and said he’d be late to rehearsal,” Futterman said. “I said ‘How late?’ He said, ‘Three weeks. I’m under the Bering Sea.”
Here is the concert schedule for the 70th anniversary season:
— Oct. 13: “Salute to Music,” to honor the men and women who serve in the U.S. military around the world. Futterman plans a “Bugle Call Sweepstakes,” he said. The orchestra will perform Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto #2 and Schumann’s Symphony #4. Special guest pianist: Marina Lashkul.
— Nov. 17: “Music of the Masonic Masters,” including Sibelius’ Finlandia; Mozart’s Horn Concerto #4 with soloist Jeff Snedeker; Sullivan’s selections from “Yeoman of the Guard” with Concert Chorale; and Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite.
— Dec. 8: “Holiday Traditions,” celebrating the season with the best of the Bremerton Symphony’s tradition of Handel’s Messiah, with the Bremerton Symphony Concert Chorale.
— March 16, 2013: “Nordic Voices,” with Mahler’s Symphony #4, 1st Movement, Finale; Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Chorus, solo soprano with Concert Chorale; Strauss’ Four Last Songs. Special guest: Rebekah Kenote, soprano.
— April 13, 2013, and matinee on April 14, 2013: “Second Sacred Concert” at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, with Barber’s Agnus Dei; and Mozart’s Requiem, with the Symphony Concert Chorale and Anna’s Bay Chorale.
— May 11, 2013: “That 70 Show,” with Haydn’s Symphony #70; Saint-Saens’ Op 70 Allegro Appassionato with Concerto Competition winner; Bach’s Cantata #70 with Concert Chorale; Dvorak’s Symphony #7 Opus 70, Scherzo and Finale; and Mozart’s A Berenice, Opus 70, with soloist Yoshiko Yamamoto, soprano.
All concerts are in the Bremerton Performing Arts Center, 1500 13th St., Bremerton, unless noted. Saturday concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee starts at 2 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the pre-concert chats by Maestro Alan Futterman. Tickets are available for purchase at (360) 373-1722 and at the door and range from $24 for adult to $8 for youth.
For more information, check www.bremertonsymphony.wordpress.com.