The Cascade Symphony is one of Edmonds’s best kept secrets. For almost 50 years – 47 to be exact – this north Puget Sound orchestra has presented orchestral concerts to the Edmonds, Shoreline, and Lynwood communities. The orchestra is led by Seattle Symphony veteran Michael Miropolsky. Since starting this blog a number of years ago, I have heard a number of community orchestras. Most of them playing perfectly acceptable concerts even if they are a little rough around the edges. What sets community orchestras apart are intangible factors that aren’t always readily visible.
During my first Cascade Symphony concert I could sense how special the orchestra is to musicians and to the north Puget Sound crowd. There were two notable events. First, the Cascade Symphony’s last concert of the year was ambushed by steady rain. The rain didn’t dissuade the crowd and a steady stream of people made their way into the Edmonds Performing Arts Center. By the time I had arrived, a full thirty minutes before the concert started, most of the floor seating was filled and the only reasonably good seats left were in the balcony. Even the balcony was filling up.
The crowd didn’t just show up, however. This was not a passive audience. They willingly interacted with Miropolsky, whooped after each piece was played, and shouted “bravo” even when the orchestra stumbled. For Grieg’s two “Peer Gynt” Suites, the orchestra played with enthusiasm even though they couldn’t always match the demands embedded in Grieg’s music.
As one former musician told me, “you think you know the score because the melodies are so familiar, but it’s hard to put all of the voices together. The musicians and sections are exposed because of Grieg’s raw orchestration.”
Dimitri Kabalevsky’s suite “The Comedians,” was a highlight of the concert. Kabalevsky’s buoyant music mirrored the spirit of the orchestra. The piece was new to me, and one that I will be looking for on disc.
The featured piece of the second half was Brahms towering Double Concerto for Violin and Cello. The Double Concerto is the closest Brahms ever came to writing a cello concerto. The Cascade Symphony’s own concertmaster, James Garlick, was the violinist and Amos Yang, the San Francisco Symphony’s assistant principal cellist was the cellist. Amos Yang has Washington and Midwest roots. Attending college in Iowa, I remember hearing Yang’s Maia Quartet at the University of Iowa. He taught at both the University of Iowa and Grinnell College.
Both the orchestra and the soloists were overcome with nervous energy at the start of the piece. Garlick struggled to hit some notes, Yang appeared baffled at times, and the orchestra worked as hard as they possibly could to stay on top of piece. Fortunately, the piece came together as the second and third movement unfolded. The orchestra settled down and the soloists were better attuned to each other. The finale, which starts in a minor key and ends triumphantly in A major. Yang and Garlick saved their best playing for the final movement.
Again, an imperfect performance, was met with warm appreciation for the earnest effort expended by the musicians. When musicians give their all, which is exactly what the Cascade Symphony did, the only appropriate thing to do is stand up and applaud.
The other event which helped shape my opinion of the Cascade Symphony was how the orchestra acknowledged the dedication of long-serving musicians. Before the Double Concerto got under way, musicians in the orchestra were honored for their years of service. Celia Mae Scott, a founding member of the Cascade Symphony, was given special treatment. At 93, “Scottie,” as she is known, decided to retire from the orchestra. A glance through the roster of musicians shows many others with similarly long relationships. 38, 19, 35, and 40 years. You don’t stay with a community orchestra for decades unless you enjoy the company of your fellow musicians and feel valued as a musician. This is a quality that the musicians nurture and no doubt acts as persuasive inspiration when the musicians are tackling difficult music or working with esteemed soloists.
The Cascade Symphony reminded me that performances don’t need to be played perfectly in order to be enjoyable. Endless compact discs of music, recorded in sparkling digital sound, can make us forget that live performances have an energy that is made real because of the musicians making the music and the people in the audience. The final concert of the Cascade Symphony’s 2008/2009 season was an enjoyable experience, imbued with the qualities that make live performances memorable – energy, passion, daring, and joy. Qualities shared by the musicians the orchestra’s numerous followers.