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Lorraine Wilde | 09/16/2019 | Attend, Insider Blogs, Live Performances |   

Bellingham Symphony Orchestra Provides Exceptional Classical Music in Bellingham

I’ve been fascinated by classical music ever since I heard my first Mozart as a teen—Eine kleine Nachtmusik. I was blown away by the idea that one person could not only compose a moving piece for more than 20 instruments playing simultaneously, but that the universal language of music could be adored around the world, transcending differences in culture, race and religion with lasting popularity since the 1780s. That’s why I’m thankful to have Bellingham Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in my community. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with BSO Executive Director Gail Ridenour and External Relations Manager Karen Bailor about their programs and the coming season.

BSO offers six or seven major performances each year. But each concert is just one piece of a full-weekend classical music experience. In addition to the main performance, each weekend (except for the BSO Plays Bach and Holiday Magic concerts) includes the option of a pre-performance at-home dinner, the family-friendly dress rehearsal, a pre-concert lecture and a post-concert reception.

Most BSO performances are on the Mainstage at the historic (and luxe) Mount Baker Theatre (MBT). I’ve had the pleasure of writing many articles about the history and shows of this beautifully-restored theater. I love the luxurious mix of design styles: French Baroque, High Gothic, Moroccan, Mediterranean, Spanish Gothic, Hindu, Babylonian, Aztec, Mayan, Orientalist, Italian Renaissance and Egyptian Revival.

Every visit feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience so it is a fitting venue to see a full orchestra in all its power performing lasting classical music treasures. Concert tickets start at just $15. At least half of the concerts sell out the 1500+ seat venue, so reserve your tickets in advance.

BSO continues to try to make classical music accessible by offering a number of discounts for youth. When kids under 12 are ready for a concert performance, their ticket is free with a ticketed adult. The Take-a-Teen Program also allows teenagers to attend main performances for free with a ticketed adult. Plus, the Student Rush Program offers college students with I.D. a ticket for just $8. To encourage students to attend multiple concerts, students can get a student subscription ticket for just $40 that includes all five main season performances (excluding the holiday performance).

Usually the night before the performance, BSO holds an intimate dinner for 10 to 20 guests where you’ll get the rare and special opportunity to meet the guest soloists. Dinner is usually followed by a solo performance. These dinners are fundraisers with scrumptious, expertly-prepared food and drink, like-minded classical music enthusiasts, and exclusive access to the music director and internationally-renowned visiting performers.

I’m told that at a recent dinner, guests learned about the performer’s Stradivarius. These dinners deepen the appreciation of the next day’s concert and guarantee a memorable VIP experience. You can reserve your dinner tickets in advance online or by calling the BSO office.

BSO also offers opportunities that encourage attendance for everyone including families, people with disabilities and those without funds for a Mainstage ticket. “We are really trying to make it accessible for the next generation and bring the wonderful world of music to everyone,” notes Ridenour.

Classical Kids Program members can attend dress rehearsal the day before each performance for free with their parents. Families can be exposed to and appreciate world-class classical music performances without the worry of a social faux pas when their toddler needs to dance in the aisle or their 8-year-old can’t wait to ask a question about their new favorite instrument.

One hour before each  performance (except for BSO Plays Bach and Holiday Magic!), Western Washington University (WWU) Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestral Studies Dr. Ryan Dudenbostel gives a free, lively interactive presentation of the history and analysis of the pieces that will be presented. He lets you know what to expect, what to listen for later that night and a deeper appreciation for the material.

The Classical Kids Program (annual $25 for the first family member, $5 for each additional child) runs concurrently, presenting similar information but designed for children under 12. The events include hands-on activities and snacks to make it a fun, positive experience.

Following most concerts, donors above a certain level are invited to attend a post-concert reception where you can meet the featured artist while enjoying food and wine in the Mount Baker Theatre’s Walton Theatre.

BSO was founded as Whatcom Symphony Orchestra in 1975 with a small group of local musicians. Over time, the organization has grown steadily, now employing two full-time and two part-time employees. The organization was rebranded, changing its name to Bellingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019 to align with other other orchestras of their level, often named after the city in which they perform.

Made up of more than 80 devoted core local musicians performing alongside world-renowned visiting soloists, BSO is truly a community-based orchestra. Although a few principal positions receive small stipends, most are volunteers who are also professional and semi-professional musicians, school teachers, private music instructors, and university professors that are passionate about their music. Some of the musicians are so supportive of the program that they donate their stipend.

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