‘Hip Harpist’ Returns to Tacoma for an Earth Day Concert with Symphony Tacoma

TACOMA, WA–Symphony Tacoma welcomes Grammy-nominated electric harp virtuoso Deborah Henson-Conant back to Tacoma for a special Earth Day performance. Earth Songs from the Harp will take place on Sunday, April 22, 2018 at 2:30 pm in Tacoma’s Pantages Theater.

For this concert, Henson-Conant and Maestra Sarah Ioannides are planning a celebration of the joy, passion and humor of living on Planet Earth. Composed by Henson-Conant for electric harp, voice and orchestra, the music is inspired by Jazz, Latin, Blues, Musical Theater and Flamenco. Selections range from Belinda, a tender, melodic tribute to a tree, to Catcher in the Rye, a jungle warrior tribute to J.D. Salinger’s literary masterpiece, and Nightingale, a sweet lullaby.

Henson-Conant’s previous Tacoma performance resulted in a sold-out show in 2011. “I am thrilled to bring Deborah back!” says Ioannides. “She is one of the most unique and exciting artists we have presented, and this concert provides an opportunity for all to be a part of the wonder and diversity she brings.”

Henson-Conant’s voice has been compared to Carly Simon and Joan Baez; her playing to Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix; and her humor to Victor Borge and Eddie Izzard. Her signature instrument, the “DHC Light” electric body harp, was invented by Henson-Conant in collaboration with the French harp-builder CAMAC. “I wanted to take an 80-pound concert harp and shrink it down to an instrument I could strap on my hip and play like an electric guitar,” she says.  It allows her to stride onto stage like a rock star and delight audiences with songs and stories and a performance that is bigger-than-life, inventive and unexpected.

An ensemble of local harpists will accompany Henson-Conant on stage for a portion of the concert and harpists will be available with their instruments after the concert for guests to interact with. Tickets start at $19.50 and are available for purchase at www.symphonytacoma.org or by calling the Broadway Center box office at 253.591.5894.

Earth Songs from the Harp is sponsored by KeyBank Foundation and Marine Floats, with support from the Tacoma Philharmonic Endowment.


About Deborah Henson-Conant:

Deborah Henson-Conant is a Grammy-nominated electric harp virtuoso with a wicked sense of humor, a gutsy set of vocal chords and a theatrical flair. As an instrumentalist, she has brought the harp from the background and put it front and center. As a composer, she’s created concert, symphonic and music-theater works, from serious chamber operas and song cycles, to flamenco-inspired concertos and fantasies. She has released over a dozen albums, composed nearly 50 symphonic works and performed internationally for nearly three decades.  http://www.hipharp.com/


Symphony Tacoma showcases trumpet with little-known Beethoven gem

TACOMA, WA – Principal Trumpet Charles Butler makes his solo debut with Symphony Tacoma in the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major. Penned by Franz Joseph Haydn in 1796, this work highlighted what was a “new-fangled” instrument to audiences of yore! Haydn was known for expanding musical forms and inventing new ones—so he jumped at the opportunity to compose for a new form of trumpet that became the forerunner to today’s version.

Music Director Sarah Ioannides could think of no other player more suited to be featured as the trumpet soloist than the Symphony’s new principal trumpet, Charles Butler. This NW living legend has played under the batons of Itzhak Perlman and Zubin Mehta and toured the world as a soloist, from Malaysia to Spain. All this he accomplished while holding major posts with the Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Portland Opera, and others.

Maestra Ioannides knew only very unique repertoire could complement this revolutionary Haydn concerto performed by a new star of the Symphony, so she paired it with Beethoven’s mythic Symphony No. 10, which existed only as fragments until reconstructed in 1988 by Barry Cooper. “The result,” Mr. Cooper wrote in his notes, “is obviously not exactly what Beethoven would have written, and many questions still remain, but the reconstruction does provide at least a rough impression of what he intended.”

The concert concludes with Brahms’ gripping Symphony No. 1, the groundbreaking symphonic work that broke the post-Beethoven’s 9th “writer’s block.” Brahms, who struggled with anxiety, compared himself with his predecessor, stating that “writing a symphony is no laughing matter.” Known for a resemblance to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” this entire March program will have audiences leaving the concert hall in a state of optimism.

Generous sponsors of this concert include: EPIC Law and South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy. Ticket prices start at $19.50 and are available for purchase at www.symphonytacoma.org or by calling 253.591.5894 or 1.800.291.7593. Tickets will also be sold at the Rialto Box Office.

Symphony Tacoma Voices Celebrates ‘Turning of the Seasons’

TACOMA, WA – Dr. Geoffrey Boers will conduct the talented Symphony Tacoma Voices in Turning of the Seasons, a choral concert that celebrates the transition from the darkness of winter to the warmth of spring. The performance will take place on Friday, March 16 at 7:30 pm at Christ Episcopal Church, 310 N K Street in downtown Tacoma.

The program features two of Maurice Duruflé’s most prominent compositions. The solemnity of winter will be characterized by Requiem, Duruflé’s longest and most substantial work. Amy Boers will accompany the Voices on Christ Episcopal’s Brombaugh organ and images of historic paintings and contemporary news photographs will be projected on the walls of the church to portray themes of the Passion of the Christ story.

Duruflé’s rarely-heard Missa Cum Jubilo will kick off the journey into spring. Works by some beloved contemporary composers—Eric Barnum, Jake Runestad and Kim Arnesén—will celebrate nature and love of springtime.

Tickets are $25 and are available for purchase at www.symphonytacoma.org or by calling 253.591.5894 or 1.800.291.7593. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

About Symphony Tacoma Voices – The Voices are led by Chorus Director Geoffrey Boers, who is also Director of Choral Activities at the University of Washington in Seattle. The dedicated all-volunteer choir is a blend of gifted amateur and professional singers who meet weekly throughout the season, working hard to achieve a professional-caliber ensemble to prepare for performances with Symphony Tacoma, stand-alone concerts and projects with other musical organizations in the region.

Mini Maestros Series Kicks Off Sixth Season with Once Upon a String


Tacoma, Wash. – The sixth annual Mini Maestros series for children ages 2-8 and their families opens with a performance whimsically titled Once Upon a String! The program, featuring the Symphony Tacoma String Quintet, is hosted by the University of Puget Sound and held at Schneebeck Hall on Sunday, Feb. 18 at 2:30 p.m. The String Quintet includes Associate Concertmaster Gwen Taylor,

Principal Second Violin Janis Upshall, Principal Viola Thane Lewis, Principal Cello Jake Saunders, and Principal Bass Chris Burns. Ted Brown Music is the series sponsor of Mini Maestros, which is also supported by the Bamford Foundation.

The performance will feature the String Quintet, costumed in fairy tale attire, engaging the crowd in a variety of interactive activities to hone audience participation skills and help children learn about tempo, beat, and rhythm. A mixture of popular classical pieces together with familiar fairy tale rhymes and movie tunes like Cinderella’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo are programmed to explore the contrasts of high/low, slow/fast and loud/soft. A favorite moment anticipated in all the informances is when Shay announces a magical themed journey and waltzes through the audience, inviting the kids to follow and join the players on stage for a special interactive song. Attendees of all ages are invited to dress in their best storybook characters.

Once Upon a String will be followed by three additional programs: 3-2-1 Brass Off! on March 18, Percussion on Parade on April 15, and Peter and the Wolf on May 6. All take place at 2:30 p.m. on those dates at Schneebeck Hall.

A musical instrument “petting zoo” will be held one hour before each concert, with the exception

of Peter and the Wolf, allowing children the opportunity to touch and try out instruments.

Tickets are $7 for children and $10 for adults, plus box office fees. For more information: click here.

Press Release: Electric Harp phenom steps in to perform on Earth Day

Maestra Sarah Ioannides has created another brilliant musical experience for this Spring! She has turned the initial disappointment that Opus X could not make their scheduled appearance, into excitement and  buzz! Ioannides knew only the most extraordinary, dazzling artist could fill that slot, and she set out to find the perfect fit.

We now are thrilled to announce that on April 22, Symphony Tacoma will be featuring quest artist Deborah Henson-Conant, the internationally renowned, Grammy nominated “Jimi Hendrix of the harp.”

“Virtuoso out-of-the box harpist Deborah Henson-Conant is known as the rockin’ bad girl of the harp world. She took the ancient instrument off its pedestal, cocked it on her hip, and made it play everything from Mexican cantina music to Brubeck to gut-bucket blues and sounds like Van Halen.”  — NPR

Symphony Tacoma is thrilled to reunite with Henson-Conant—composer, performer, singer, author, cartoonist, comedian, electric harpist—who last performed together to a 100% SOLD-OUT house on March 27, 2011.

For this Tacoma engagement taking place on Earth Day, April 22, 2018, Henson-Conant and Ioannides are planning a celebration of our connection with each other and the Earth. Music, song, storytelling, rhythm and non-verbal communication are among the earliest ways that humans begin to learn about these relationships. Deborah Henson-Conant will remind us all that music and performance is far more than mere entertainment; it is a profound reflection of our culture, our values and our identity.

Deborah Henson-Conant, with her signature rockstar leather-and-boots attire, has jammed with the likes of: Steven Tyler, Bobby McFerrin, Rufus Reid, Doc Severinsen and Marvin Hamlisch. The Grammy-nominated artist was on NBC, CBS, CNN, and has starred in two PBS specials.

But this soloist also sings angelically, drawing comparisons to Joan Baez and Carly Simon. As a trained educator who has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is sure to mesmerize and enlighten our community with her vivacious humor, intellect and storytelling abilities!
Sponsored by Marine Floats, with support from the Tacoma Philharmonic Endowment, the upcoming concert will take place Sunday, April 22 at 2:30 p.m. at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma. Tickets start at $19.50. For additional information: www.symphonytacoma.org.

When Illness Strikes a Soloist

Unforeseen illness can wreak havoc when it strikes a professional classical concert soloist just days before a scheduled performance.

The schedule of an in-demand soloist is typically set at least a year in advance, with a lengthy planning window ensuing. Travel, accommodations, rehearsal schedules, hall bookings, and other details are spelled out in contracts and riders painstakingly negotiated between the booking agency and the presenter, often taking six months or more to complete.

In addition, classical concertos are complex and difficult, requiring lengthy preparation. Even the most gifted artist can only keep so many pieces under his or her fingers. Soloists thus usually have a relatively short list of works ready for performance in any given concert season.

For all these reasons, classical music organizations are not particularly adept at turning on a dime when the unforeseen strikes.

The unforeseen struck recently when Symphony Tacoma officials received a call from pianist Andrew Tyson’s agency—just three days before the concert—that the artist was too ill to fulfill his November 18 engagement. Tyson was slated to make his regional debut performing the Ravel Piano Concerto in G at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater, with Sarah Ioannides conducting.

We all know the old adage “the show must go on,” but part of being a professional is knowing when you’re too ill to give a performance your best–and bowing out in time for the presenting organization to have a shot at replacing you.  In this difficult circumstance, Tyson did the right thing. It cannot have been an easy decision for him.

Fortunately, the quick-thinking Sarah Ioannides immediately texted pianist Charlie Albright—with whom she had just collaborated in Philadelphia the week before—to see if by any chance he was available and knew the concerto.  Charlie, who has been acclaimed as “among the most gifted musicians of his generation” by The Washington Post, hails from Centralia, just an hour down I5 from Tacoma.  He responded right away: yes, he was available, and yes he was ready, willing and able to perform the formidable Ravel concerto on a scant three days’ notice!

This was truly a happy solution.  The Pacific Northwest native had previously appeared with Symphony Tacoma in November 2014, so he was already known and loved by local audiences.  As The New York Times put it, he has “jaw-dropping technique and virtuosity meshed with a distinctive musicality,” and to add to the package, a friendly, outgoing and generous personality that is the same onstage or off.  Finally, he has the rare talent of being a master improviser.  He knocked the ball out of the park with his dazzling performance of the Ravel concerto, and then played an encore improvised on the spot after asking audience members to pick the first four notes.

Sometimes turning on a dime brings positive artistic results. The unforeseen may start out by bringing havoc, but if properly embraced it can result in high flying!

Leonard Bernstein: America’s Musical Department Store

Composer, conductor, educator, pianist, cultural ambassador—Leonard Bernstein filled all these roles and more with aplomb.  Igor Stravinsky admiringly termed him “a department store of music.”

The global celebration titled “Leonard Bernstein at 100” officially began on August 25, 2017 and continues for exactly one full year; Symphony Tacoma’s season opening concert on Saturday, October 21 featuring Bernstein’s music is among the earliest events worldwide—and first in the South Sound.

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Leonard Bernstein grew up during a time when Western music was exploding with different sounds and styles.  Still recovering from the 1913 premiere of Rite of Spring, the classical world was set reeling again just six years later when—in a seeming complete about-face—Stravinsky launched into his sparse, crisp Neoclassical period with L’Histoire du Soldat.  Meanwhile, Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School was busy advancing its new Twelve-Tone system, a controversial method that did away with all vestiges of tonality.  Bartok was incorporating percussiveness, rhythmic irregularity, and Eastern European folk music into his compositions.  Varese was introducing a highly experimental musical aesthetic he termed “organized sound.” Electronic music was heard for the first time with the introduction of the theremin.  Escaping from its Ragtime cradle, Jazz was radiating from the hottest clubs of New Orleans, St. Louis, and Chicago, influencing composers from Copland to Milhaud, Ravel to Shostakovich.  Radio and vinyl records made listening in the privacy of your home, whenever you liked, widespread for the first time.

It must have been a heady mix for a budding young musician!

Bernstein received his first permanent conducting job in 1943, serving as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, he was called upon to substitute (on a scant several hours’ notice, with no rehearsal, and after a night out partying) for an ailing Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall.  Broadcast nationally on radio, the concert caused an instant sensation and made Bernstein a celebrity almost overnight.

As Music Director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969, he led more concerts with the orchestra than any previous conductor.  His famed Young People’s Concerts were broadcast on national television for fourteen seasons, well beyond his tenure as Music Director. For an entire generation, Bernstein came to exemplify and symbolize a new, distinctly American classical maestro:  young, handsome, charismatic, approachable, debonair, passionate, and compassionate.  (Though he had his critics: Oscar Levant famously quipped “he uses music as an accompaniment to his conducting.”)

His fame as conductor tended to overshadow that of composer, but in works spanning chamber music, symphonies, opera, film and Broadway, Bernstein revealed himself as a gifted composer who gathered, absorbed and synthesized the sounds of his age—from Neoclassicalism to jazz—and made them his own.    According to conductor John Mauceri, he projected a message “of understanding and hope employing both complex and simple forms and styles—yet always sounding like ‘Bernstein.’”


The birth of a concert

Every concert, taken individually, involves at least a year’s worth of planning and preparation.

The program itself—the music we select to perform—evolves organically. Choices are influenced by the guest artist Sarah has invited as her primary collaborator; Sarah’s own artistic sensibilities; her desire to captivate the audience and provide a compelling concert experience; and her wish to inspire the orchestra and encourage its artistic growth.

Other factors include the rest of the season’s programming and how a given concert fits in with the rest. We try to achieve a balance of musical periods—Classical, Romantic, Modern, and others. We also strive for an attractive blend of styles—French, German, Russian, and the like. We even have to consider what other orchestras in the region might be performing. Finally, there is the more prosaic concern of the overall artistic budget, and how much a particular concert will cost.

For every piece that makes it onto a program, there are five to ten others considered and rejected. This process, in which Sarah takes the lead and has the final say, happens with each concert on the season and there is at least six months of filtering and sifting before the season brochure even goes to print.

We launch subscription renewals in late winter and the new subscriber campaign in late spring. Copy for the playbill is written, edited and proofed over the summer; simultaneously, the playbill advertising campaign takes place. Contracts with music publishers, guest artists, the musicians, and the Broadway Center are finalized and signed.

In early fall, season ticket packets are filled, assembled and mailed to each subscriber. Depending on the concert, subscribers account for somewhere between a third and half the house. Direct mail, online, print, TV and radio, and social media advertising, along with free publicity, all combine to bring in (hopefully!) the single ticket buyers.

Eventually, it’s all in place and there’s nothing more to be done. I spend several weeks biting my nails and watching the attendance numbers slowly climb. Today’s single ticket buyers, blast them, are increasingly 11th hour shoppers. It has become normal for 90% of box office sales to occur during the final week before the concert. Sometimes we sell over a hundred tickets at the door.

After all this, there’s nothing like the feeling I get when my stage announcement is done, the orchestra is tuning, I make my way into the house and sit down next to my wife. This is the magical moment when I shed all that preparation and become an audience member along with everyone else. It’s what I live for!

Feet off the ground!


Capture the imagination of the community with extraordinary performance experiences, educational offerings and community partnerships that bring diverse people together.


I remember when we first introduced the above Vision back in 2011. At the time, the TSO was entering a transitional phase, with the Board just starting the national search that ultimately led to the appointment of Sarah Ioannides. It is gratifying and exciting to note, four years later, how closely it reflects what is now unfolding before our very eyes, with each passing month.

As we conclude the 2014-2015 Season, the orchestra and Sarah have established a strong working collaboration. With each concert cycle, less time is spent just getting re-acquainted; basic expectations are internalized and no longer need to be reiterated. This frees up more rehearsal time for artistic development, refining the performance, and building ensemble strength.

It’s like watching the orchestra transform into a single instrument, in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The resulting atmosphere in the concert hall is electric. The interplay between conductor and orchestra is one of total concentration, communication and connectivity. The audience responds in lockstep to this connection; their collective involvement and absorption, in turn, further energizes the orchestra. After the performance ends the musicians exit the stage, and the audience exits the hall, with a similar air of exultation. Following a recent concert, a patron said to me: “Every time I think it can’t get any better, it does.”

Feet off the ground: this is what live symphonic music is all about!

The more the orchestra plays together, the more this process will escalate. Our core season has stood at four Classical Masterworks concerts, Sounds of the Season, Messiah, a spring Symphonic Pops concert, and an a capella Chorus concert for years. Last December we added a repeat performance of Messiah at Chapel Hill in Gig Harbor. Next season we expand our presence in Gig Harbor to two performances, in December and March, and move to a five-concert Classics lineup downtown. Future expansion is under discussion, with the recognition that growth must be driven by community demand and corresponding financial support.

In the area of Community Engagement, we have just completed our third season of the Mini Maestros series for children ages 2 to 8, including two daytime residencies at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Lakewood Boys & Girls Club. Our first season of Simply Symphonic utilizing Carnegie Hall’s groundbreaking Link-Up curriculum—a partnership instigated by Sarah—was received with enthusiasm by teachers and school district officials… and most of all by the students! Next season we will continue these activities and add side-by-side performances with the young players at Tacoma Youth Symphony and Annie Wright School.

Clearly, the TSO is at an inflection point. Rarely has there been an alignment like this: a dynamic new artistic leader backed by a cohesive, skilled administrative team (I prefer to call them our change agents), a committed, passionate Board, and a supportive, enthusiastic patron base. This is a carpe diem moment—a time to leverage growth of our orchestra as a cherished community resource. This must be done with a combination of boldness and solicitude. When artistic vision is balanced with sound risk management, growth in service will happen while we keep our feet firmly on the ground.

Except during concerts.