Federal Way Symphony celebrates 40 years of music

Stringing together four decades of music isn’t easy, but the Federal Way Symphony’s upcoming concert is a cymbal of perseverance.

Before closing out its season with a suite of classical, romantic and contemporary arrangements on April 16, the local symphony will trumpet its 40th anniversary at the Performing Arts and Event Center.

The event starts with a public 1:30 p.m. champagne reception, and the concert begins at 2:30.

Classical music has long been stereotyped as stuffy, upper-class, or limited to certain demographics, assumptions the symphony tries to dispel by keeping ticket prices low compared to other orchestras in the region.

“The mission of our organization is to bring live music to our community and to make live music accessible,” symphony board president Brandon Moak said. “We are really proud of the fact we have a diverse audience.”

And beyond that, classical musicians play the music for the same reason musicians perform hip-hop, country, metal, or jazz.

As conductor Adam Stern put it: “We do it because we can’t not do it.”

“There’s of course that wall up with some people (who) think there’s sort of an elitism, a snobbery (in classical music),” Stern said. “(But) I genuinely believe … anybody coming to any of our concerts will find something they will fall in love with.”

The symphony’s roots were laid in the 1970s when a group of volunteer musicians began performing in the south Puget Sound area, Moak said. They were drawn to Federal Way in the early 1980s and, under the leadership of maestro Brian Davenport, formed the Federal Way Symphony in 1983.

The symphony entered a new chapter in its history during the pandemic. Davenport retired in after the 2019-2020 season after 36 years of conducting the symphony. Stern came on the following season amid the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, taking the reigns just as the symphony had begun settling into performances at the PAEC — and was now forced to pivot to virtual performances.

Filling Davenport’s shoes was no easy task but the symphony was lucky to find Stern, Moak said. Arts organizations like the symphony are a sort of living, breathing entity, and they must evolve and change to survive, he said.

“He [Davenport] was one of the main driving forces that kept the organization alive,” Moak said. “We wouldn’t be here without Brian Davenport. And we would not be here now without (Stern).”

Nor would they be successful without the support of the community, city and their funding partners, Moak added.

Stern said he was gratified to come to the symphony and find musicians “hungry” to work hard and be directed. He said he wanted to take Davenport’s legacy of conducting great classical music and add both more popular music and tunes that audiences have likely never heard to the mix.

“When you hire a music director, you’re not just hiring the person who stands and waves his arms,” Stern said. “You’re hiring that person’s taste, background, their spin on what the public should hear.”

Their upcoming concert will feature well-known composers Haydn, Dvořák and Schubert, along with American composers Howard Hanson, Gail Kubik, and Charles Griffes.

The former three are bulwarks of classical music, and the latter will comprise “a bouquet” of works from artists not heard as often by the concert-going public, Stern said.

Federal Way Symphony’s Principal Flutist Kate Mondragon, who grew up in Puyallup, will perform as the concert’s soloist.

Tickets for the symphony are $35. Youth under 18 can always attend for free.