Founded in 1944 by George M. Ross, the Seattle Phil is a mainstay in Seattle arts and culture. The Phil is a member-owned orchestra, and draws talent from throughout our Puget Sound community to create engaging and memorable classical music. Recognized for creative programming which marries time honored classics and lesser known master-pieces, a concert with the Phil is something that you won’t experience anywhere else in the Northwest.
The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote orchestral music in the community with skilled musicians performing a wide variety of music from the symphonic literature, and by offering low-cost, high-quality concerts throughout the Puget Sound region.
In August of 1944, the Second World War was trudging towards its final phases. Under difficult conditions, and in a time when the performance arts had given way to the war effort, Seattle CPA George M. Ross sought solace and spiritual renewal in music. A talented violinist, Ross had gathered with colleagues - casual musicians all - to rehearse the classics. These successful businessmen had continued to study their instruments since their university days, purely for pleasure.
Their musical gatherings were equally successful, so much so that Ross envisioned a permanent organization. The others agreed, and the Seattle Philharmonic and Choral Society was officially formed. The founders embraced two visions: to sustain a civic, not-for-profit orchestra composed of fine musicians who had chosen other professional careers; and to provide a premiere venue for area soloists pursuing professional musical careers.
By the spring of ‘45, the orchestra had grown to more than 70 musicians, and Don Bushell had signed on as the group’s first regular music director and conductor. The first concert was presented March 23, 1945 at Seattle’s Moore Theatre. The orchestra was joined by more than one hundred voices to complete the Chorus.
Bushell, chairman of the Music Department at Western Washington College at Bellingham, began his musical journey as a cellist in the Ballard High School orchestra, and played professionally with the Seattle Symphony. Ross’ insight and Bushell’s leadership introduced Seattle to a community-driven orchestra: an unpaid assembly of residents devoted to musical expression, education and enjoyment.
During his tenure, Bushell also organized an annual concerto competition that continues to this day.
The orchestra’s choral division disbanded amicably in 1964 and the rechristened Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra remained under the direction of Bushell for 22 years before he passed the baton to his successor.
Jerome “Jerry” Glass stepped up to the podium in 1968. He held the post for the next 11 years, and his role as SPO Music Director overlaid his 28-year tenure as a music professor and conductor at Western Washington University.
Glass brought to the job a mixture of enthusiasm, discipline and respect for the musicians that helped to raise the performance level of the orchestra. Glass was a proponent of 20th Century composers, and pushed the orchestra to explore adventurous works while always keeping the expectations of the audience in mind.
He led the SPO through numerous fundraiser events to support scholarship funds, public radio and other community causes. Greatly loved by his students and colleagues, Glass is remembered as a great mentor and as a charismatic leader who enriched the lives of those who played with him.
In 1979, Nico Snel took up the baton as the SPO’s 3rd Music Director.
Having survived the Nazi invasion of his native Holland to emigrate to the United States at age 15, Snel was already an accomplished student of the piano and violin when he settled with his family in Oakland, California. Within a year, he joined the Oakland Symphony as the youngest member ever of the First Violins.
For about half of his 16-year tenure as SPO music director, Snel simultaneously conducted the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra. He had settled in Port Angeles in 1985 with his wife Sharon, who continues to play with Port Angeles and is the former Principal Flute for SPO. Nico Snel is sorely missed today in many communities. Those who worked with him remember him as a consummate musician, a patient teacher, a devoted father, and a great friend. The orchestra continues to honor his memory through the Nico Snel Memorial Library, the SPO’s lending library of music that the public is invited to support.
Marsha Mabrey took the helm of the Philharmonic from 1996 to 2002. As an instructor for many years with the Bellevue public school system, she brought with her a great love of music education and a desire to serve the community.
Mabrey was instrumental in enhancing the SPO’s public outreach efforts, including supporting the Side-by-Side Concert Program for high school musicians, which was established by the Allied Arts of Renton. She especially sought programming that featured the works of living composers as well as lesser-known American composers.
Current Music Director Adam Stern joined the SPO for the 60th anniversary season in 2003. With a heart driven by music and a life steeped in its study, Stern has brought a new energy to the Seattle Philharmonic story. He has been active in the local music community since 1992. He is currently an Adjunct Faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts, where he teaches composition and orchestral studies. Stern also serves as the Music Director and Conductor for the Sammamish Symphony Orchestra.
More than six decades after it was founded, the SPO continues to thrive as an assembly of professional and non-professional performers bringing affordable performances of classical music to the community. The orchestra is still composed of accountants, physicians, teachers, homemakers… people from all walks of life who share a love of music.