Artfully Edmonds: Cascade Symphony celebrates 50th anniversary season

Editor’s note: This story was written before Rick Steves’ Thursday announcement that he was donating $1 million to the Edmonds Center for the Arts and the Cascade Symphony Orchestra.

By Ellen Chappelle
For close to five decades, Cascade Symphony Orchestra (CSO) has entertained Edmonds with five annual subscription concerts, a children’s concert and a chamber music concert. But this year is special. As they celebrate the beginning of their 50th season of music, the 82-member Orchestra will kick off the year in style. They’re planning a Golden Jubilee Gala with a gourmet dinner accompanied by complimentary wine, beer, live music and a fundraising raffle and silent auction.

A 50-year history for a musical organization is a laudable achievement in itself, but CSO also boasts many individual members with a history of their own. Principal cellist and charter member Norma Dermond said the orchestra has a very low turnover, touting “the remarkable stability and cohesion of this group. We still have seven charter members and more than 30 musicians who have been with the symphony for over 20 years. These people give their time and talent for no compensation — just for the love of the music and the orchestra.”

Dermond’s fellow cellist, Heidi McBride Fritts, is a prime example. She grew up with Cascade Symphony Orchestra. Literally. “I have been playing with the orchestra since 1986,” Fritts said, “but my mother has been playing since about 1963 (I think), so I have been familiar with CSO for my whole life. As a child, I used to come to the dress rehearsals in order to partake of the snacks at intermission.”

A family affair

By all indications, CSO members see each other as family and cherish Monday night rehearsals during the concert season. According to their website, “As the orchestra has continued to grow and mature, a nucleus of charter members has remained constant. A generation has passed. The musicians grew up, grew middle-aged, grew gray. Their children were born, their grandchildren arrived; careers developed, changed, vanished into retirement. In their changing lives, one aspect remained constant: Monday evening was always Cascade night.”

“I love the symphony,” said Dermond. “It is like a family.”

CSO is definitely a family affair for Fritts. “I am a member of the board for CSO, as are both of my parents,” she said. “My brother-in-law does our photography and my husband and sister help at concerts also.” And she’s not alone. The orchestra “includes a number of family groups,” Dermond said. “We have husband-wives, siblings and parent-children.”

A musical history

In the early 1960s, a group of South Snohomish County musicians traveled across Puget Sound to play with the Bremerton Symphony. But when the conductor resigned, the musicians returned from their final concert wondering where they could find another orchestra. As the ferry rumbled along through the choppy Sound on that Sunday evening in March 1962, they asked each other, “Why not a new symphony orchestra in South County?”

Cascade Symphony Orchestra was incorporated in April 1962, playing its opening concert that June with a 60-member orchestra.

Since then, the musicians of the symphony have invested a lifetime of effort and a small fortune in training and instruments. During the concert season, they rehearse every Monday evening, each player contributing over 100 hours a year. And that doesn’t include any individual practice time at home!

CSO also invests in the next generation of musicians. In addition to their annual children’s concert in February, the group sponsors a Rising Star talent search for local musical prodigies. Winners receive the honor of playing with the orchestra. They also offer a scholarship program for graduating seniors who plan to study music in college.

Conductor Michael Miropolsky has performed in more than 25 countries around the world and recorded internationally. He came from Moscow to the United States in 1990 and has been a featured soloist and assistant principal second violin with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra since 1991.

In 2002, Miropolsky was chosen to become the Music Director of CSO. Miropolsky has added much to the orchestra’s repertoire and experiences. In recent years, he and the orchestra enjoyed collaborations with the Choir of the Sound and the Olympic Ballet Theatre, released their first CD, Symphonic Treasures, inaugurated a children’s concert, and celebrated the orchestra’s 45th anniversary by playing at Benaroya Hall.

“I love our conductor, Michael,” Dermond said. “Working with him is a joy.” Fritts agrees. “My favorite is when we give the concerts,” she said, “and all of our work and Michael’s coaching comes together with the full appreciation of the audience.”

The Cascade Symphony

Highlights of the upcoming season

For the first concert of the season, Rick Steves will join CSO for “a symphonic journey across Europe on Oct. 23-24 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. This concert, to be filmed for public television, will feature rousing popular favorites from Europe’s greatest composers — including Grieg, Smetana, Strauss, Berlioz, Elgar, Wagner, and Verdi — all introduced by Rick Steves and illustrated with his glorious travel photography. At each performance, a lucky audience member will be selected at random to receive a Rick Steves seven-day European city tour for two of his/her choice.”
This year’s holiday concert on Dec. 12 will showcase a collection of beautiful holiday music and feature Polina Dickenson and Nathan Murstein, Seattle’s own 11-year-old champion ballroom dancers.

Why attend a CSO concert?

Dermond encourages people to attend a concert “to hear wonderful classical music played extremely well. People have commented how much they like seeing a group that so obviously enjoys the music and each other. It is an opportunity to attend quality performances without going to downtown Seattle and fighting traffic and high-cost parking.”

Fritts adds, “They will be surprised at how much fun and how informal it is. We have a pre-concert lecture which gives extra information about the music. Then, Maestro Miropolsky also talks with the audience and the soloists and makes the music even more accessible. At the end of the evening, the hall is filled with good feeling in the audience and the orchestra alike. The reception following has cookies and the enthusiasm is shared by all!”

In addition to the individual benefits of attending a concert, it is well-known that a healthy artistic community brings great benefit to the area, something we have seen over and over in our little town. And CSO is one of those contributors.

“Edmonds is an arts-rich community and a resident symphony orchestra is integral to this,” Dermond emphasized. “In addition, concert-goers often patronize Edmonds restaurants and other businesses. CSO also supports the Edmonds Center for the Arts by holding performances there.”

“We are one of the best community orchestras in the country,” Fritts said. “Our ticket prices are much less than those for a professional orchestra and there is no costly parking or long commute. And yet our performance hall is also spectacular. Plus, don’t forget the cookies!”

Visit CSO’s website for tickets to upcoming concerts and the Golden Jubilee Gala, which will be Sunday, Oct. 2, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Edmonds Conference Center. Three entrée options will be prepared and served by Celebrations Catering of Edmonds. Wine from Silver Lake Winery and beer from Diamond Knot Brewery will be available to enjoy with dinner. But be sure to save room for dessert, as a selection of delectable sweets donated by local bakeries will be up for auction! Baskets compiled by orchestra musicians will be raffled off and silent auction items will be available to bid on for the first half of the event.

A big secret

Word on the street is that CSO is gearing up to make a big announcement. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to spill the beans. “Better not,” said Dermond, “But it will come out soon.” Stay tuned…

With a background in theatre and journalism, Ellen Chappelle is perfectly poised to covers the local arts scene for My Edmonds News. She also keeps busy writing and editing for artists and small businesses, publishing an informational site for dog owners and creating handcrafted jewelry. Please keep her posted about all things artistic in Edmonds by emailing her at

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