Classical Music Returns to Arlington

Classical Music Returns to Arlington

An enthusiastic crowd welcomes the Arlington Philharmonic during its first concert at Kenmore Middle School.

Thanks to a group of hard-working musicians, a vital ingredient of Arlington's cultural identity has returned. The Arlington Philharmonic recently held its first show, and the musicians involved could not have been more excited about the response they received. The April 9 concert wasn't just a season opener, but a new start for a group of dedicated and talented classical musicians.

"WE WERE just overwhelmed," says violinist and volunteer coordinator Dawn Brohawn. The concert was held in Kenmore Middle School's auditorium, which holds 850 people, and was nearly packed. The concert, which was free, was attended by several Arlington County Board members, Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, and Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th). "It was a great show of support," says Brohawn.

The Master of Ceremonies was saxophonist Rich Kleinfeldt, and the concert appropriately began with Emurian's "The Arlington Song," performed by bass-baritone Gene Galvin. Selections included Cadman's American Suite, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525 by Mozart, "The Spring" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons (with soloist Olivia Hajioff), and last, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, Op. 4. Additionally, the audience was treated to two surprise encores.

Classical musicians of Arlington were in a precarious position last July, however, when the Arlington Symphony, after 60 years, declared bankruptcy. Brohawn, who was with the symphony for nearly 30 years, speculates that it would have gotten help from the community if its board had been more public. Some of the musicians weren't even aware of the financial difficulties until it was too late. But they didn't waste any time getting their act together. "Right after," says Brohawn, "we knew we had to begin reorganizing."

And it wasn't easy. "It was very challenging," says violinist Sue Manus, who helped organize the concert. "It was a really long process. We had to literally do everything from scratch." Their goal was to start with one free concert that would help them rebuild their audience. Working with an all-volunteer group and an interim Board of Directors, they managed to pull it off.

Not only was the crowd large, but it was diverse and enthusiastic. "People of all ages were there," says Manus. "I even saw some kids enjoying it." Conductor and Music Director Ruben Vartanyan described his experience conducting in terms of the attentiveness of the audience. "I was feeling silence at my back," he says. "No changing positions, no coughing."

IN ORDER to encourage an equally high turnout in the future, the group is hoping to hold more free concerts, but they need funding to continue playing. Ticket prices are one item they'll be debating at their next meeting. "How do you charge in such a way that it doesn't keep away a large segment of the population?" asks Brohawn. The musicians would like for everyone in the county to be able to enjoy their concerts.

The Philharmonic members were encouraged by the financial support received during their first concert. "We received an unusually high number of donations," says Vartanyan, who spent 13 seasons with the Arlington Symphony. The group hopes to have financial support from the community to help offset costs and thereby keep ticket prices low — or at zero.

In their current fund-raising effort, they are trying to find 100 charter members who will donate $1,000 or more. "Our next goal is to see if we can build on some of the momentum that we had with this first concert," Manus says.

But the musicians aren't in it for the money. "This is for the people," says Vartanyan, who regards the Philharmonic as a way to develop close ties between ethnic groups and enrich Arlington's culture. He cites the "great cultural politic of the Arlington government" as one reason he feels positive about the Philharmonic's future. He says that the arts in general are "an extremely important part of the community," and that they need continued support.

"We were happy to continue to make music together for Arlingtonians of all ages," says Vartanyan. "It really was an enthusiastic reaction." And all reports indicate that Arlingtonians were delighted with the concert. "It was a great crowd," says Manus. "It was very exciting to see so many people."

It was an emotional experience for the musicians. As Vartanyan explains, "You need to see the faces of the musicians to see how happy they were." They are delighted to be bringing back an integral part of Arlington's art and culture, and are even more delighted at Arlington's response. No future concerts are currently planned, but the group is encouraged by the response to their first show. As Vartanyan says about the future of the Philharmonic, "We hope for the best."

For more information, visit