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Golden Gala Year

Fairfax Symphony Orchestra celebrates 50th anniversary year with plenty of members, heart and soul.

In the beginning, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra lacked the members, organization and means to make it big. Fifty years later, it’s one of just two full-size symphony orchestras in the Washington metropolitan area.

One person who many give credit to is Bill Hudson, the symphony’s music director and conductor. He’s been with the orchestra for 35 of its 50 years of existence, and members who remember what the old days were like credit much of the orchestra’s success to him.

“Bill had that vision,” said Lisa Baltzer, who has played viola with the orchestra for more than 40 years. “He knew what he wanted.”

“It says a lot about his staying power,” said Cathy Smith, marketing director for the orchestra. “He made it into a special little gem.”

Hudson came to the University of Maryland in 1970 from New York to take a job in the school’s music department. A year later, he found himself with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, which was a volunteer community orchestra back then. The orchestra began playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington around 1974, and has been evolving ever since.

“The whole status of the orchestra began to change,” said Hudson. “We’re [now] the only other full member symphony in the metro area besides the National Symphony [Orchestra].”

Baltzer said that in the beginning, the orchestra was small, but everybody loved playing. That is true today, but the 100 or so members have added to the diversity of talents and sounds.

“The county was small too back then,” said Baltzer. “Now there is a larger pool of musicians to draw from.”

THE SYMPHONY has been through its share of rough times though, said Smith. Last year, the group did not have enough money to put on its first performance. The part-time musicians in the orchestra agreed to take a 10 percent pay-cut for the season to help ease financial troubles. Thanks to many substantial donations by the orchestra's board members and a great audience response, Smith said the golden anniversary season will now be able to provide top-notch performances throughout the year. The programs will also feature retrospectives and history from the course of the 50 years, said Hudson.

“It was an amazing turnaround, and it happened in less than a year,” said Smith.

The season’s opening performance, Saturday, Sept. 16, at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, will feature solo pianist Santiago Rodriguez. Smith said the piece Rodriguez is playing is extremely difficult, so it should be quite a show.

“He is incredible,” said Smith. “It’s a piece where other musicians have had a nervous breakdown.”

The symphony has some experience with Rodriguez, since he filled in at the last minute a few years ago. With about an hour’s notice, Baltzer said Rodriguez learned he would need to fill in for a pianist who had fallen ill. He was already on his way to the show as a spectator, so they rearranged the schedule to allow him enough time to practice.

“We’ve had a love affair with him ever since,” said Baltzer.

The golden anniversary shows will feature many more exciting soloists, said Hudson, including an oboe player from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and two viola players from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Building on past performances, and guest performers, is what Hudson said he’s all about.

“Every year we get better,” said Hudson. “It’s noticeably better every year.”