Nonprofit orchestra performed an all-Russian program

by Michelle Gehlman-Teeter for iLoveKent

The Seattle Festival Orchestra (SFO) came to perform in Kent on Saturday, January 21, at the New Hope Presbyterian Church. They performed an all-Russian program including music from composers Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Kalinnikov.

The SFO is a non-profit filled with local musicians from all over the Puget Sound. It has a history 40 years old and is at times has been filled with three generations of a family in the group at the same time. They play two concerts on four weekends per year, one in Seattle and one in Kent.

The group started in 1977 as an orchestra for musical retirees in the Seattle area. It was called the Musician’s Emeritus Symphony Orchestra and originally had a 65-year-old minimum age limit. In 2000, a change in music director and in the demographics of the area caused them to discontinue the age limit. In 2008 they changed their name to the Seattle Festival Orchestra to reflect the groups wider range of musicians.

In 2014, Dr. Wesley Schulz became the music director for SFO. He is a Conductor in high demand across the Pacific NW, and is a passionate teacher as well. The orchestra highlights student musicians in the area, providing many talented proteges their orchestral debut.

David Durham of the Seattle Festival Orchestra
David Durham of the Seattle Festival Orchestra

David Durham, from Kent, has been in the SFO since 1992. He has played the bassoon 52 years. The music itself is what draws him first to playing in the orchestra. But he also really enjoys playing together during the rehearsals.

“It has always been a very friendly and supportive group,” said Durham. “I learn a lot from our fine conductor, Wes Schultz, but also from those in my section, sometimes from their suggestions but always by listening to them play and their efforts to interpret the music.”

To join the orchestra, musicians do an audition with the leaders of the orchestra and the conductor. They have new members every year, but the core of the brass and woodwind section and their concert mistress have been there almost ten years.

The orchestra starts playing just after Labor Day and ends the season in mid-May. The musicians put a lot of time into their craft. They have a two hour practice every Tuesday, perform in eight concerts throughout the year, and practice about five hours each week on their own. This totals around 280 hours a year, plus commute time.

The SFO’s vision is to exceed the expectations of a symphonic music performance, audience engagement and non-profit management to meet the diverse artistic and expressive needs of their musicians and audience.

Durham said they had a number of musicians coming from the Kent/Renton area, so in 2011, when they had to find a new concert venue for their Seattle show, they decided to have a Saturday concert in Kent in addition to the Sunday concert in Seattle.

“Playing at the church now known as New Hope Presbyterian was appealing with a large, comfortable seating area, reasonable acoustics and lighting, and just enough room for the musicians at the front of the sanctuary,” said Durham.

The next concert will be on April 1 at 3 PM and will feature music by Barber and Mahler. The final concert for the season will be on May 6, showcasing music by Beethoven, Berwald and Brahms.

“This is truly a musician’s orchestra which is organized and run by its members, rather than a board of community patrons. That is a lot of work, but worth it,” said Durham. “However, we could not do it without an audience. We need people to come and enjoy the music like we do.”

For more information, see the Seattle Festival Orchestra’s website at:



Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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