Philharmonia Northwest was established as Thalia Chamber Symphony by founding music director Frances Walton in 1976. It began as the chamber symphony arm of Thalia Symphony, and as such was administered by Thalia Symphony for its first nine years, becoming an independent unit of Thalia Allied Artists in 1985. The name change to Philharmonia Northwest was effected in 1987.
Frances Walton established from the beginning Philharmonia Northwest’s policy of performing standard and non-standard repertoire for chamber orchestra, filling an unoccupied niche in the Seattle musical scene. The orchestra has performed music from Baroque to world premieres all over the city and the Northwest region, including Benaroya Hall, Town Hall, the Seattle Art Museum and Meany Hall.
Roupen Shakarian, music director from 1986 to 2010, continued Philharmonia Northwest’s tradition of featuring the Pacific Northwest’s fine musicians as guest artists with the orchestra and showcasing new works by area composers. Among the list of artists featured with Philharmonia Northwest are Alex Klein, Robert Silverman, Don Williams, Helen Callus, Rachel Matthews, members of the Seattle Symphony, Rajan Krishnaswami and Linda Melsted. Works by Northwest composers, Bunching Lam, Carol Sams, Brad Sherman, Gavin Borchert and Roupen Shakarian, among others, have also been performed by the orchestra. During the 1993-1994 season the orchestra finished the entire Beethoven symphony cycle with a performance of the Ninth Symphony. In addition to the Beethoven Symphony cycle, they have also performed the entire Mendelssohn and Schumann Symphony cycles and the last six symphonies of Mozart among others. The orchestra has also brought classical music programs to outlying areas such as Orcas Island, Burien, Issaquah, Enumclaw and elsewhere in the Northwest region. The orchestra made two recordings under the direction of Roupen Shakarian. The first recording in 1996 includes works by Ravel, Mozart and Beethoven, and a recording of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, “Lobgesang” was released in December of 1998.
Julia Tai was chosen as music director in 2011 after a year-long search. She continues to bring new energy to our performances and our organization. Under her direction, the Outreach Program, partnering with local school music groups and community organizations, has added a new element to our community involvement. Philharmonia Northwest also partners with the Kirkland Choral Society to produce outstanding annual concerts at Benaroya Hall.