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, and brought new energy to our performances and organization throughout her twelve-year tenure with the orchestra. Beloved by audiences and the orchestra, Tai established a reputation at Philharmonia Northwest for her creative programming and involvement in the Seattle community. During her tenure, PNW co-commissioned new works by PDQ Bach, Mexican composer Osvaldo Mendoza, Chinese-American composer Dorothy Chang, Canadian-American composer Vivian Fung, and American composer Sheila Silver. In 2017, in collaboration with the Finlandia Foundation, Tai and PNW celebrated Finland’s centennial by presenting “Finland 100” at Benaroya Hall, featuring works by three generations of Finnish composers. In 2018, they presented an all-Taiwanese composers’ concert, again at Benaroya Hall, featuring musicians from all over the U.S., Canada, and Taiwan. Under Julia Tai’s direction, Philharmonia Northwest has also developed a robust outreach program, partnering with local school music groups and community organizations to play side-by-side concerts, welcome elementary school students to watch open rehearsals, present musical demonstrations at North Seattle College, and collaborate with dance students to create interdisciplinary performances.