Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra's special anniversary

Frank E. Scott, former director of the Piano Program at NAU performs during movement III in the NAU Symphony Oct. 8, 2012.

The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra (FSO) is not just an orchestra, but rather a family of musicians that enjoy making music for their community. FSO was formed in 1950 and is celebrating its 70th anniversary of performance this year.

FSO started their new season by hiring Larry Lang as the new executive director of the organization. As executive director, Lang represents the symphony in the community and oversees the advertising of the orchestra. He is also responsible for engaging with community members.

“I’m very excited to be the new director of FSO,” Lang said. “In June, we held our first performance at the [Continental Country Club]. It was a great way to kick off the season, and I enjoyed getting to see the orchestra perform for the community. This event made me excited to see how the rest of the performances go.”

Lang said he wants to continue with FSO traditions, like the performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” that is held each December. Another tradition he plans to continue is the Link Up program.

Link Up is an annual program hosted by the Weill Music Institue of Carnegie Hall. The program allows students in grades three through five to participate in a yearlong program that teaches them about music, singing and composing. In March 2020, the students get to participate in a concert with FSO where they perform what they have learned.

“This program has been going on for seven years,” Lang said. “The orchestra works with teachers and students from Flagstaff and surrounding areas. Link Up reaches about 3,600 students a year and is a very effective program.”

Cindy Binkley works as the communication liaison between the musicians of the group and the business office. Binkley is also in charge of auditions for FSO. Each year, Binkley posts vacancies that will be available for auditions. Binkley said this year, FSO had 40 musicians audition. There were 20 vacancies in seven different instrument sections.

“Auditionees come to me when they would like to set up an audition for the orchestra,” Binkley said. “We hold the auditions each August. At the audition, the musician goes into a room to perform their excerpts. The principal musician for their instrument and the conductor are sitting behind a screen recording the audition. From there, we decide who is the best fit for the group.”

FSO band director Charles Latshaw began his third year as director this season. Latshaw is not only the director of FSO, but he is also the director of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra in Colorado. Prior to directing these groups, Latshaw was the director of the Kent Blossom Music Festival and the Kent State University Orchestra.

“The process to become a band director for FSO took about two years,” Latshaw said. “I applied for the job in 2015 and then came to audition in 2016. During the audition, I directed the orchestra, and everything felt right. Ever since the beginning, I knew that this was the right fit for me.”

Latshaw said his past two years as director have been a great part of his career. Although the symphony has 60 to 80 members, he said they all consider each other a family.

“FSO is a phenomenal group of musicians,” Latshaw said. “Everybody works hard to make the best music we can for the Flagstaff community. I think that Flagstaff is also such a unique community compared to other parts of Arizona. Working with such a close group that cares about their community makes me love my job even more. Everyone is looking forward to begin our special 70th anniversary season.”

The 70th season of FSO will feature many performances that the Flagstaff and NAU community can attend. Their first performance will be held Sept. 27 at the Ardrey Auditorium.

“I think our audience will definitely enjoy our first performance for this season,” Latshaw said. “We have a guest pianist, Daniela Liebman, performing with us. She’s a piano prodigy from Guadalajara, Mexico. She made her professional debut when she was just 8 years old. We are very excited to have her perform with us during our first concert.”

In January 2020, FSO will be performing a concert that will be different from their previous performances. Project Trio, a beatboxing group, will be performing alongside the orchestra.

“This concert will be very unique,” Lang said. “I think this concert will be fun for young people to come watch. We’ve never done a concert like this before, so I think people will be excited to see what the orchestra performs with Project Trio.”

All FSO concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Ardrey Auditorium. At 6:30 p.m., the audience has the opportunity to speak with the conductor and guest performers about the concert. Anyone interested in attending a concert can visit the FSO website, or purchase tickets through the NAU ticket website.