The Issaquah Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) recently welcomed Dr. Nse Ekpo as its new conductor.
Founding conductor, Duane Bowen, stepped down last summer after nearly 20 years.
The IPO has roots that go back to 2000 when two friends, Joyce Cunningham and Bowen, decided to start a reading orchestra for fun and friendship. The original group evolved into a nonprofit community orchestra that continues to play for fun and friendship.
“We have musicians that range from middle-school age to 92,” Bowen told the Reporter in May. “I think we represent the community well, and we always have a lot of fun.”
Since its founding, IPO has grown. As an all-volunteer nonprofit community orchestra, the IPO still holds true to its founding ideals of music for fun and friendship.
IPO makes a point of connecting with its community, Ekpo said. It’s hosted several benefit concerts for the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank and the concerts are free.
It’s the community aspect of IPO that drew him to audition to be the new conductor.
“I love the care they have for the community,” Ekpo said. “They’re the best of what a community orchestra can be.”
Ekpo has a long history in music. Born in South Carolina, he was first introduced to playing music at 8 years old. He began with piano, as his mother started taking lessons at the time. In middle school, he picked up the clarinet and continued with music for the rest of his education.
He has conducted internationally in China with the Beijing Opera Theatre, in Japan on tour with the University of Washington Wind Ensemble, and guest conducted with the Pazardjik Symphony Orchestra in Pazardjik, Bulgaria. He earned a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of South Carolina and studied with the late Peter Eros, former conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the late Gustav Meier of the Peabody Conservatory. Ekpo currently serves as the band director at the Lakeside School in Seattle.
He said he was encouraged to try conducting by his high school band director. His first conducting performance was at his high school’s graduation.
“I developed a passion for conducting,” he said. “It combines disparate elements together.”
The elements of conducting, he said, include being a coach, a teacher and an ambassador — elements he said he brings with him in his new role at IPO.
Ekpo will conduct his first concert with IPO on Nov. 25 at Skyline High School.
He said he enjoys being part of IPO and is looking forward to its future.
“I think this orchestra is wonderful,” he said. “The range, the diversity and backgrounds of the players is great. And the music we play is so fun… It’s the Northwest’s most exciting community orchestra.”
The Nov. 25 concert will feature soloist Robert Reardon from the National Symphony Orchestra performing Mozart. The concert’s pieces will include, Smith’s “The Star Spangled Banner,” Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” Mozart’s “Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat major,” and Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8.”
To learn more about Ekpo or about IPO, go online to http://iphil.org/.