Saratoga Orchestra set to “Strum!” this weekend

— Created June 15, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

As familiar as a guitar is in the music world, the instrument is not often the focus of an orchestra concert. But classical guitar will take center stage at Saratoga Orchestra of Whidbey Island’s concerts this weekend in Langley and Oak Harbor. Performances of the program “Strum!” will be Saturday at First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor and Sunday at Island Church of Whidbey in Langley. Both performances begin at 3 p.m.

“The guitar is an instrument that is not typically chosen to perform with orchestras, though I hope this trend evolves as ensembles perform newer works as well as orchestras become more comfortable with using amplification,” said Saratoga Orchestra musical director and conductor, Anna Edwards. “The guitar is such a beautiful and versatile instrument. There are many terrific compositions written for guitar and orchestra.

“One reason why guitar may seem out of context with an orchestra is because it is usually performed as either a solo instrument or in smaller groups,” she continued. “During the Baroque period and earlier, the lute – which was the predecessor to guitar – was used most of the time in small ensembles. Once the classical period started in the mid-1700s, larger orchestras became vogue and the guitar was replaced by the pianoforte, which was louder.”

Special soloist for these concerts is acclaimed classical guitarist, Brig Urias, from San Francisco, who has performed all over the United States and Europe. But he is no stranger to the Saratoga Orchestra.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to perform with the Saratoga Orchestra of Whidbey Island,” Urias told Whidbey Weekly via email. “As a teenager, I attended one of Michael Partington’s performances with the orchestra and was truly inspired by the experience. To be performing alongside them now is surreal, and I am very much looking forward to it.”

As its name implies, these performances focus on compositions featuring strumming, which makes guitar a logical instrument. Other themes within this program include beauty, spring and dedication, Edwards said.

“We begin each half of the program with two compositions that are definitely new to the Northwest – ‘May Day Overture ‘by Elaine Fine and ‘Dorian Overture’ by Maria Newman,” she described. “After Fine’s piece, we begin our journey of musical strumming.”

Urias will perform compositions by Peter Warlock, Federico Monreno Torroba and Luigi Boccherini in the first half of the concert. Three more compositions will follow in the second half of the program, before concluding with Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum.”

Urias, said Edwards, will perform acoustic classical guitar, which is much different than an electric guitar. But both instruments can serve an orchestra well.

“The big difference is that acoustic guitar is much softer, especially if it is not amplified,” she said. “Though you certainly can amplify an acoustic guitar, it has a completely different sound quality that associates it with classical, country, or folk music. Electric guitar is always amplified and its sound is more associated with rock-and-roll and pop music. Both instruments can sound fantastic with an orchestra and there are many wonderful compositions written for orchestra and acoustic or electric guitar.”

“Performing with an orchestra is a rare treat for most guitarists,” said Urias. “Even more rare is the opportunity to perform hidden gems such as Patrick Russ’ arrangement of the ‘Capriol Suite’ by Peter Warlock. This has long been one of my favorite works for guitar and strings. I’m so grateful to Anna Edwards for being willing to include this work on the program and can’t wait to share it with the Whidbey Island community.”

Edwards said she is always happy to present new and exciting music to Whidbey audiences, and these performances are no exception.

“For this concert, two compositions that I am most excited about are ‘Capriol’ by Peter Warlock and ‘Strum’ by Jessie Montgomery,” she said. “Capriol was originally written for string orchestra; however, this particular arrangement is written for guitar and orchestra. The musical dialogue works really well and this arrangement sounds fantastic. ‘Strum’ is a composition that I have wanted to perform for several years. Jessie Montgomery is one of my favorite composers. She is a fabulous violinist herself and knows how to write fun and interesting music for string orchestra.”

After two years of performing strictly chamber music with only string instruments because of the pandemic, Saratoga Orchestra is once again playing as a full orchestra with winds, brass and percussion, and has a lot of programming in store for Whidbey Island this season.

“The year will be full of exciting programs which will include great music – both new and old,” Edwards said. “[And] we will feature our principal players in several new chamber concert events. It is going to be such an exciting season. We are all SO excited to get back to normal after the past two years!”

“Our upcoming ‘Strum!’ concert is just the beginning of what is to an exciting and busy summer of music making for the orchestra,” agreed Larry Heidel, Saratoga Orchestra’s executive director. “Next month we hold our second annual Percussion on the Rock Workshop beginning July 7 and culminating with a public concert at Coupeville High School on July 10. Watch for details on a community drum circle. 

“We are honored to be asked to open Oak Harbor Music Festival’s Sounds of Summer concert series on August 3 at Windjammer Park,” he continued. “And super thrilled to be sharing the stage with the amazing Gothard Sisters, a PNW Celtic-folk trio we’ve had the pleasure of performing with before. The community will certainly want to mark this on their calendar.”

The organization will also hold its fifth annual Pacific Northwest Conducting Institute with conductors from all over the world in August.

Tickets for “Strum!” are currently on sale at Blue Sound Music in Langley, bayleaf in Coupeville and at Click Music in Oak Harbor. The box office will also open one hour before performances. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for military and those 65 and older. Students 17 and under are free. Learn more at and visit to hear and find out more about special guest Brig Urias.