Established in 1980, Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra is celebrating 40 years of bringing together local musicians and audiences.

The Northern Michigan nonprofit was founded by Julia Kurtyka, a professional violinist and string teacher at Frankfort Public Schools. Today, the orchestra is led by Conductor and Musical Advisor Tom Riccobono, who is an instructor at Interlochen Arts Academy and Interlochen Adult Band Camp and Principal Trombonist with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. We checked in with Tom about his goals for Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra (BASO) and this year’s performances.

​Is it unique for a small community such as the Benzie County area to have an orchestra?

It is not entirely unique, but certainly not a given for a community the size of Benzie County to have an orchestra. There is a lot of time, effort and financial support required to run an orchestra. I feel fortunate that we are so well supported by the community in Benzie and that we have a loyal, music-loving following.

What’s the importance of having groups like this available for local musicians, and also local audiences?

Music enhances our lives, and classical music informs us of what was in the hearts and minds of people over the ages. Music brings us together and reaches beyond the limits of communication. Playing an instrument as we age exercises our digital control, aural perception, visual sensitivity and engages the brain on a higher level than just about anything else you can do.

This is a volunteer musical group, correct? So members are coming together to practice and perform because of their shared love for music. How many members are there right now?

The Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra is a volunteer group. The musicians have a vocation other than music. Many are retirees that find musical fulfillment through membership in the orchestra. They rehearse and perform because this music is transformative, and the relationships that you build through music are lasting and very deep. There are approximately 65 members in the BASO.

40 is a big anniversary. How does it feel to be a part of it?

I am so honored and humbled to be a part of the history of this important organization and appreciate so much those whose shoulders we stand on. Were it not for their innovation and vision we would not be here!

You’ve been with BASO since 2016. How have you seen the group evolve and what are your goals for the next few years?

Since I began, the orchestra has grown in size. It also sounds better. By playing together we have developed our own unique sound. And the individual musicians have gained in skill and finesse. By programming challenging music, we challenge the audience and also allow ourselves to grow and improve in our own personal path.

Tell us about BASO performances. What can audiences expect? Are there shows we should put on our calendar right now? 

Yes! Our concerts are June 28, featuring the Manitou Winds and a new piece written especially for our orchestra; August 23, featuring Benzie’s own Song of the Lakes; and October 4, with Michael Coonrod as a piano soloist. We will also be performing Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony and pieces by Brahms, Khachaturian, Mozart and Johann Strauss.

What do you want to share with MyNorth readers?

There is no greater love than sharing music with friends. To perform together with great people the classics of all time for a great community is such a joy! Please join us!!