In Bellingham, Maestro Yaniv Attar raises his baton to launch the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra into its 40th season. The orchestra’s music director since 2013, this 36-year-old Israeli conductor’s very name says “success” in Hebrew: “Yaniv” means to bear, as in fruit, and “Attar” means crown, as in the symbol of a leader.
Forty years ago, some volunteers got together to play a concert for the bicentennial. What’s the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra like now?
I’m so lucky to be in a community with an amazing pool of talented players. About 30 to 40 percent are music teachers, so almost half the orchestra is professional, even though it’s only the principals who are paid. For a community orchestra, it has a good reputation, including with the international soloists we bring in.
And you do go high-profile: Seattle Chamber Music Society’s artistic director, James Ehnes, will be doing the Beethoven Concerto on your season opener October 11. And what’s this about a Holocaust-themed series?
It’s called “Harmony from Discord: Music Written Under Oppression.” Most is from the Holocaust. Actually, I just wanted to do one concert, but the artistic committee of the board loved it, and wanted to do a series.
When you lectured on “Composers of the Holocaust” at the Jansen Art Center in Lynden back in May, how was the subject received?
The room was packed, and the audience was quiet. They expected to be depressed. But most of the music — if you heard it without knowing the circumstances — you’d never know it was the Holocaust.
You’ve been in touch with Seattle’s Music of Remembrance?
Yes, and some of the performers who play regularly on that series will play with us, like Susan Gulkis Assadi, Seattle Symphony’s principal viola.
You’re going to be very busy! You’ve even added a long-distance gig: music director of the Pennsylvania Center Orchestra in State College.
There’s really going to be no conflict. If there had been I wouldn’t have applied. I was a finalist with other orchestras, but I turned them down.
Bellingham is home, then?
It’s home. We love our community here. My wife, Meredith, teaches fourth grade in public school; our son, Jonah, is 5. It’s such a great childhood, to live here. And for me — I’m a classical guitarist — I’ve found a great luthier who lives in Bellingham. It’s a really nice Jewish community, too. We belong to Temple Beth Israel and spent a weekend at Camp Kalsman with some members. I grew up in an Orthodox family, and I love the congregation here. There should be more than one way to be Jewish.