Alexandria teacher started assembling community orchestra 10 years ago

Ten years ago Brad Lambrecht had a “pipe dream” about starting a community orchestra that could offer symphonic music for all to enjoy, right in the middle of Minnesota in the west-central city of Alexandria. With the start of the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra’s 10th season, 2018-19, the dream is brilliantly resounding.

It may have been a pipe dream to make this area the “Cultural Hub of Central Minnesota,” but anyone who knows Brad, who is the Alexandria Area High School orchestra teacher, understands that there is no stopping an opportunity when the vision becomes clear.

The idea was a great opportunity from the start. Shortly after he started formulating a plan to begin an orchestra comprised of local adult musicians, he learned that a new high school would be built in Alexandria. The timing coincided perfectly.

Rehearsals for the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra are held each Tuesday. Contributed photo

Joelle Burreson, a retired music educator, explained, “When Brad first approached me with the idea of starting a community orchestra I was very skeptical to say the least, ‘Been there, done that.’ But this time was different. Brad’s energy and enthusiasm was, and is, contagious, and from the start we had a team of the right people at the right time to make this happen. Four words that strike fear in every board member are Brad saying, ‘I have an idea.’ We have been very blessed to have strong leadership to build a firm foundation from which we have been able to continue to grow to where we are today…and where we hope to be in the future.”

The Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra will kickoff its 10th season. This fall with the Bella Notte Gala, scheduled for Sept. 28. “It’s a perfect opportunity to experience symphonic music without having to drive to Minneapolis,” explained Sandy Susag, current board member of the organization.

As the mission statement reads, the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra is a community organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in West Central Minnesota by:

Enriching the lives of audience members by bringing more opportunities to hear beautiful orchestral music.

Providing an opportunity for musicians to participate in performing serious music with a symphony orchestra.

Giving back to the community through donations and student scholarships.

The orchestra is comprised of 60 musicians with exceptional talent who are in the orchestra by audition only. Many members of the orchestra are colleagues in music education. The orchestra is comprised of current, former, or retired music teachers that live in the Alexandria area, as well as from Fergus Falls, North Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota Morris, and from as far away as Duluth. The orchestra includes adult musicians who want to keep playing. They have a passion to grow their talent after their high school years.

The audition process for a new season begins in August each year, and according to orchestra director, Lambrecht, “We are growing in talent. Every year we want to challenge our musicians, in other words, perform more difficult compositions, to grow our talent. As colleagues, challenging ourselves makes us better teachers. Eighty percent of the orchestra is comprised of adults, an original goal when starting the orchestra.  We audition musicians with a high-skill level with various sections in the orchestra to fill.  We have close ties with the high school and also invite high school students to audition because it gives a great opportunity to challenge themselves and participate in a community effort. We want people to play and people want to play. It’s almost overwhelming, the number of people who audition. It’s quite prestigious; the word is out, this orchestra is the real thing!”

Brad Lambrecht, founder and director of the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra. Contributed photo

During the first season, 2008-09, concerts were held at Discovery Middle School on their performing arts stage with a small audience. They soon outgrew the space. Today, the orchestra has moved to the Alexandria Area High School Performing Arts Center with an average audience of more than 400, filled with children all the way up to senior citizens.

“Parents realize how cool this is, that there is an orchestra of this caliber right here in Alexandria,” Lambrecht continued.  In December 2017 there were more than 600 in attendance.  All performances begin at 2 p.m. on Sundays; however, Maestro Notes begin an hour prior, 1 p.m., which offers the audience the opportunity to gain more insight and understand the story about the music they are about to hear, explained Lambrecht.

The Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra debuted its first season with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. Said Lambrecht with a smile, “If it’s good enough for Beethoven, it’s good enough for us. We push ourselves to be the best.” He added, “We’ve done a Star Wars concert and there’s call for us to do that again. We are ending our 10th season with a greatest hits concert, and there are calls for a repeat performance. We’ve been asked about taking our show on the road, and that’s a possibility with a trip to Morris. We’ve done two Scandinavian concerts.”

With $75 in their pocket the first year, Lambrecht explained that today the symphony has become more financially stable, yet also relies heavily on performing arts grants, such as the Minnesota Legacy grant, the Lake Region Arts Council and other local grant opportunities. The planned opera in February is dependent on grant funds. Business sponsorships are being sought ,and marketing continues to expand in order for the symphony to evolve and bring more community people in.

“Long-range goals and concert planning continues, and there are so many things to be excited about,” said Joelle Burreson, who plays oboe in the orchestra. “We are very grateful to the community and all of our sponsors who have supported us in so many different ways, financially supporting us as sponsors, attending the concerts, volunteering as ushers, contributing to the silent auction…and the list goes on. The community has made the symphony orchestra successful,” Burreson added. There are now more than 400 people on the mailing list for the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra has also begun collaborating with other artist organizations, added Lambrecht. “We partner with the Chamber Orchestra. We have partnered with a community choir these past several years, a choir of more than 80 voices, to perform many great choral/orchestral works. We are giving visual artists an opportunity to showcase their work during intermissions. We’ve teamed up with the Brush and Pallet Club and composer Maurice Mondhart to create a masterwork based on local artist’s creations. We have collaborated with the Minnesota Opera and the Twin Cities Ballet in past seasons. And another good thing, with a ‘live’ orchestra, an audience will never hear the same thing twice. Orchestras are human!”

Human, yes, with a touch of Superman strength, Lambrecht’s excitement is contagious, and the musicians he works with echo his energy. “Rehearsal is every Tuesday, so a great amount of commitment is necessary. It really is the passion that drives the musicians,” added  Burreson.

“The orchestra has added growth to our community,” said Lambrecht. “There is a huge growth in the orchestral program at District 206. We are bringing new people to the area to find their employment so they can be a part of the orchestra moved to Alexandria because of the orchestra! We have musicians who commute every week, driving miles so they can be at rehearsal.”

And so, the pipe dream of Brad Lambrecht has mushroomed into a resounding success. The original plan for people to experience symphonic music without having to drive to Minneapolis to experience it is a reality. And, Lambrecht continues to have ideas on how to make it all grow.

“We never know what to anticipate when Brad says, ‘I have an idea,’ but we know we can prepare to get our best running shoes on, excited to be a part of the journey,” said Burreson.

“We are forever indebted to the community and surrounding area as they support the value of symphonic music and the musicians who have the passion to share,” said Lambrecht.     

For more information, including a listing of the full 2018-19 schedule, visit www.centrallakessymphony.org.