In October 2014, Orchestra Northern Arizona performed Karim Elmahmoudi’s Orbit: A Symphonic Fantasy at the Coconino Center for the Arts. The program was scheduled to be part of the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition’s Celebration of the Night at the NightVisions V art exhibition at the Center.

From the nomination letter:

Composed of more than 60 student, amateur and professional musicians drawn from all segments of the local community, Orchestra Northern Arizona presents 4 concerts of classical music each year, all free of charge. Our audiences include pre-schoolers to senior citizens, with strong representation by whole families, and cuts across all socioeconomic categories. We are truly Flagstaff’s community orchestra.

Two years ago, Artistic Director and Conductor David Cripps and his wife, Melissa Collins Cripps, came to know the young Los Angeles-based composer/arranger Karim Elmahmoudi. In 2012, Elmahmoudi, who composes for film, concert hall and video games, premiered “Orbit: a Symphonic Fantasy,” commissioned by the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra. Orbit is now played hourly at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center in Los Angeles, home of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, as part of their IMAX productions.

When Director Cripps discovered Elmahmoudi was also an amateur astronomer, a concept was born: bring Elmahmoudi and Orbit to Flagstaff for our Dark Skies Celebration. In October 2014, in collaboration with the Dark Skies Coalition of Flagstaff, Elmahmoudi visited Flagstaff for a week. The week was capped by two Saturday performances of Orbit as part of ONA’s Dark Skies concerts and a Sunday reception for the composer at, and in collaboration with, Lowell Observatory. These concerts also complemented the Night Vision exhibition at the Coconino for the Arts, venue for our concerts.

Sponsoring a Composer-in-Residence represents a new and relatively unique initiative for a community orchestra. In Elmahmoudi’s case, the week involved orchestra rehearsals, meetings with community leaders and, consistent with ONA’s mission to provide music education across the community, eight presentations in five schools to nearly 400 students of all ages. In the schools, he explained the process of composing, from concept to finished product. Predictably, the kids exhibited particular interested in his work on movie and video game music.

Also predictably, Elmahmoudi’s school presentations and other activities promised strong attendance at the concerts. This was realized, with standing-room-only for both performances. The value of this concert to interest in classical music is partially reflected in the sale at our most recent Candy Cane concert of more than 40 CDs of the concert; these CDs represent ONA’s first venture into expanding the orchestra’s impact and recognition through recordings of our concerts.

During its roughly 5 years of existence, ONA has brought classical music to the Northern Arizona community through free concerts, provided opportunities for many members of that community to remain connected with their instruments and favored music, expanded community and personal connections among musicians, and enhanced the rich artistic environment in which we live. In a particularly unique fashion, the Dark Skies concerts and other activities with Composer-in-Residence Karim Elmahmoudi focused attention on the rich scientific legacy of Flagstaff and the inexorable link between the beauty of the natural world and the inspiration of art. It seems that Orchestra Northern Arizona’s Dark Skies initiative for 2014 meshes perfectly with the intent of these awards as well as the interests of the teacher, artist and community leader whose name graces these awards.