Photo: Courtesy of WMPA

WMPA: Passion, Purpose and Performance

The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association (WMPA), though diverse in their programming, exists for one main reason: to make authentic, meaningful music.

“Our focus is on the music itself,” says Ulysses S. James, WMPA’s music director. “We want to transport people.”

James, who’s been music director since 1984, helped build the organization around this philosophy. He wants musicians to join WMPA out of passion, above all else.

“I think they should get involved [with the organization] because they love classical music,” he says.

The Philharmonic Orchestra is at the heart of the organization. The orchestra, composed of approximately 65 professional, semi-professional and amateur musicians, performs five season concerts annually – each with its own unique musical flare.

James believes it’s the programming that sets it apart. He strives to select dynamic, interesting music to perform – pieces other orchestras wouldn’t typically play. Contemporary music is an especially strong focus, because “I think the audience needs to hear it. The classics are important, yes, but it’s just as crucial that we’re playing modern literature,” he says.

Rachel Colombana, a string bass player who has performed with WMPA for the past four years, agrees.

“Choosing different, 21st century-focused repertoire is something most groups don’t do. Maestro James’ vision was to really make it something different,” she says.

It’s also a key reason she keeps coming back. The group plays pieces she’s never heard of, she says, making it an “exciting and educational” experience.

WMPA’s annual composition competition is reflective of its distinctive programming. Typically scheduled as a concerto performance competition, the contest further sets the association apart from other organizations like it.

“I realized that everyone was hosting concerto competitions,” says James. “I thought it was more important to attract some fine composers.”

Composers from across the nation enter the competition, all vying for the chance to hear their piece performed live. The competition supports James’ focus on contemporary repertoire, adding to the group’s growing list of 21st century pieces they’ve performed.

WMPA also supports two youth orchestras during the fall and spring, as well as a summer chamber music series. Patrons can view the full summer schedule online, which features concerts every Sunday afternoon between mid-June and September. Performances are free and open to the public. So, what lies ahead for WMPA? The upcoming season promises to be full and dynamic.

It’s “one of the more exciting seasons I’ve put together,” James says, set around the theme “seven masterpieces from near and far.”

They’ll perform works by favorite age-old composers, including Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams, Debussy and Dvořák, as well as acclaimed DC composer Ben Roundtree. They’ve even got a saxophone-centered concert scheduled, featuring the Washington Saxophone Quartet performing Bolcom’s Concerto Grosso.

James hopes he continues to see the organization, and the orchestra, thrive. He’s hopeful it will grow a bit more – both with musicians, and audience members. He’d also be happy expanding the organization administratively, acquiring additional board members and perhaps some staff.

Most of all, James wants WMPA to continue to live and breathe for music. It’s an organization rooted in passion above all – a mission-driven group with performances that move.

“I think what we do brings a lot of joy to the people involved,” James says. “It gives people a sense of meaning. And that’s the most important thing anyone can do.”

Learn more about WMPA, their upcoming Lyceum Chamber Music concerts, and their upcoming season online.


Jamie McCrary

Jamie McCrary is a writer, musician, and educator currently based in Washington, DC. As a journalist, she’s covered everything from science policy to statistics—though the arts is her specialty. She is currently Communications Coordinator for American University’s Kogod School of Business, where she writes articles to promote the school’s faculty, students and events. Ms. McCrary is published in NEA Arts Magazine, Connections Magazine, and Eat-Drink-Lucky. She holds a B.M. in viola performance and also maintains an active performing and teaching career. Learn more at