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Christopher Zimmerman, music director of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, is the new music director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra in North Dakota. His appointment, effective June 5, strengthens his artistic profile as he launches his fifth season in Fairfax with an expanded seven-concert series.

Zimmerman, one of 140 national candidates, was the unanimous choice of the FMSO search committee after an interview process that included a two-week residency. He will continue living in Fairfax County, while engaging in community outreach and education initiatives throughout Northern Virginia.

Zimmerman has served as music director and conductor of the City of London Chamber Orchestra, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of Southeast Texas. He has conducted orchestras all over Europe and the Americas, with recent appearances in Venezuela, Finland, Prague and Mexico.

In 2011, he won the American Conducting Prize, a new and prestigious award given for nationwide performances by orchestral conductors and choral conductors. Committed to performing music by living composers, Zimmerman has premiered more than 25 works for orchestra.

He graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in music, and received a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. In 1993, he joined the conducting faculty at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, and in 1999, was appointed Fuller Professor of orchestral studies at the Hartt School and music director of the Hartt Symphony.

“This is great news and a personal triumph for [Zimmerman],” said Thomas Brownell, chairman of the Fairfax Symphony’s Board of Directors. “I am sure all of our board members join me in wishing [him] well in this new endeavor.”

McLean optometrist-turned-author wins book award

“Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind,” a book by Margaret Placentra Johnston of McLean, has been named the Gold Winner of the 2013 Nautilus Book Award in Religion/Spirituality.

Despite its subtitle, “Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind” is not a book against religion. It calls readers to a broader, more sophisticated understanding of religious belief.

Showing correlations in the works of 12 notable theorists in spiritual development, “Faith Beyond Belief” lays out steps on the road to spiritual maturity. Real people share true stories about how they moved from one spiritual development stage to the next.

The Nautilus Book Award is granted to exceptional literary contributions to spiritual growth and other high-minded values. Former Nautilus winners include Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra, Barbara Kingsolver, Thich Nhat Hanh, Caroline Myss, Gregg Braden and Eckhart Tolle.

Johnston earned a degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1982, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Catholic University of America in 1973 and 1974. She operated a private optometric practice in Springfield for 20 years and now sees patients part time in Alexandria and Washington, D.C.

For more, visit www.FaithBeyondBelief-book.com.

Arts Council honors 3 with Strauss awards

The Arts Council of Fairfax County has given its sixth annual Strauss Artist Awards to two individuals and a team: Diane Coburn Bruning, Susan Eder and Craig Dennis, and Rebecca Kamen.

Award-winning choreographer Coburn Bruning has worked with dance, theater and opera companies throughout the United States and abroad. She recently moved to Fairfax County from New York, and has been working with local groups, including George Mason University’s School of Arts and the Washington Opera, as well as setting the framework to relocate her company, Chamber Dance Project, to Fairfax.

Eder and Dennis, recognized as a team, are previous recipients of the Strauss Fellowship. Their collaborative cloud photographs and butterfly series bridge the gap between representation and abstraction. Eder and Dennis are represented by Marsha Matekyka Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Kamen is a visual artist and previous recipient. Her work promotes a heightened awareness of the shared qualities of science and art, and how each discipline can inform and inspire the other. Kamen’s work is represented in many private and public collections.

The Strauss Artist Awards, named for Bill Strauss (1947-2007), a gifted writer and co-founder of the Capitol Steps and the Cappies, are an investment in the sustained growth and development of the arts in Fairfax County.

“The artist grants program recognizes Fairfax County-based professional artists, their achievements, and enables the artists’ continued pursuit of their creative work,” said Linda Sullivan, president and CEO of the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

MS scholarships go to 3 local grads

Three high school seniors from Fairfax County have received scholarships from the National Capital Chapter of the National MS Society: Hunter Madden of Burke, Jessica Starkey of Centreville, and Rachel Steiner of Springfield.

The Ellen Carol Segal Memorial Scholarship is awarded annually to high school seniors from the D.C. metropolitan area who live with multiple sclerosis or have a parent who is afflicted. The program also is open to anyone living with MS who has not yet enrolled in a post-secondary school. Seven scholarships were awarded this year.

Madden is a graduate of Robinson Secondary School whose mother and father were each diagnosed with MS six years apart when Madden was a young child. Madden plans to attend Virginia Tech to pursue a degree in engineering.

Starkey is a graduate of Westfield High School, whose mother is living with MS. Starkey plans to attend the College of William & Mary to pursue a career in family law.

Steiner is a graduate of West Springfield High School, whose mother is living with MS. Steiner plans to attend the University of Virginia to pursue a career in internal medicine.

National Capital Chapter board member Bruce Pearlman started the scholarship in memory of his late wife, Ellen, who died from complications of MS in 2007.

Writing contest for high school students

To celebrate National Grandparents Day, the Writers of Chantilly, an organization of local professional and aspiring writers, is sponsoring a free writing contest open to Fairfax County high school students.

Students are invited to write an original essay, short story or poem about a special memory with a grandparent or lesson learned from a grandparent. Only one entry per author may be entered; it must be written by the student, reflecting his or her original ideas, and be no more than 1,000 words.

The first- through third-place winners will read their work at a National Grandparents Day author event at Chantilly Regional Library on Sept. 8. Winners also will receive a writing prize package and have their work published in a future Writers of Chantilly story collection.

Email entries to WOCwritingcontest@gmail.com. Include your name, grade, mailing address, email address and phone number. All entries will be acknowledged; winners will be notified by July 31.

Entries are due July 15. For more, visit writersofchantilly.blogspot.com.

Grants available

The Giving Circle of HOPE, which helps people in need in Northern Virginia by awarding grants and conducting service programs, has opened its 2013 grant cycle.

Grants up to $7,000 will be awarded to local nonprofit organizations through a competitive screening process. Grant applications are due Aug. 15 and may be accessed at www.givingcircleofhope.org or requested by email at grants@givingcircleofhope.org.