Bellingham Festival of Music

World-class cultural exchange

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

As far as cultural exchanges go, it’s pretty tough to beat the Bellingham Festival of Music. For two weeks every summer, world-class musicians descend upon Bellingham to play a series of concerts for the edification and entertainment of everyone in attendance. But this isn’t your average jam session—indeed, the performers who take part are players in some of the finest orchestras in the world, and when they come all come together, they form a kind of super-orchestra, the likes of which you’d be lucky to find in any major city in the world.

Blame it on the charms of Bellingham during the summer, chalk it up to the natural collaborative tendencies of musicians, attribute it to the reputation the Festival of Music has earned during its two decades of existence—whatever the reason, year after year, these artists converge to create a classical music experience that’s nothing short of magical. This year’s orchestra is made up of musicians from as near as Seattle and as far-flung as China, Israel, and Scotland, making the festival’s claim to world-class talent a statement of fact.

As in years past, most of the concerts that comprise this incarnation of the Festival of Music—which begins July 5—take place at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center, certainly a worthy venue for such an endeavor. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Festival of Music without a concert or two in a truly spectacular setting, and this year’s venue for two of the performances is the always-stunning Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

Given that the Festival of Music is a multidisciplinary affair, the Festival Orchestra is just one component (albeit a major one) of the entire event. The orchestra gets a big assist from the Festival Chorus, and body of singers among which you’ll likely recognize familiar faces from among Bellingham’s own population of stellar singers. Selected via an audition back in April, the 45-50 members of the Festival Chorus have spent the past several weeks melding their disparate vocals into one distinct voice, and when they join their skills with those of the orchestra, the outcome is harmonization in its highest form.

Along with the constellations that are the chorus and orchestra, the Festival of Music also features the talents of some singular stars of the instrumental and vocal varieties. This means you’ll be treated to the Calidore String Quartet, Christina Smith’s flute, Stefan Jackiw’s violin, the guitar of Pablo Villegas, and more. Guest vocalists include sopranos Joanna Mongiardo and Lisette Oropesa, tenor Wesley Rogers, and others. And while the festival remains firmly under the expert tutelage of Michael Palmer, the artistic director who has made the Festival of Music into an artistic powerhouse, guest conductor Whitney Reader will helm the orchestra’s July 12 performance.

By the time the final notes of this years Festival of Music fade, Bellingham’s status as a prime destination for world-class classical musicians will once again be firmly established. As it should be.

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