Festival of Music

A silver soiree

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

For the past few weeks, as I’ve been going about the business of my day-to-day Bellingham life, I’ve noticed yard signs cropping up, not one or two at a time, but in numbers that make a person take notice. Even more noteworthy, they’re not advocating for this political initiative or that candidate in the way yard signs typically do.

They’ve got a different agenda. They serve another master.

The colorful signage is a visual reminder that the Bellingham Festival of Music is nearly upon us, and organizers have good reason to make sure we know to mark our calendars.

While every Festival of Music is unique unto itself, this year’s festival marks not just one, but a pair of moments in the event’s history. First, it’s the festival’s 25th year, making this its silver anniversary. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Maestro Michael Palmer’s conducting career, and as the festival’s cofounder, he’s spent half of that time devoting his time and considerable skill to enriching Bellingham’s classical music culture.

As is only proper for such a momentous occasion—or occasions, as the case may be—the Bellingham Festival of Music is really turning up the volume this year, so to speak. Their silver soiree is a yearlong affair, but the festival proper takes place from June 30 through July 20, and they’ll use that time to remind us why the event is worth supporting for another quarter century.

First to dispense with some necessary logistical information. All of the concerts that comprise the Festival of Music take place at 7:30pm at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center, with preshow talks beginning an hour prior. The one exception to that schedule is the incredibly popular Chamber By the Bay concert, which happens at 4pm Sun., July 8 at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. That performance always—as in, always—sells out, so if you have not yet procured tickets, do that now or in the now-adjacent near future.

Now for the fun stuff.

If the 2018 Bellingham Festival of Music can be said to have a standout event, it’s arguably the three-way world premiere of composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ Symphony No. 4 “Chromelodeon” on Weds., July 11. Festival musicians in Bellingham will perform the piece, as will the Nashville Symphony in its namesake city and Boston’s New England Conservatory, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Kernis, an award-winning and much-lauded composer who is on the music faculty of Yale University, will be in Bellingham for the concert. As everyone knows, I don’t spend a lot of time in classical music circles, but even I can figure out that having a renowned composer in the room while their work is being premiered is a pretty big deal.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Festival of Music without a roster of carefully culled guest artists, each impressive in their own right. This year’s festival features three newcomers, all of which represent the future of classical music. Two Avery Fisher Career Grant winners have been invited to perform, pianist Inon Barnatan and Seattle violinist Simone Porter, as well as Tchaikovsky Competition gold medal cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, who is also the featured artist for the Kernis world premiere.

Festival fans will be happy to note the return of current resident chamber ensemble, the ever-popular Calidore String Quartet, who will take a break from the touring and other demands of their rapidly progressing careers to come back to the town and the event that endeared them to local audiences before they were discovered by the rest of the world. They’ll nimbly work their way through a program of Mozart, Bartok, and Beethoven when they play a Sun., July 1 concert.

As has become custom, the 2018 Bellingham Festival of Music ends with a collaborative bang, as the Bellingham Festival Chorus teams up with the orchestra and soprano Maria Valdes to present Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria” at the Fri., July 20 finale. That’s another event for which tickets will likely become scarce before too long, so it might be wise to invest in tickets sooner rather than later.

World premieres and special guest stars aside, this year’s Festival of Music also features a program of music from all points along Palmer’s illustrious career as a conductor. He’s been honing his craft for half a century, which is great for him, but the music-loving citizens of Bellingham have been the true beneficiaries of that musical passion. Here’s to the next 25 years.

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