Making Music in Beautiful Bellingham

Bellingham’s Festival of Music’s 22nd season got off to a bang on Friday evening when the orchestra, under the baton of Michael Palmer, performed the rousing Overture to Royal Fireworks Music by George Frederic Handel. Though evening was unseasonably warm inside Western Washington University’s Concert Hall the audience wasn’t deterred and applauded for an encore from soloist Vadim Gluzman who gave a stunningly beautiful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra too sparkled when it played Mozart’s wonderful  (never can have too much Mozart) Symphony No. 36 in C major, the  “Linz”.

Violinist Vadim Gluzman greets fans and sign autographs following hisperformance at the 2015 opening night concert Bellingham Festival of Music
Violinist Vadim Gluzman greets fans and sign autographs following his performance at the 2015 opening night concert Bellingham Festival of Music

I often have to remind myself that I am in Bellingham, a city of only 80,000 located 20 miles from the Canadian border, and not in Seattle or San Francisco or even Chicago or New York when I hear this Festival orchestra perform.  Of course, the musicians who play in this orchestra for two weeks in the summer, come from orchestras located in those cities. As many of them have said, it’s equally a treat for them as well to perform here year after year (some have been with the Festival since the first year). They have made many friends with their ‘host’ families and those who come to hear them play. They enjoy the opportunity to play in a our beautiful city by the bay and welcome the chance to escape from the heat of their home environs. (This summer has been unseasonably warm for Bellingham.)

Audience members await the start of the chamber music concert staged in Bellingham's Ferry Terminal each year with stunning views of the bay and the city.
Audience members await the start of the chamber music concert staged in Bellingham’s Ferry Terminal each year with stunning views of the bay and the city.

It’s one reason the New York Times singled out Bellingham’s Music Festival, along with that of select others in the country, for its article by Michael Cooper which appeared in today’s paper. It is, as Cooper so aptly put it, like ‘summer camp’ for classical musicians.

For concertgoers, the festival brings to the stage some of the world’s best classical music and musicians,  without setting foot beyond the city’s boundaries. In my case, I am only steps away from the WWU campus where they perform.

Mary Kary and Joe Robinson play for guests during a farewell gathering given at a private home to honor their retirement from the Belingham Music Festival.
Mary Kary and Joe Robinson play for guests during a farewell gathering given at a private home to honor their retirement from the Bellingham Music Festival.

I have had the pleasure of listening to and getting to know, for example, former New York Philharmonic principal oboist Joe Robinson, both as a member of the orchestra and as a soloist. (Pinch me.) Robinson retired from the Festival two summers ago but his spot was filled by protegé, Keisuke Wakao, principal oboist for the Boston Symphony.  And I’ve heard some of the finest soloists, such as the Israeli violinist Gluzman, performing in classical music today.

It also brings back to Bellingham local artists such as soprano Katie Van Kooten who’s singing with opera companies and symphony orchestras all over the world, and young rising talent, such as the Calidore String Quartet, whose violist, Jeremy Berry, grew up only blocks from the concert hall where he saw musicians on the very stage where he now performs as part of the Festival’s guest artists.

The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform in the Bellingham Festival of Music.
The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform in the Bellingham Festival of Music at Western Washington University. The quartet is making a name for itself internationally and includes violoist Jeremy Berry who grew up listening to concerts on the Festival stage.

At this writing, tickets are still available for some concerts. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, or coming to this corner of the Pacific Northwest in the next two weeks, make it part of your summer. If you can’t make it to Bellingham’s music festival this year, put it in your travel plans for next year. And then you, like so many of the festival musicians, may also find yourself returning year after year!




Families Are People Too

Families may come in all sorts of sizes and shapes but they share many common life experiences.   That’s exactly what Bellingham choreographer Pam Kuntz explores in her newest dance-theatre work–“The Family Project.”

The title couldn’t be more aptly named.  This wonderful piece which will be performed this Thursday through Sunday at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center,  was inspired by stories collected by Kuntz and her team of artists from and about  Whatcom County families.  There’s the Native American couple whose story is set on a beach and told in a stunningly creative and beautiful pas de deux by dancers Vanessa Daines and Ian Bivins.

Choreographer Pam Kuntz is artistic director for the Bellingham-based Kuntz and Company. I love making dramatic portraits in the studio such as this one.

In another,  dancer Angela Kiser appears as the woman of an elderly couple who reminisces about her younger years together with her husband who now suffers from dementia, performed by Bivins.  The touching piece was especially personal to me as in it, I could see my own father and my mother, who also now has dementia.  Throughout “The Family Project”,  Kiser (always a favorite dancer of mine whenever she appears in Kuntz’ or other company’s works), and Zach Wymore provide some comedic relief in a series of three very funny table-top duets.

Interwoven with the dances are video clips of the participating families with their own narratives providing the story.  It’s a bit of a departure for Kuntz who usually incorporates the community participants into the dances themselves but I think is a far more effective and creative way of presenting her theme to the audience.  This then allows the dancers and Kuntz to do what they do best, communicate through dance.

Funding for this premiere. also the first offering in the new season, was provided in part by the Washington State Arts Commission.  Kuntz was also just notified that she was selected as one of 62 Washington state artists as a recipient of the Artist Trust Grants for Artists Projects (GAP). It is very unusual for the Artist Trust to bestow this  grant on dance artists located outside of Seattle.

As an arts reviewer and editor,  I saw a lot of professional dance while covering it in Phoenix and, to some extent, in Los Angeles.  At the time, Arizona State University’s modern dance program was among the first in the country and was emerging as a nationally-known program.  As a result,  many major companies and choreographers, such as Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe came to perform and conduct workshops.   I covered them all, interviewing the guest artists and reviewing the performances.

I think we in Bellingham are fortunate to have a choreographer of Kuntz’ caliber to be actively working here in town.   I am happy to be among those currently serving on the board of her non-profit dance company, Kuntz and Company.

You have four more opportunities to see this newest creative effort by Kuntz and her dancers.  I’d urge you to go.   Tickets can be purchased at the door, Village Books in Fairhaven or on-line at:

Talking about ‘Body Talk’

I had a ‘sneak preview’ on Sunday of the upcoming performance of  “Body Talk” by Maria McLeod to be at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center in Bellingham this Friday and Saturday evenings,  September 28-29.    The cast had a dress-tech rehearsal during which I shot production photos for Maria  (full disclosure here).  But as I was moving around, to photograph the cast, I could see and hear the show which is a collection of dramatic readings based on true stories that Maria has written about what it means to be a woman.

Pam Kuntz at the reader’s stand, along with (from right) Sarah Wallace, Marie Eaton and Sheila Goodwin all seated, rehearses a scene from Maria McLeod’s “Body Talk.”

The readings–all short monologues–are terrific.  Maria is a published poet,  a freelance journalist, documentarian and assistant professor of  journalism at  Western Washington University.  The collected stories are all taken from in-depth interviews that Maria conducted over several years and include a mammogram technician, a nun, a new mother, an esthetician, a transgendered woman and a Buddhist feminist.   In their stories, they share and explore the definition of “womanhood”.   Their tales are explicit (not recommended for young children) but not uncomfortably so.

Marie Eaton performs as one of two women in ‘Body Talk.’

Maria has done a wonderful job of structuring the overall piece into a cohesive yet varied look at her subject matter.  The fact that each piece comes from actual memories and events  gives it even greater impact.  Her language, or that of her interviewees, is powerful in a way that causes you to stop and think about not only the lives of these women but your own as well.  Director Karee Wardrop has done a good job of  serving the text by keeping blocking and stage business to a minimum so as not to distract from the words themselves.  Likewise for the incidental music as performed by two jazz musicians.

The individual performances themselves are strong and bring to life the women behind each of the stories.  Actress Sheila Larkin Goodwin, in particular,  gives a moving interpretation of the marathon-running nun’s surprising story.

Actress Sheila Goodwin rehearsing in ‘Body Talk.’

But I would expect that from Sheila (also a personal friend) who has appeared in numerous television and theatre productions. However, all the women I saw in the cast–Marie Eaton, Pam Kuntz and Sarah Wallace (Kari Sevens was absent)–also gave weight to their women’s words.  I felt that each had, in some way, connected to their assigned woman and carried that across in their reading.

Cast member Sarah Wallace gives a moving reading of the new mom in ‘Body Talk.’

If you haven’t yet purchased a ticket for these performances,  I’d suggest you hurry.  They can be purchased on-line at http://www.BrownPaperTickets,  Village Books in Fairhaven or at the door for $15.   Both performances start at 7:30 p.m. with American Sign Language interpreters present on Friday evening.  A portion of the proceeds from the shows will be donated to Womencare Shelter.

The only regret I’d have about the show at this point is that there are only two performances scheduled.  It’s so wonderful to see something as fresh and new and different  as “Body Talk” staged locally and done well.