Summer is a reason in itself to celebrate in the Pacific Northwest but this summer, there’s one more thing to celebrate and that’s the silver anniversary of the Bellingham Festival of Music.
I’ve written before here about the festival which happens every July since I moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham. In fact, the festival is one of the reasons that brought me and my family to Bellingham. Although I didn’t realize, the festival at the time we first began to consider and explore this area was only three years old. As the three visits we made before deciding to relocate here were all in August, we missed the festival but became aware of it.
Soon after settling in, we began to buy tickets to attend some of the concerts and we’ve been faithful festivalgoers ever since. Through the years, we’ve heard some amazing music performed by an orchestra with top-notch players from major orchestras around the country, including the N.Y. Philharmonic, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Montreal Symphony. And the guest artists who have soloed with them are world-class. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here in my small community listening to the kind of classical concerts that you usually only find in large, metropolitan cities.
For any music festival to have survived 25 years is an accomplishment, let alone one that thrives in a community of 100,000 (and less when it first began) and now runs on all volunteer help. Much credit must be given to the festival’s hard-working boards who put in hours and hours of time all year to bring the festival together.
A salute must also be given to the man who’s been the artistic director and conductor since the beginning, Michael Palmer. Palmer, who I’ve come to know in recent years, has a gift for pulling together musicians, most of whom only play together once a year, to present tight, strong performances of classical favorites as well as contemporary new pieces. It’s a strenuous and demanding job in the three short weeks of the festival’s duration.
Of course without such talented and professional musicians, the festival would not nearly be the quality it is. Sitting among the ranks of players are the first oboist for the Boston Symphony, the first violist of the Cincinnati Symphony, the first clarinet and flutist from Atlanta’s Symphony and the first bassist from Seattle’s Symphony, to mention but a few.
This year, much to my delight, also joining the violin section is a young woman named Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel who grew up in Bellingham, played in the Sehome High School orchestra before going off to college at the University of Texas in Austin to study music. She was among one of my sons’ closest friends as a kid and now plays with the Cincinnati Symphony. It makes the festival’s 25th anniversary particularly special to those of who have watched her mature into the fine musician she now is.
Also special to Bellinghamsters is the Calidore String Quartet that has become recurring guest artists at the festival. This young, gifted ensemble has emerged as a major chamber group winning awards, prizes and recognition throughout the world. To have them return every year for the festival is a special treat for all of us. The violist also happens to also be a Bellingham native and coincidentally, a classmate of Charbel’s.
Only three concerts remain in this year’s 25th anniversary season; one this evening with guest violinist Simone Porter playing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concert No. 1 in D Major;” a free chamber concert on July 18 at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the final closing concert on July 20 featuring the festival chorus singing Poulenc’s “Gloria” with the orchestra. If you’re in close range, I encourage you to attend one of these and if not this year, plan to go next year and celebrate yet another season with the Bellingham Festival of Music.