Opinion Columns & Blogs

10 reasons not to miss the 2016 Bellingham Festival of Music

Artistic Director Michael Palmer conducts the Bellingham Festival Orchestra at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center in 2014. The 23rd annual season opens July 1, 2016.
Artistic Director Michael Palmer conducts the Bellingham Festival Orchestra at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center in 2014. The 23rd annual season opens July 1, 2016. Bellingham Festival of Music

Lists of 10 are everywhere online and in print. We find them irresistible. Consider: 10 Bizarre Claims of Alien/Human Hybrids; 10 Ways to Prepare for the Big One; 10 Bizarre Punctuation Marks that Didn’t Stick; 10 Ab Exercises Better than Crunches.

Conforming to this trend, we offer you 10 Reasons Not to Miss the 2016 Bellingham Festival of Music. They probably won’t help you burn belly fat. They pretty clearly won’t protect you from alien abduction. But they will make for pleasurable entertainment or even spiritual uplift. And they will certainly relieve you of presidential politics fatigue.

So here goes. First, the practical reasons:

1. It’s gorgeous here during the summer. Why would you want to leave Bellingham to hear music? You don’t have to. After a day of golfing, hiking, gardening, or idyllically “messing about in boats” (think Mole and Ratty in “Wind in the Willows”), slip on your dress flip-flops, Hawaiian shirts and sun dresses and head over to WWU’s Performing Arts Center.

2. Big City Quality. Small City Accessibility. If you went to hear performances of this virtuosity in Seattle, you’d have to drive there and pay up to $20 to park (near Benaroya Hall). If you went to such concerts in Vancouver, you’d have to go through Customs and Border Control and then the dreaded George Massey Tunnel. Enough said.

3. Related to No. 2 — the tickets are a bargain. Tickets are $45 and $35 for single admissions and less per concert if you buy a subscription. (Student, WWU staff and faculty rates also apply). Seattle Symphony: up to $121. Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: Up to $65.

4. C’mon in. It’s cool inside. Yes, the festival has found an air-conditioning hack to keep the WWU PAC comfortable for listeners and players alike.

Now, the pleasurable returns:

5. The Bellingham Festival Orchestra features the brilliant performers you’d expect to hear at world famous festivals like Aspen, Tanglewood, Saratoga, and the Hollywood Bowl. Indeed, the musicians come from some of those same festivals’ resident orchestras. And many are principal players.

6. Our soloists — Lynn Harrell, Cho-Liang Lin, Peter Serkin — are renowned artists, loved by fans all over the world. They bring a lifetime of experience, bravura technique, and profound expression to their playing.

7. Our rising stars are proof that Millennials aren’t the entitled, narcissistic, impatient, unfocused slackers they are reputed to be. The Calidore String Quartet, winner of the inaugural $100,000 M-Prize in Chamber Music, got to Carnegie Hall in May because they practiced, practiced, practiced. And, of course, they are also prodigiously talented. (And, don’t forget, the violist is Bellingham’s own Jeremy Berry.) Similarly, pianist Kuok-wai Lio, from Macau by way of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, became an Avery Fisher Career Grant winner in 2013 at the age of 24.

8. Our Artistic Director Michael Palmer brings a wealth of interpretive finesse, honed over his years with numerous orchestras and guided in the early years by his great mentor, Robert Shaw. This year, in keeping with the centennial birthday celebrations for his much loved teacher, Maestro Palmer will dedicate all his performances to Shaw.

9. The repertory nods to opera through comic, poignant and scenic overtures and preludes; revisits some of the great solo concertos; takes a side trip to Mexico with Juan Ramìrez’s Suite Latina for String Quartet and Orchestra; and concludes with that deeply moving final work of Mozart, the Requiem Mass.

10. What to listen for: the scene painting of sun-dappled Italian lakes in Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. The pianist’s flying fingers in Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (the young composer seemingly reveling in just how fast he himself could play). The unique example of Beethoven (!) employing a fff (fortissimo) in the Eighth Symphony at the return of the main theme in the first movement. (Thank you, program annotator Dr. Ryan Dudenbostel!). The hot dance numbers in Ramìrez’s Suite Latina. And the delectable depiction of a child’s vision of heaven—“The angels bake the bread and there is no music on earth that can compare to ours”—in the finale of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

So come join us, won’t you? July 1—17. It’s going to be terrific. Information: bellinghamfestival.org.

Ellen Pfeifer is a Bellingham Festival of Music board member.