Lorraine Wilde | 06/15/2019 | Insider Blogs, Live Performances |   

Bellingham Festival of Music, June 29 - July 19, 2019

Classical music has always impressed me. I tend to study the performers while they play. I enjoy seeing the differences between them, the passion and focus of each artist, and how they deliver the emotion of each piece through their craft.

So many talented musicians coming together from diverse backgrounds, sometimes with little rehearsal, under the direction of a masterful conductor, to present timeless pieces that have withstood the test of decades or even centuries—without a noticeable mistake—is a true feat to behold.

Since 1993, the Bellingham Festival of Music (BFM or Festival) has done just that. With both local and internationally-celebrated guest artists alongside the Festival Orchestra and Chorus, the festival creates unforgettable musical experiences for a generation of audiences. The Festival celebrated its Silver Anniversary season last summer with a host of stunning musical performances. This year promises to be equally dazzling, including a world premiere by Composer David Arend, a Gala Evening of Favorite Opera Arias and Choruses with Metropolitan Opera Mezzo Soprano Jamie Barton, and the debut of Guest Conductor Arthur Fagen. Soloists will include exhilarating emerging artists, a festival favorite, Guitarist Pepe Romero and Piano Grand Master Marc-André Hamelin.


A Proud History

The Festival was Co-founded in 1993 by American conductor and Artistic Director Michael Palmer and renowned cellist, Robert Sylvester (at that time Dean of The College of Fine and Performing Arts and Director of Cultural Affairs of Western Washington University). This year, Palmer celebrates 51 years as a conductor. Each year, talented musicians from all across the United States and Canada, many of whom are principals in orchestras such as New York Philharmonic and the Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta Symphonies, along with well-known soloists and groups, share their craft before sold-out audiences.

Palmer Orchestra Bellingham Festival Of Music

The Festival’s dedication to excellence has been noticed and recognized throughout the country. Their art has been aired by NPR and American Public Media. They also received consecutive National Endowment for the Arts grants in 2009 and 2010 due to the quality of the Festival and its value to the national cultural tapestry. We are so fortunate to have such talent just down the street each year.

What To Expect

Festival Orchestra and Chorus

The Festival Orchestra is made up of more than 80 accomplished, award-winning musicians who’ve performed all over the world. Many play regularly throughout the Pacific Northwest including Seattle and Vancouver. Others are also faculty at prestigious universities across the country and around the world. They form a tightly bonded ensemble of longtime artistic comrades who know and respond to each other intuitively. Some variation of this group will perform a wide range of pieces at each of the live performances scheduled June 29 – July 19, 2019.

Several members will be spotlighted in solo and chamber music performances. Other Principal players and small ensembles of BFM Orchestra are featured in the popular Chamber by the Bay concert at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal on Sunday, July 7, 2019. This more casual and intimate performance usually sells out so get your tickets early. The event is followed by a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception.

The Bellingham Festival Chorus brings together some of the finest singers from Whatcom County who rehearse for more than a month under the direction of Maestro Palmer. Festival audiences appreciate this dedicated group of highly skilled singers willing to donate their time and talent to present choral masterpieces. They polish their performances for each season’s choral finale, this year on July 19 in Favorite Opera Arias and Choruses. You can attend a post-concert champagne reception and meet guest soloist Jamie Barton for added fun as an add on to your ticket.

2019 Guest Artists

Each guest artist is world-renowned and brings their own rich experience to their work. Many of these players return year after year, attracted by the excellence of musical performance, the beauty of the scenic surroundings and the congeniality of their home hosts and local audiences.

Pianist George Li

  • Saturday, June 29, 2019

This performance will open with Overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla,” composed by Mikhail Glinka between 1837 and 1842. The opera is based on the 1820 poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. Interestingly, Pushkin’s death in the famous duel prevented him from writing the libretto himself as planned. The Overture is the best known music from the opera. Overtures in general are independent, self-existing instrumental works the precede a greater work.

Pianist George Li will then present Russian Soviet Composer Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #3 in C Major, Op.26 (1921)Prokofiev is perhaps most known for the ballet Romeo and Juliet—from which “Dance of the Knights” is taken—and Peter and the Wolf.


Violinist Benjamin Beilman with Guest Conductor Arthur Fagen

  • Saturday, July 6, 2019

Violinist Benjamin Beilman will open the evening with Mozart’s Violin Concerto #3 in G Major, K.216. Mozart was only 19 when he composed this piece.

Beilman has been playing since the age of five. He caught worldwide attention following his First Prize wins in the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Auditions –where he was also recipient of YCA’s Helen Armstrong Violin Fellowship and a People’s Choice Award –and the 2010 Montréal International Musical Competition. The New York Times has praised his “handsome technique, burnished sound, and quiet confidence,” and the Strad described his playing as “pure poetry.” In a 2018 feature in The Boston Globe, David Weininger remarked that Beilman’s “playing already has its own sure balance of technical command, intensity, and interpretive finesse.” Beilman now plays the “Engleman” Stradivarius from 1709, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.


This wonderful evening will also debut Guest Conductor Arthur Fagen as the orchestra presents Bruckner’s Symphony #4 in Eb Major “Romantic,” written 1874 – 1888 by the Austrian composer. Fagen has served as Music Director of the Atlanta Opera since 2010 and has been in great demand as a conductor of symphony and opera on four continents. Fagen is Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

A pre-concert lecture is planned. Check the website for all the latest details.

Chamber by the Bay

  • Wednesday, July 7, 2019

Chamber by the Bay is always a festival hit, selling out well in advance due to the smaller venue (more limited seating) and more intimate presentation. Note that its at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, not WWU, and starts at an earlier time than other festival events, 4 p.m. Get those tickets early to hear a collection of smaller ensembles present Jean-Marie Leclair’s Duo Sonata, Op. 3, No. 5, Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20. This presentation will be  followed by a wine and appetizer reception. Afterward, you might enjoy dinner and a stroll in nearby historic Fairhaven.


World Premiere by Composer David Arend & Guitarist Pepe Romero

  • Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Double bassist and composer David Arend performs classical, jazz, hip hop, singer/songwriter and electroacoustic music, exploring hybrids in his compositions. His music has been performed by jazz combos, chamber ensembles, soloists, DJs, the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, San Francisco Academy Orchestra, Philharmonia Northwest, West Point Woodwind Quintet and members of the San Francisco Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Nashville Symphony. He’ll share a world premiere to start the evening.

Returning Festival favorite and grand master guitarist Pepe Romero will present  Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto Aranjuenz. Written in 1939, it is Rodrigo’s best-known work, and its success established his reputation as one of the most significant Spanish composers of the 20th century. Interestingly, Romero and Rodrigo became close personal friends. Rodrigo later wrote Concerto para una Fiesta specifically for Romero.

Romero is the second son of world-renowned guitarists Celedonio Romero and brother musical phenoms, Celin and Angel Romero. Born in Spain after the Spanish Civil War and during the Second World War, Romero first performed on stage at the age of 7. Over the past 60 years he’s performed all over the world with the most prestigious symphony orchestras.

Romero holds honorary doctorates in music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the University of Victoria, British Columbia. In 1996, he received the “Premio Andalucía de la Música,” the highest recognition given by his native land for his contribution to the arts. In addition, His Majesty, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, has knighted Romero and his brothers into the Order of “Isabel la Católica.”  In June 2018 he received the Medalla de Honor from the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Granada for his lifelong achievement in performance and pedagogy.

Alongside the accolades, audiences love this living legend. He has said his goal is to bring “the richness and beauty of classical guitar” to the common man. Bellingham and Whatcom County are so fortunate to have him return once again.

This enchanting evening will close with Brahms’ Symphony #2 in D Major, Op. 73.

The Calidore String Quartet with Pianist Marc-André Hamelin

  • Friday, July 12, 2019

The Festival’s resident chamber enseble, the Calidore String Quartet, will perform a full recital. They regularly perform in the most prestigious venues throughout North America, Europe and Asia such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Cologne Philharmonie, Seoul’s Kumho Arts Hall and at many significant festivals, including Verbier, Ravinia, Mostly Mozart, Music@Menlo, Rheingau, East Neuk and Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Within two years of their founding, they won grand prizes in virtually all the major U.S. chamber music competitions, including the Fischoff, Coleman, Chesapeake, and Yellow Springs competitions and top prizes at the 2012 ARD Munich International String Quartet Competition and Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition. They are made up of Jeffrey Meyers and Ryan Meehan on violin, Jeremy Berry on viola, and Estelle Choi on cello.


Their program will include Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 featuring pianist Marc-André Hamelin. Born in Montreal and now calling Boston home, Hamelin performs all over the world. This season alone he returns to Carnegie Hall for a recital on the Keyboard Virtuoso Series plus recitals in Montreal, Seattle, Berlin, Florence, Salzburg, Wigmore Hall, Istanbul, among others. In repertoire from Haydn and Mozart to Ravel and Rachmaninoff, Hamelin appears with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles, Stuttgart, and Moscow State Philharmonics, the Vancouver, Cincinnati, and Oregon Symphonies, and tours in Europe with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta.

Pianist Marc-André Hamelin

  • Sunday, July 14, 2019

In addition to his concert above with the Calidore String Quartet, Hamelin will present two more major Brahms works, Piano Concerto #1 in D Minor, Op. 15 and Piano Concerto #2 in Bb Major, Op. 83. Johannes Brahms was a German composer, pianist and conductor of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. Known as a perfectionist, Brahms is known as one of the “Three B’s,” alongside Bach and Beethoven.

Hamelin is known for tackling grand arrangements with ease, for his tremendous power and technical facility. He was honored with the 2014 ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of Year (Piano) and Disc of the Year by Diapason Magazine and Classica Magazinefor his three-disc set of Busoni: Late Piano Music and an album of his own compositions, Hamelin: Études, which received a 2010 Grammy nomination (his ninth) and a first prize from the German Record Critics’ Association.

Mezzo-Soprano Jamie Barton & the BFM Chorus Gala Evening of Favorite Opera Arias and Choruses

  • Friday, July 19, 2019

If you’re a fan of the aria, this season finale is not to be missed. In addition to a master presentation by the Festival Chorus, the festival welcomes multi-award winning mezzo-soparano Jamie Barton. In addition to the beautiful works listed below, a Gala Champagne Reception to meet Barton–limited to 100 patrons–will follow the concert. You can add the $25 reception admission to your tickets.

  • Rossini: Overture to “La gazza ladra”
  • Saint Saens: Bacchanale from “Samson and Delilah”
  • Saint Saens: “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from “Samson and Delilah”
  • Verdi: “Va pensiero” from “Nabucco”
  • Bizet: “Les voici” from “Carmen”
  • Bizet: “Cigarette Girls Chorus” and “Habanera” from “Carmen”
  • Bizet: “Seguidilla” from “Carmen”
  • Donizetti: “Servants’ Chorus” from “Don Pasquale”
  • Cilea: “Acerba voluttà” from “Adriana Lecouvreur”
  • Verdi: “Patria oppressa” from “Macbeth”
  • Verdi: “O don fatale” from “Don Carlo”
  • Bernstein: Overture to “Candide”
  • Bernstein: “I am easily assimilated” from “Candide”

A native and resident of Georgia, Barton has won most of the prestigious vocal competitions and performs at all the major opera houses. The New York Times called her “Opera’s Nose-Studded Rock Star.” The Guardian has said, “This year’s Cardiff Singer of the World gave us one of its most exceptional and startling finals. The winner was 31-year-old American mezzo Jamie Barton, who is a great artist, no question, with an imperturbable steadiness of tone, and a nobility of utterance that invites comparison not so much with her contemporaries as with mid-20th century greats such as Kirsten Flagstad or Karin Branzell.”

Despite the acclaim, Barton still seems down to earth and relatable. She admits to being a  bluegrass fan since birth, as well as a huge fan of science fiction, particularly Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Firefly. She grew up learning to love music, listening to bands like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead. She attributes her sense of comedic timing to being raised on Monty Python and Mel Brooks movies.

I’ll look forward to meeting her at the champagne reception after the performance.

Planning Your Visit

The Festival has arranged incredible discounts for attendees. Whether you’re from out-of-town or looking for a night out, they have arranged hotel packages just for you. Their travel guide is also handy to help you get to Bellingham and to each venue.

This event is perfect for those exploring classical music for the first time as well as those distinguished enough to hear the quality and perfection of these esteemed musicians and performers. Each performance will be a once-in-a-lifetime event because of the talent amassed for these ethereal live performances. Get tickets now to ensure your front-row seats.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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