The Bellingham Festival of Music Board of Directors and founding Artistic Director Michael Palmer have agreed to a plan that will restore the conductor to his position as Artistic Director through the 2022 season. Palmer will lead the Festival for the 2021 and 2022 seasons before leaving the post and assuming the title Conductor Laureate in 2023 with conducting engagements in that capacity in future years. The Board approved succession plan announced in April continues with the goal of introducing a new Artistic Director in 2024.
Under the new agreement, Palmer will reprogram in 2021 major elements of the Beethoven 250th Anniversary originally scheduled for this summer but canceled because of the Covid-19 virus. The agreement also provides for a 2022 laudatory season that celebrates the conductor’s achievements, artistry, and contributions to the Whatcom community and the Pacific Northwest.
Bringing the Artistic Director back for those two seasons “allows the Festival musicians to work again with a conductor they love and who loves them,” says principal cellist Steven Thomas, whose personal and professional relationship with Palmer dates back to their time together at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra when Palmer was Artistic Director and Thomas was Principal Cellist. Restoring some elements of the Beethoven season, he continued, “seemed a natural choice since we all recognize Palmer as one of the preeminent Beethoven conductors in the world.” Thomas, who is also a member of the Succession Search Committee, adds that Maestro Palmer’s final season as Artistic Director would then “be highlighted by those works that are iconic in Palmer’s career and at the BFM. This would cement his legacy as the founder of this major-league festival” and “celebrate his illustrious career, both in Bellingham and worldwide.”
“We are delighted that Michael will lead us in celebrating Beethoven’s birthday in 2021 since that iconic master will still be 250 next summer,” stated Festival Board Chair G. Barry Hembree. “Then, the laudatory season will allow everyone to applaud Michael and thank him for all he has contributed to Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest. This is something that is fervently desired by the Board, the orchestra musicians and chorus, guest artists, Festival supporters, and the music loving community.”
“We, at the Bellingham Festival of Music, have been blessed by many wonderful boards throughout our 27-year history,” Palmer said. “I have especially appreciated their hard work, as well as their commitment to raising the necessary funding each year to produce the Festival, thereby making it possible for me to engage many world-class orchestra musicians and guest artists. I thank the musicians of our wonderful orchestra as well as the board members and community members who sought to restore me to the Festival. I look forward to being with all of you in the years to come.”
The Board approved succession plan calls for an audition season in 2023 with up to five finalists conducting a complete rehearsal/concert cycle and meeting with members of the Festival family followed in 2024 by the new Artistic Director’s debut season.
“We’re all excited about this agreement with Michael,” Hembree concluded. “It enables us not only to celebrate the maestro and his enormous accomplishment in founding this Festival, but also assures his continued involvement with the Festival in the years ahead.”