About the Festival
Nestled between snow-capped mountains and island-studded bay, the spectacular natural beauty of Bellingham, Washington provides the ideal backdrop for the celebration of classical music. Since 1993, the Bellingham Festival of Music has enlivened the summer season with outstanding live orchestral performances and chamber music recitals for Pacific Northwest audiences.
Under the artistic direction of co-founder and noted American conductor Michael Palmer from inception until 2020, the festival orchestra is composed of some of the finest musicians in the United States and Canada, many of them principals in such illustrious orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and the Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta Symphonies. Most of the players have returned year after year to perform together, drawn by the scenic beauty and recreational activities in the Bellingham area and by the home hosts who become longtime friends.
They are joined by eminent soloists who have included Garrick Ohlsson, Lynn Harrell, Arnaldo Cohen, Vadim Gluzman, Joshua Bell, Jeremy Denk, Frederica von Stade, Marc-Andre Hamelin, and Pepe Romero. In addition, the festival boasts a resident chamber ensemble, currently the Calidore String Quartet, which presents recitals as well as participating in community educational and engagement activities.
Of equal importance to its summer season are the Festival’s year-round outreach initiatives which extend the beauty of classical music to youngsters in the region. Among these programs are masterclasses, and both the Play it Forward Chamber Music Residency and Beethoven in the Schools projects which bring music to K-12 classrooms. In 2014-15, BFM helped kick start the return of the Fifth Grade Strings program in the Bellingham public schools and continued its support with the purchase and maintenance of string instruments that allow all students to participate. In 2017, the Festival expanded this support to the revival of Fifth Grade Strings in the Ferndale, WA schools, supplying 36 new instruments to that program.
The Festival’s artistic excellence has been recognized widely throughout the country, and its concerts and recordings have been broadcast nationally, first by NPR and by American Public Media on its Performance Today show. Among these recordings are the three-CD set of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos featuring Garrick Ohlsson with Michael Palmer conducting the Festival Orchestra. These performances were recorded live at the Festival on the Natural Soundfields label in 2000.
The recipient of grants from several entities, the Festival has received numerous National Endowment for the Arts grants since 2009—a resounding endorsement of the quality of its performances and the contribution it makes to regional and national cultural life.