Message from the Artistic Director

“Welcome to our 26th season. This year’s programming includes a world premiere composed by our own David Arend, as well as a Festival premiere by a major composer of symphonies from the late 19th century, Anton Bruckner. The season opens with an all-Russian program featuring the young virtuoso pianist, George Li. The two main composers on the program, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff were also virtuoso pianists and fine conductors as well, and shared the same first name. Being Russian, this program could have the sub title Passion, Virtuosity and Romanticism. The Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, especially, has played an important role in my repertoire over the years and I look forward to performing it with our great orchestra.

On our second concert I’m very pleased to bring to you two newcomers to our stage, violinist Benjamin Beilman and guest conductor, Arthur Fagen. We’ve scheduled for this concert an all-Austrian program of Mozart and Bruckner, certainly representing a major time span of masterworks coming from that productive and important tradition.

Our next program, coming in the middle of the Festival, forms a pivot that turns toward the second half of our season with a mini-Brahms festival. This program opens with a new work by David Arend of our bass section. David’s reputation as a fine American composer is growing rapidly and we’re honored that he has written this special work for his colleagues in the orchestra. Our guest artist is our dear friend, Pepe Romero. This concert will celebrate 50 years of our making music together. Our first concert was in 1969 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Since then we have traveled this country and Europe performing together many, many times. Pepe also helped us start the Bellingham Festival of Music and has been a beloved regular to our stage throughout our history. It is especially wonderful to welcome him back this year. Our program ends with the glorious Second Symphony by Brahms, a much different work than his First Symphony, which we heard last year. Now, with nothing left to prove, he is at his most congenial and relaxed and one has the feeling he had a wonderful time writing this sunny, lyrical work. 

As I mentioned earlier, this concert, ending with his Second Symphony, pivots us into our mini Brahms Festival. Two nights after this concert guest artist Marc-Andre Hamelin will appear on the recital of the Calidore String Quartet as a guest artist in the Brahms F Minor Piano Quintet. Written for piano and string quartet, this is one of the great masterworks of the chamber music repertoire. The vast majority of the greatest composers were pianists and it is no accident that, outside of the string quartet literature, they were at their greatest as composers of chamber music with piano.

To continue our mini festival, Marc-Andre will join us in our fourth orchestral concert for both of the concertos for piano by Brahms. The close interplay between the solo instrument and orchestra in these works brings them close to actual symphonies with a major solo piano part. It is a rare opportunity to hear both of these works in the same evening. And you will hear how different they are. In the First Concerto we are confronted by a wild, tempestuous and youthful Brahms, struggling hard to turn this work into his first symphony. The second movement is a touching and heartfelt farewell to his beloved mentor, Robert Schumann, whose death was felt so deeply by Brahms. The Second Concerto is very different. Here we have a fully mature Brahms, a composer of world renown, fully confident of his art and comfortable in his skin as a composer and a mature person in the world.   

Our season ends with another special opportunity. I’m very pleased that we are able to bring to you a special gala evening of opera arias and choruses, featuring the leading mezzo soprano in the world today, Jamie Barton. She will join with our Bellingham Festival Chorus and Orchestra in favorite opera arias and choruses. Hers is truly one of the great voices of our—perhaps any—time. The quality of her voice and artistry is…well, I can’t come up with the right word. Words are inadequate. This is a must hear and experience.

Welcome and Enjoy!”

Michael Palmer
Artistic Director