November, 2014

Notes From the Chair

Music of National and Personal Identity

On November 5, 2014 the Bellingham Festival of Music had its Annual Meeting at the Lairmont Manor. The meeting, open to the public, started with music from two remarkable young musicians growing up in Bellingham—Makena Miller (12), guitar and Maya Enstad (17), cello.

Although the music, the wine, and the refreshments were delightful, the purpose of the meeting was to review the Festival’s financial position, to thank our many sponsors and volunteers, and to introduce the 2015 season program. Financially, the Festival is on solid ground due to contributions, grants, money raised at our annual auction, and ticket sales. Again, thanks to all of you who help make this Festival a success every year.

Our 2015 season, July 3 through July 19, features music by composers who are identified in part with their national heritage. However, the works chosen by Maestro Palmer also represent personal and national struggles of greater immediacy. Let’s see how this will unfold.

img_brahmsThe Brazilian-born pianist Arnaldo Cohen will perform Johannes Brahms’s First Piano Concerto. We know well the convoluted origins of the work written between 1854 and 1859, but in the end the young composer produced a very moving and dramatic representation of 19th-century German romanticism—a work impressive in its complexity and intensity.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (1878–1881) was the first major work written after his three-month disastrous marriage. This very Russian work is one of Tchaikovsky’s most personal and emotional compositions; not even the concluding Rondo disrupts the intimate character of this work. We will hear the Israel violinist Vadim Gluzman perform this piece for the first time in the history of the Festival.img_tchaikovsky

img_dvorakAnother uncharacteristic work by a composer closely connected to his national heritage is the Seventh Symphony (1884–1885) of Antonín Dvořák. This is a serious and personal statement of the Czech character and a departure from the folk influences associated with much of his music.

img_sibeliusTo honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth (1865) we will hear the First Symphony (1899–1900) of Jean Sibelius—Finland’s most important and representative national composer. Written during Finnish political struggles with Tsarist Russia, this work, with the exception of the positive third movement, is an introspective statement from the generally optimistic composer.

img_straussFinally, Richard Strauss’s last work, The Four Last Songs (1848), represents late German romanticism and is the elderly composer’s reflections on death: “Spring” (“You know me again, you beckon tenderly to me”), “September” (“Slowly [the rose] closes its large eyes grown weary”), “While going to sleep” (“Now that the day has made me so tired”), “In the twilight” (“How weary we are of our travels—is this perhaps—Death?”). Performed by Lynden native Katie Van Kooten, this large work will also showcase the amazing Festival Orchestra.

The Festival’s Artistic Director and conductor, Michael Palmer, has programed one other very large work that, while not being part of same pattern, does fully represent a nation (or empire), a period of time, and the culminating work of a master: Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation, a monumental example of high Viennese (Austro-Hungarian Empire) Classical period music.

These works, of course, are not all that you will hear during the Festival. For example, Alex Hanna, the great double bass virtuoso (and former principal bass of the Festival Orchestra), returns as soloist in the Bottesini Double Bass Concerto No. 2. Throughout the Festival there will be plenty of lighter fare, but what will remain in our listeners’ hearts throughout the wonderful July evenings is the more personal and internal reflections of composers in their national contexts.

Bob Lynch