Bellingham Festival of Music Cancels its 2020 Summer Season Due to COVID-19

Board of Directors Cites Concern for Health and Well-being of Musicians, Audience, and Home Hosts

Season Was to Have Celebrated Beethoven 250, Women’s Suffrage 100 Anniversaries

For immediate release: Bellingham, WA.—With profound disappointment, the Bellingham Festival of Music Board of Directors has voted to cancel the festival’s 27th summer season, scheduled for July 1—24, 2020. The board cited its concern for the health of musicians, audiences, and home hosts in the era of COVID-19 when making its decision.

Washington State has been hard hit by the virus. And given the uncertainty of the disease’s trajectory, it was hard to predict whether the community would be sufficiently healed, the economy rehabilitated, and people reassured of their well-being to produce a 2020 season.

The program was to have featured two mini-festivals celebrating the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States.

“We are so grateful to all of our musicians for their continued loyalty, extraordinary musicianship, and camaraderie over the past 26 years,” wrote Board Chair G. Barry Hembree, in breaking the news to the orchestra musicians. “Your presence has been a great gift to our city, county, and state. We will miss celebrating Beethoven’s 250 and Women’s Suffrage 100 with you. But we look forward to welcoming you back for a brilliant 2021 season. Similarly, we are grateful to our audiences and donors who have allowed the Festival to flourish for 26 years.”

Artistic Director Michael Palmer said: “This is a profoundly uncertain and tenuous time for all arts organization around the world. With major orchestras, opera houses and the like broadcasting their season cancellations, it is only prudent for us to join our colleagues in placing the health and well-being of our patrons, musicians and our supporters at the forefront. In the meantime, we are already in the planning process for an artistically attractive and exciting 2021 season. So let’s look forward and, in the footsteps of Beethoven and paraphrasing his quote in his 9th Symphony from Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’: ‘Live your life like the sun striding across the sky, like a hero going to victory.’”

Knowing that many of the Festival musicians are experiencing financial difficulties due to furloughs by their home orchestras, the Festival is establishing a musician fund. Our patrons who choose to forgo a full or partial refund of their ticket purchase and others wishing to donate to this fund can help us provide some measure of financial support in the near future.

How to Request a Refund or Donate

Because the WWU Box Office does not retain credit card information after completing ticket purchases, patrons will be contacted over the next few weeks to obtain this information.At this time, they may also elect to donate to the musician fund. The Box Office should begin processing refunds by mid-April.Each refund has to be entered individually so it will not be a speedy process.Patrons are asked for their patience.

Although the WWU Box Office will likely be closed for some time, the refund process can be handled remotely according to Manager Jessie Phillips.Mary Pat Thuma, BFM Treasurer, will be calling ticket purchasers, but patrons may call her proactively with their credit card information or to make a donation at 360-303-0310.

For more information:


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, 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. They are joined by eminent soloists who have included Garrick Ohlsson, Lynn Harrell, Arnaldo Cohen, Vadim Gluzman, Joshua Bell, Jeremy Denk, Frederica von Stade, 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 education 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 project which bring music to K-12 classrooms. In 2014-15, BFM also helped kick start the return of the Fifth Grade Strings program in the public schools. It continues its support with the purchase and maintenance of string instruments that allows all students to participate.

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 National Endowment for the Arts grants annually since 2009—a resounding endorsement of the quality of its performances and the contribution it makes to regional and national cultural life.