Festival was a ‘milestone in music’
By Richard Clark
Blaine made a milestone in music on August 4 when the Bellingham Festival of Music came to our Performing Arts Center. I remember the festival’s inaugural season at Western Washington University’s concert hall in 1993. Michael Palmer conducted everything from Brandenburg to Dumbarton Oaks. But Mozart dominated this time – it’s the 250th anniversary of his birth. Palmer is a bit heavier and grayer now, but he packs the same punch. “All but two or three seats were filled,” reported photographer Jack Kintner.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik was crisp and clear, like classicist Mozart would have wished. It’s happy music. How could 18th century society have been so doggone happy when it is we who live in a society far more affluent and comfortable? Our audience, not so schooled in music etiquette, clapped a couple of times between movements, but soon caught onto the norm.
Martin Kuuskmann, ready to run with teenaged Mozart’s only Concerto for Bassoon, stood and pivoted right and left, not quite knowing what to do beyond flashing a boyish grin while the orchestra played a lengthy introduction. But upon joining the orchestra, he filled his bassoon with dynamic surprises, belching low one minute, squeaking high the next, and turning dangling phrases into funny little ponytails. His cadenza was a wild rider. “That’s when they should have clapped,” said piano student Dylan Haines. It wasn’t jazz this time, so the audience stood and applauded later.
Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin made me wonder why my septuagenarian memory had deteriorated so. I remembered only four of the six movements. But Donald Yung, my other student, had read the program notes. He knew the orchestral version. Four movements. Somehow, impressionist Ravel didn’t come off quite so convincingly as the classical works. I’m wondering if the woodwinds shouldn’t have been elevated a little. That might have produced more bounce and balance.
Eduard Zilberkant also had to wait out a long introduction to Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Unlike Kuuskmann, the Alaskan professor could just sit and sway with the music. He’s an aggressive, all-business performer – a musician who believes it’s correct to perform Beethoven in Ludwig’s preferred manner. Beethoven surprised us by letting the pianist set the final movement’s tempo. Zilberkant too received a standing ovation.
“The exciting thing Friday night was not only the performance,” said Pacific Arts Association president Robert Boulé, “but former board members of the Bellingham Festival of Music asking, ‘Why have we not been here before? This is an excellent concert hall! And look at all the people! Wow!’” Boulé recognized “the persistence of Sandy Wolf to make his happen, the grace of God to have people like Joe Robinson and Martin Kuuskmann come to Blaine and stay, and the cantankerous older gentleman taking time to watch the magic happen.”
But I didn’t feel quite so crabby, contentious and cantankerous that night.
“During those frozen nights in the dark I spent in Alaska, I sometimes wondered if the music I was hearing was as excellent as I believed it to be,” said Wolf. “Friday night confirmed with Eduard Zilberkant, I had not succumbed to cabin fever; he truly is a great talent – Alaskan or not. And of course I delighted in watching Joe Robinson, Mary Kay Robinson and Martin Kuuskmann shine as well.
“Seeing great friends performing great art is as good as it gets.”