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Festival Chamber Players rock
by Christopher Key

I don’t mind telling you that I am getting a little concerned about this year’s Bellingham Festival of Music. There are two concerts left in the series and I’m running low on adjectives. Time to break out the old thesaurus.

Tonight’s chamber concert took place at the spectacular atrium of the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. There is no doubt that it is a visually enchanting venue. I had a chance to chat briefly with BFOM Artistic Director Michael Palmer before the concert and it turns out he was also wondering about whether the site would work acoustically. The verdict was that neither of us had anything to worry about. It’s a perfect fit for chamber music, both acoustically and visually. Imagine listening to some of the best musicians in the Northwest while watching a summer storm sweeping across Bellingham Bay, flags snapping in the breeze. Flabbergasting (thanks to the thesaurus).

Photo courtesy Port of Bellingham.

Photo courtesy Port of Bellingham.

Before the music began, the guests at this concert were treated to virtuosic hors d’oeuvres catered by one of Bellingham’s culinary treasures, Ciao Thyme. The sliders were salubrious and I didn’t need the thesaurus for that one.

Maestro Palmer told me after the concert that Franz Schubert’s Octet in F Major, D. 803, is considered something of a Mt. Everest among players. Indeed, as the last few notes sounded, there were some broad smiles among the musicians, conveying both triumph and relief at having planted the flag on the summit.

Those musicians exhaust my supply of superlatives. In no particular order, they are Frank Kowalsky, clarinet; Christopher Sales, bassoon; Brice Andrus, horn; Richard Roberts and Victor Costanzi, violins; Brant Bayless, viola; Steven Thomas, violincello; and Alexander Hanna, contrabass.

One of the things that fascinates me about chamber musicians is the almost mystical way they manage to communicate with just a head nod or a glance. After all, there is no conductor and they somehow have to stay together. Their entrances were flawless and each musician had a chance to strut his stuff in this complex and dynamic Octet. The only other place you can see this otherworldly communication take place is in the very best jazz ensembles.

I have been fortunate enough to witness some amazing chamber music performances over the years, but this one put all the others in the shade. The combination of superb musicians and the magnificent surroundings leave me at a loss for words. Almost. We are very fortunate to live in a place that attracts the artistic talent to match the natural beauty.

There may be a few tickets left for the two final concerts in this year’s Bellingham Festival of Music series. Wednesday’s program features the prodigious talents of cellist Joshua Roman and next Sunday’s performance highlights The Royal Family of the Guitar, The Romeros. Call the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center box office at (360) 650-6146 for tickets and see www.bellinghamfestival.org for more information.

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