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Finale couldn’t be grander

Festival makes spectacular exit
by Christopher Key

It started with superstar cellist Joshua Roman and ended with three of the best sopranos in the world. It’s no wonder the Bellingham Festival of Music sold out all its concerts at the Western Washington University Performing Arts Center and Bellingham Cruise Terminal. They darn near sold out the Mount Baker Theatre tonight and that is the sweet sound of success.

A small subset of the festival orchestra consisting of just strings and woodwinds opened the concert with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 87 in A major. It was a perfect grouping for this delightful symphony that lulled the audience into a rather mellow mood. It didn’t last long.

One of the few gripes I have with the festival is that we usually hear the festival chorus only once a season. That’s really unfair because they’re an amazing group that could give those folks from Salt Lake a run for their recording contracts. The standards are very high for this chorus and the results show it. Chorus director Vance George deserves enormous credit.

The chorus may not have gotten much time to strut their stuff, but they didn’t waste a moment of what they had. They gave Giuseppe Verdi’s Te Deum everything they had and perhaps a bit more. When they hit the first fortissimo “Te Deum,” every hair on my body stood on end and they show no signs of relaxing several hours later. Yes, they can rattle the rafters, but the sign of a great chorus is when they sound just as good pianissimo. They do.

Tonight’s finale was entitled “The Three Sopranos,” referring to Katie Van Kooten, Heidi Grant Murphy and Frederica von Stade. After intermission, they each performed a solo. Lynden’s favorite daughter Van Kooten led off with “Song to the Moon” from Antonin Dvořák’s opera Rusalka. Van Kooten’s voice is powerful throughout her range, but always under exquisite control and wonderfully rich even at the top end.

img_guestKooten

von Stade’s affectionate nickname is “Flicka” and she has been charming the opera world for three decades. Her lovely mezzo graced “La spectre de la rose” from the Hector Berlioz song cycle Les nuits d’eté. The mood of the song is dreamy and so is von Stade’s voice.

img_guestvonStade

Bellingham’s Heidi Grant Murphy finished the set with a Margaret Bonds arrangement of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Grant Murphy’s soprano is light and airy, but with this number, she demonstrated that she has the chops to go gospel.

img_guestMurphy

These three superb voices couldn’t be more different and still be called soprano. All three joined in for Richard Strauss’ Suite from Der Rosenkavalier. Their voices may be very different, but they blended beautifully in these excerpts from the opera. In addition to my hair standing on end, I also have goose bumps. The roaring ovation at the end, I hope, was as much for Maestro Michael Palmer and the brilliant orchestra as for the sopranos. These are some of the finest musicians in the country and they deserved a couple of standing ovations they didn’t get earlier.

Since the Bellingham Festival of Music is selling out most of its concerts, it would behoove those who appreciate performance at this level to consider season tickets and getting them early. The best way to do that is to keep an eye on the festival website.

Bravo!

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