When all of the music was over and all my reviews of BLEMF concerts had run in The Herald-Times, I sat down to ponder what I had written.
It was different when, earlier in the process of creation, I sat at the computer and typed out the copy, testing the words with my ears to determine if, in formation, they made sense. It was different when, on completion of the copy, I edited it carefully as I could before sending it for publication. It is normally different when, after covering a single event, I scan the newspaper to see if the review is there and do a read-through, hoping not to find any error that might have slipped through. But post- BLEMF, I had words about a bunch of events, a lot of words, an awful lot.
Of the Bloomington Early Music Festival’s host of concerts, performed over a period of 10 days, most of them clustered during two extended weekends, I managed to attend 10. Sorry to have missed the others, but that was the best I could physically and mentally do.
Because the programs often came in clusters (two or three a day), I determined to write them up in the same manner, in clusters. My aim had been to keep down the length, and I did hold down the amount of space given to each event, striving to include, though often briefly, everything I considered a must.
Well, here I was a few days later, looking through those reviews. My coverage, on reflection, was appropriate; I didn’t shortchange content or performances. I dare to say my writing was decent enough, particularly for copy written in a hurry. But looking at the whole, I concluded that, for most readers, the coverage might seem cluttered. There are so many names of musicians and composers. There are so many titles. There are hasty evaluations etched in, one after another after another.
As festival planner or participant, I’d probably be happy enough with the shape of coverage. Fans of early music who attended, I decided, might want to check personal views against a reviewer’s and read. Fans who didn’t might want to find out what happened and read. The folks in charge would study what I said and appreciate the inches upon inches given to their hard work. Bloomington historians might be grateful for having this record as part of a city scrapbook.
Much of the H-T’s readership, though, would stare at a review’s headline, see the length of the copy beneath, and move on, no different than I perusing the sports pages, satisfied with just the scores. As writer, I might read a sportswriter’s story to study the craft. But I’d have little enthusiasm for a rundown of happenings from inning to inning or period to period. Still, those stories also need to be written. A newspaper serves many masters.
But as I said, I sat there and came to realize that I hadn’t encapsulated my thoughts about this Bloomington Early Music Festival of 2018, the 25th since the celebration came to be and the most extensive in length and substance since changes in leadership, reductions in public enthusiasm, and heavyweight financial problems almost killed it a few years back.
This year’s was a youthful BLEMF, beefed by the inclusion of two young artists programs furnished by Early Music America, a national institution that exists to promote the growth of early music in performance practice and scholarship. The presence of those budding musicians, along with ensembles from important music programs around the nation, helped give the festival a welcome vitality.
Not a single concert I attended was mediocre or of just standard fare. Quality throughout was high, often higher than high. The musicians and their leaders expected only the best from themselves. Pride of accomplishment and joy for attending the festival as working artists could be read into action and spirit. To these visitors, add the presence of IU students and alums and longtime friends, prepared to do battle for the cause. Result: more than 130 musicians contributed to the presentations. The Early Music/Historical Performance field apparently is healthy. BLEMF 2018 was its jubilant reflection.
From the Bloomington end of things, Bloomington Early Music, a combine of locally-based individuals important in and for early music, and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music’s Historical Performance Institute were keys in bringing together all the elements of BLEMF 2018, which took important and measurable steps forward from the leaner time.
Alain Barker, executive director of BLEMF in its brightest years, presides over Bloomington Early Music. Dana Marsh serves as chair of the Jacobs School’s Early Music Department and director of its Historical Performance Institute. It is Marsh who consolidated the ties with Early Music America.
How binding those ties will remain, says Marsh, is hard to tell right now, “but it would not be an exaggeration to say that EMA was ecstatic about what our collaboration had to offer at this point in its development, both in terms of future vision and by virtue of what our collaborative model could have to offer a variety of festival situations elsewhere….Everyone benefited equally from this venture. Bloomington gave EMA a far better forum in which to project its interest nationally than has to date been the case in either Boston or Berkley,” sites of the nation’s most prestigious early music festivals, “and at a fraction of the cost. This is especially relevant to the student groups that travelled long distances to be here, who invested heavily their time and energy. I feel we made it very much worth their while.”
Marsh also addressed the addition of streaming opportunities this year: “These provided audiences far away from Bloomington the opportunity to attend events ‘virtually.’” One of BLEMF’s “fathers,” the eminent violinist Stanley Ritchie, was in Australia during the festival but reportedly was able to watch all of the live-streamed events from there.
Barker says the season served as “a break-through moment.” Since its inception, he adds, “The festival has always been a set of partnerships – between students and faculty at IU, between community organizations, with alumni and colleagues in the profession, sometimes with regional and national ensembles, and there’s much to celebrate and admire these past 24 years. However, on a structural level, the organization wasn’t always sure-footed. This year feels different because of the alignment of interests among the partners….I feel more confident than ever that BLEMF can sustain itself.
“It’s too early,” Barker continues, “to truly know what the significance of this year may mean. My sense, though, is that we can now build towards even greater collaborations, perhaps in partnership with major ensembles and artists, as they develop their passion projects. Bloomington’s ‘special sauce’ for artists who visit is the breathtaking resources we have at our disposal on campus and in this beautiful town. ... We’ll spend the next few months digesting and processing. We’ll plan for next year and beyond and perhaps finally get to the point where a five-year plan is a realistic proposition.”
In other words, right now, the outlook is sunny.