By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist
May 14, 2017
What a satisfying task it is to announce there’s going to be another BLEMF, another Bloomington Early Music Festival. We’re moving toward the end of May, a time often reserved in our recent past for that celebration of Early Music, now more preferably referred to as Historical Performance.
Most important for me is not how this wonderful music is referred to but that zealous folks are working very hard to bring back the glories of a feast that enriched May time in Bloomington. The 2017 version of BLEMF may not yet be the equal, in length and luster, of those given us before a shutdown. But what’s coming looks highly promising, and those who’ve designed it say BLEMF 2017 is a major step toward ones contemplated. Revival is being carefully taken, so to assure success for what’s to come this month and months of May beyond.
Festival time 2017 arrives over the extended Memorial Day weekend of May 24 through 28. Ten events are scheduled, all of them free of charge and each different from the others. Planners point to the return of three favored participants from earlier years, IU Jacobs School alums who have made it big time: violinist Ingrid Matthews, harpsichordist Byron Schenkman, and flautist Colin St. Martin.
“I’m thrilled that those three remarkable musicians, headliners each, will be able to join us,” Alain Barker told me, he a figure of historical importance in the BLEMF story, having served as its executive director through 10 of its glory years, 1994 to 2004. Now director of Music Entrepreneurship and Career Development for the Jacobs School and member of the Bloomington Early Music Board, he remains instrumental in the creation of the festival’s future. “Ingrid, Byron and Colin will boost the variety and quality of our chamber and orchestral offerings,” he pointed out. “They are great talents. And we also have a celebration focused on Wendy Gillespie’s wonderful career.” She is retiring after decades of service at the Jacobs School.
According to another Bloomington Early Music Board member, Dana Marsh, director of Jacobs’ Historical Performance Institute, Wendy Gillespie “has played a vital role in the revival of the performance of the viol consort repertory during the 20th and 21st centuries, as her exemplary work with Fretwork and Phantasm, the two pre-eminent viol consorts of the past five decades, shows. Her work at IU has emphasized first-hand experience in viol consort study for students to an extent that has not been possible elsewhere in the country.” Honoring her will bring back a number of her former students.
Also being celebrated is Angela Mariani, whose WFIU produced and syndicated program “Harmonia” marks its 25th anniversary, certainly an important element of the Early Music scene here and in all the places to which it goes.
BLEMF 2017 entertainment stretches from a harpsichord concert of music by Scarlatti and Frescobaldi (performed by Curtis Pavey) and a program of French love songs from the Medieval and Renaissance periods to a Bloomington Baroque concert of sonatas and trios by Bach, a violin/fortepiano recital by the Duo Park-Kim of music by Mozart and Schubert and a “grand finale” Festival Orchestra concert featuring Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, a concerto for two flutes by Telemann (with Colin St. Martin and Leela Breithaupt as soloists), and music by Purcell, Camilla de Rossi and Dall’ Abacco, with the involvement of more soloists: violinist Matthews, harpsichordist Schenkman and lutenist Nigel North.
Yes, there’ll be the popular Instrument Petting Zoo once again. There’ll be pop-up performances around town. There’ll be a program of pop and rock songs “reimagined for early music instruments.”
Dana Marsh notes that in the days prior to the BLEMF weekend, a “Historical Performance Institute Conference on Theory, Practice, and Interdisciplinarity” will be held, drawing scholars from all over the world, as was the case last year. “Our future plans with the conference,” Marsh explained, “involve creating educational opportunities through workshops and academy activities during the weekdays that link the two weekends. Ultimately, it will add up to one large early music event unique to our area only. A significant step in this direction will be taken next year. Early Music America and its Young Performers Festival typically alternates holding court at Boston and Berkeley early music festivals in alternating years. In 2018, rather than going to Berkeley, all that will come to Bloomington at the time of the conference and BLEMF. A great opportunity.”
Alain Barker, too, looks ahead with optimism. “Now that we’ve had a few years to regroup and it, thankfully, no longer feels like a question of survivability, going forward, we can focus on a few things that I think will provide sustainable growth. The festival continues to be the primary activity of Bloomington Early Music, and we have an opportunity, as Dana says, to expand our operations next year in partnership with both the institute and Early Music America.
“We’re delighted also,” Barker continues, “to now be the fiscal home for Bloomington’s Bach Cantata Series and look forward to assisting with the development of that project going forward. Our education projects are coming back to life. Partnerships with ensembles like Alchymy Viols and Les Ordinaires will help us produce concerts through the year. And it’s fortunate that Gamma Ut, the student organization for early music at IU, has become a close partner as we develop our projects. I believe the model we’re working on — one that connects the interests of an academic institution with the growth of a community-based not-for-profit — is proving to be very successful. I have hopes that the special relationships we’re developing will sustain us for years to come.”
I share those hopes. I believe many of us in the area do. By attending the forthcoming series of events, we can prove our interest. It is BLEMF time again.
Contact Peter Jacobi at firstname.lastname@example.org.