Olympic Music Festival unveils virtual concert series with special guests

Luciano Marano
Posted 7/30/20

The sounds remain — though the venue has been altered.

Olympic Music Festival officials recently announced the lineup of guests and events for the brand-new Virtual Salon Concerts, a series …

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Olympic Music Festival unveils virtual concert series with special guests


The sounds remain — though the venue has been altered.

Olympic Music Festival officials recently announced the lineup of guests and events for the brand-new Virtual Salon Concerts, a series of free video performances and music appreciation talks set to stream online Sundays and Wednesdays from Sunday, Aug. 2 through Sunday, Sept. 6.

Like so many other cultural calendar staples, the festival was forced to rethink itself in light of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, said managing director Emilie Baker.

“At this moment, keeping the music alive is something we can do to support our community, as well as the artists who have made our festival so special,” she said.

The online series is, in fact, actually something of a victory lap.

In July, the Olympic Music Festival reached its goal of raising $50,000, which enabled it to set the 2020 Virtual Salon Concerts in motion.

According to Baker, continuing donations over the summer are vital to sustain the organization and offset a projected loss of $110,000 in ticket sales.

Virtual Salon Concerts is dedicated to the medical workers of greater Puget Sound and around the world who are putting themselves at risk to help those suffering from COVID-19 and was curated by OMF artistic director and pianist Julio Elizalde.

It also celebrates the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven with a selection of sonatas, trios, and related, inspired works from other composers.

“Although we can’t be together to celebrate the monumental impact that Beethoven’s music has left on history, I felt it especially important to feature his music this summer,” Elizalde said. “In my opinion, it is his spirit of struggle and courage in the face of adversity that resonates so deeply within us.”

Additionally, the 2020 series includes “2019: Rewind” concerts, featuring popular 2019 performance videos introduced by Elizalde.

Concerts will premiere at www.olympicmusicfestival.org, at 5 p.m. Sundays starting on Aug. 2 and talks will take place at 7 p.m. each Wednesday.

All of the talks and concerts will remain publicly available online through the end of September.

“Behind the Notes,” a series of talks on the inner workings of music and performance, launches Wednesday evenings as a prelude to each following Sunday’s program. Viewers are encouraged to submit questions ahead of time for the artists through the website and to tune in for the live premieres.

Other series highlights include violinist and winner of the 2019 Queen Elisabeth Competition Stella Chen and cellist Matthew Zalkind joining Elizalde to film performances and discussions and, of course, a performance by GardenMusic, a group that remains wildly popular with OMF audiences.

“No OMF season would feel complete without an appearance from musicians from GardenMusic,” Baker said.

Led by Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams, GardenMusic is a group of classically-trained, boundary-breaking musicians who use their creative and improvisational talents to craft programs spanning musical genres from opera to jazz, bluegrass to klezmer, and more.

Each artist will perform and record solo from home, then the assembled finale will enjoy a special festival premiere.

Donation information and a full 2020 Virtual Salon Concerts schedule can be found at www.olympicmusicfestival.org or by calling 360-385-9699.

Elizalde recently made time to chat with The Leader about the process of going virtual and this year’s festival offerings.

* This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Leader: What were some of the more surprising challenges of revising the festival into a virtual-only format?

JE: The major challenge of producing a virtual festival given our current unpredictable circumstances was the timing. Usually, we have our artists and programming locked into place by early February, but this year we had to carefully assess the situation and adjust to best protect the safety of our patrons, artists, and staff, which made our virtual-only format the only way to produce music for our community this summer.

Last summer, we were fortunate to have generous donors who made it possible for the festival to acquire high-definition recording and video equipment and since we have those tools in place, it made producing digital content the obvious way forward.

Leader: Depending on the response, do you think video and streaming performances might remain part of the festival even when conditions are amenable for gatherings again? What are some of the benefits?   

JE: We live in a world that is interconnected by social media and other digital platforms and every arts organization has to have a presence in order to reach as many people in the community as possible. This fall, we will review how digital content could become a more permanent part of our yearly production — in particular during the fall and winter.

The greatest benefit to this medium is the immediacy of reach — nobody has to drive or take a ferry. There are many circumstances where we can produce content that is geared towards patrons enjoying something from the comfort of their living room.

Leader: Have communal events like the festival become more important in the age of COVID? What would it have meant for the fans — and for OMF itself — if it had to be canceled this year?

JE: The extraordinary challenge that we face in this pandemic has illuminated how important human interaction is, and more importantly how live art plays a critical role in our lives.

It’s tragic that so many arts organizations are faced with financial burdens that have forced them to cancel all programming but here on the peninsula, we’re fortunate that so many generous supporters of the Olympic Music Festival continue to believe in the importance of art in the community. Had we completely cancelled all activity for this summer, it would have left a void where friends and families usually come together to celebrate the beauty of music and having that kind of silence just wasn’t an option for us.

Leader: Ultimately, what sort of experience do you hope the audience takes away from the festival?

JE: One of the things we’ve elected to do with our digital programming is to make it free to the entire community and to anyone who can access it via the internet. In particular, we want to dedicate our season to the health care workers who are selflessly putting themselves at risk to help those suffering from COVID-19. We hope our patrons will share these performances so that it might be possible, if even for an hour, for those who enjoy these performances to have some kind of escape and relief from the turbulence we’re living in.

We want these performances and discussions to provide nourishment to the soul so that all of us can take a moment to appreciate the beauty and emotion of the art that we usually come together to experience every summer.


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