Life goes on: Maestro huffs off

Life goes on: Maestro huffs off


norman lebrecht

May 02, 2020

Michael Palmer has resigned as Artistic Director of the Bellingham Festival of Music, in western Washington state.

Palmer, 75 this week, said: ‘In light of recent actions by the Board of Directors of the Festival, in which I had no participation and which were taken without my knowledge, I found it necessary, as a matter of personal integrity, to tender my resignation as Artistic Director of the Festival immediately. I am especially sad – after years of building together this incredible music festival – that proper board transparency and open communications were abandoned. I want to be honest in expressing that I feel betrayed and unfairly treated.’


Business as usual, then.


  • Orchestral Musician says:

    Michael Palmer’s resignation had been announced some time ago, and the board of directors decided honor him with “laureate status” after the new Music Director began his or her tenure.

    The board had already drafted a plan to choose his successor, and 2021 was going to be Palmer’s farewell season. 2022 was supposed to be an “audition season” featuring the finalists for the MD position, and the new director was to begin work in 2023.

    I have no idea what the Festival directors did to offend Palmer, but they will need to change their plans rather dramatically. This is very bad news.

    • drummerman says:

      “Bad news” only that Mr. Palmer will not conduct in 2021, which, apparently he had already agreed to do. Since I assume that the 2020 season is not going on, the organization has a certain amount of time to invite guest conductors for 2021. Under this scenario, the ’21 season can feature conductors who may or may not be considered as finalists going forward.

      One wonders just what happened??

    • Music Fan says:

      Maestro Palmer had told the board some years back that he intended to leave in 2023. The board met in April of this year and decided 2021 would be his last year as Artistic Director without even consulting or informing him of this change. This is why he justifiably resigned this week.

    • classicalmusicfan59 says:

      As would be expected, the board did not inform the musicians with correct information. The succession plan agreed upon by the Board and Palmer called for 2023 to be Palmer’s final season as Artistic Director and Co-Founder of the Bellingham Festival. 2024 was to be the search year and 2025 was to be the first full year for the new Artistic Director with Palmer as Conductor Laureate. The Board changed their mind this spring without discussing with Palmer and simply informed him that 2021 would be his last season. If you can’t trust the board to tell you accurate information about this, how can you trust the board in the future.

  • Diego Caetano says:

    I will never forget working with this amazing musician. I was honored to be the soloist of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto this past January under the baton of maestro Palmer and the Amarillo Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra. I have also seen first hand the amazing work he did at the Bellingham Music Festival. He breathes music; he is Music!!! Incredible person and musician. The administration of the festival should be ashamed…

  • pre-concert yacker says:

    . . . sayeth the man who “take[s] the usual cuts” in Rakhmaninov’s Symphony 2. “Usual” perhaps 45 years ago.

  • Evgeny says:

    Maestro, it’s pleasure work with you! You are the amazing person and great musician!

  • Robert Roux says:

    As a former piano soloist under the baton of Maestro Palmer, I would like to join in the assessment of famous musicians such as Claudio Arrau and Pepe Romero; Maestro Palmer is one of the finest musicians of our age. His vision, foresight and initiative built a great festival in Bellingham. The BFM will be hard pressed to equal his achievement in the future, especially under the kind of meager budgets that were available to Palmer. It is a shame that he departs under these kind of dreadful circumstances, although one familiar with the classical music scene should not be surprised that such executive decisions are often made with insufficient knowledge of the art and with even less in the way of human openness and decency.

  • Rossitza Goza says:

    Formidable musicianship like Michael Palmer’s is so rare these days. What a loss for the Bellingham Festival of Music!

  • SSD says:

    He resigned because he’s angry the board cancelled the festival? What did he expect?

    • Classicalmusicfan59 says:

      The Co-Founder’s resignation has nothing to do with the cancellation of the 2020 festival or COVID-19.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Cue up “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays.

  • El says:

    Terrible! No wonder Classical Music field is rottening and dying. True, Rare, Grand, Highly Admired musicians like Michal Palmer who created this organization in the first place, are treated like this. I hope that Sanity will be restored.

  • Brian v says:

    He is 75 let a younger person do the job. I worked till 65 I could of stayed on but
    I would rather have a younger person who needs a job take my place

    • Nick says:

      A totally demented corrupt crook at 77 is running for the presidency of the US!!! You say that at 75 one cannot/should not lead a festival?!? Think again, Brian, (or Brain?….oh, never mind)

      • Brian v says:

        Perhaps you are right the queen is still working at 94.
        At that age she should relaxing in the sun not going through the red boxes
        Life is too short. Look at Harry bless him he is retired already

  • David Bjella says:

    So sorry to hear this, Michael. You really built that festival and you are such a fine musician. It is definitely their loss…

  • Music Fan says:

    A great conductor who brought the best to Bellingham each summer. Terrible that the board did not consult with Michael Palmer on his transition. Here is a wonderful recording of Palmer and orchestra with Garrick Ohlsson Beethoven 4th piano concerto. Ohlsson performed and recorded all 5 Beethoven concerti live in Bellingham

  • Guli says:

    Maestro Palmer is an incredibly gifted conductor, whose ability to inspire both musicians and audience is second to none! I personally look forward to the privilege to perform under his baton for many years to come. Thank you for all you do Maestro!!!

  • Larry says:

    Norman (or anyone else): what exactly were the “recent actions” of the board?

  • Simon says:

    Michael who? Life as we know it has ceased to exist. Music had died!

  • Victor Goldberg says:

    There is an amazing Israeli conductor who lives in Bellingham. I hope they bring him onboard!

  • Christos Galilaias says:

    I had the distinct honor of working with Maestro Palmer on a number of occasions. What an inspiring artist. A musician of Olympian stature and a noble and kind person of the utmost integrity. Very upsetting to hear this.

  • Grant Donnellan says:

    No matter how one looks at it, this is a very sad day for Michael, the Bellingham Festival of Music, the Festival audience and the many musicians who greatly enjoyed performing with him as Artistic Director. As one of those musicians, I will remain indebted to Micheal for 27 years of wonderful performances with a stellar ensemble of like-minded colleagues and world class soloists led by a director who’s tireless preparation, artistic integrity and dedication to the music was second to none. Additionally, as a Bellingham resident, I will remain indebted to Michael for relentlessly pursuing and achieving a vision of creating a first-class professional music festival in our small city. This was a feat some would have thought impossible and, while there were many who poured their energy and their hearts into making this dream a reality over the years, Micheal’s passion and vision was the common denominator that propelled the festival’s success and longevity – it was clearly a labor of love for him. Indeed, his love for the music and for the musicians in his hand-picked ensemble was palpable to performers and audience members, alike, and that is what made this Festival such a special one. He shared his heart, freely, with the ensemble, both in performance and in his sincere expressions of gratitude afterwards, and the transcendent music that came of this shared experience I shall never forget. Thank you, Michael. You will be missed.

    • Clark Parrish says:

      As a member of the community, and a singer in the festival chorus I agree; this is a sad day for all of us.

    • Susan Johnson says:

      Your comment reflects the sentiments of the majority of festival musicians and supporters, I’m sure. As a chorus member from the beginning of the festival, I will say that I am heartbroken. I feel I know Maestro Palmer well and know him to be a man of integrity and great love for his festival. I’m so sorry this is how ends for him. I’m not sure the festival will survive this betrayal.

    • Jackspatch says:

      Welll said, Grant! Whatever made Michael think he could pull together Bellingham’s first performance of Bach’s 3-hour S. Matthew Passion for two orhestras, three choruses and umpteen soloists? Yet he did it, and it was memorable !Bravo, Maestro

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Michael Palmer did fine work as the conductor of the New Haven (CT) Symphony Orchestra in the early ’90s.

  • Timothy Hester says:

    I am deeply saddened to read about Michael Palmer’s resignation under such a dark cloud. Maestro Palmer has been a major figure in my musical life – offering inspiring words of wisdom and encouraging me to achieve greater heights in my artistic endeavors. I have had the honor of performing with him on several occasions and am a first-hand witness to his glorious philosophy of imaginative musicmaking. His limitless artistry and his rich legacy as a conductor and educator continue to be evidenced and revered by all of us. It is a shame that there could not have been a more positive, amicable parting of ways that would have helped provide a suitable celebration to his long career in Bellingham.

  • Bevan Manson says:

    To have a great musician like Michael Palmer treated this way is of course reprehensible and is going to bounce back to hurt the future activities of the Festival. It is a rhetorical question for us cynics, but why do Boards (granted, consisting mostly of non-musicians who may be on them for social or other reasons) often make unilateral sudden decisions that tear down years of work by conductors, composers, musicians-without even consulting the latter three? The ones who do the work that incrementally (and it also is always slowly and surely incrementally) are the musicians. The orchestra, which builds a rapport with the conductor, is the reason for the existence of the Board in the first place. If there are policy disagreements or financial issues, shouldn’t everyone be in on some round table discussions?

  • Emmanuel A Lopez says:

    Michael Palmer is one of the finest musicians I’ve ever worked with. It is simply bewildering to me how a group of maladjusted board members can disregard years of vision and dedicated work by a true servant of music and force him to resign ahead of time. This is consistent with current trends of communication (or lack thereof) between administrators and performing artists. It is further proof of how endangered our cultural and artistic values are in this country. For shame!

  • I am very sad to hear of Maestro Palmer’s resignation, he has been an inspiration as he is a true musician and an incredible conductor. I have had the pleasure and honor of collaborating and performing with him in numerous concerts, the memories of which I cherish.