Arts and Entertainment

A joyful noise, Whidbey Island Music Festival returns

Tekla Cunningham, creator and director of the Whidbey Island Music Festival and regular concertmaster and principal player with the American Bach Soloists in California, will be performing on viola and violin at this year’s event. - Contributed photo
Tekla Cunningham, creator and director of the Whidbey Island Music Festival and regular concertmaster and principal player with the American Bach Soloists in California, will be performing on viola and violin at this year’s event.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The hills will come alive with the sound of music during Whidbey Island Music Festival’s ninth annual summer concert series.

The chamber music concerts, performed by members of the Benvenue Pianoforte Trio from Berkeley, Calif., and Pacific MusicWorks of Seattle, will run Aug. 1-10.

This summer, the musicians will present six performances of four programs: Program One, featuring works of Beethoven and Haydn; Program Two, featuring Mozart; Program Three, “An American Tune;” and Program Four, “The Enchanted Isle: Music from England and Scotland.”

New to this year’s festival is the inclusion of period instruments like the forte piano (an earlier version of the modern piano) and baroque harp, offering a taste of distinct historical and stylistic flavor. The addition of the program “An American Tune,” which features songs ranging from bluegrass and Civil War era folk songs to early American murder ballads, is also new this summer.

Tekla Cunningham, founder and director of the Whidbey Island Music Festival, said she was inspired to bring the chamber music concerts to Whidbey after visiting her aunt over the Thanksgiving holiday nine years ago. Cunningham, who resides in Seattle, said she appreciates the naturally beautiful aesthetic of the island as well as the favorable acoustics of the festival’s two locations: the barn at Greenbank Farm and the hall in St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods Episcopal Church.

Cunningham said the barn appealed to her initially because of a fond memory playing in an old barn as a high school musician, an experience she described as “very intimate but kind of rustic.”

Brandon Vance, two-time U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion, who will be performing violin alongside Cunningham during “An American Tune,” said this is his first time performing at the Whidbey Island Music Festival. His expertise lies primarily in Celtic music, but he has also performed bluegrass on several occasions.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to perform with good musicians…  [and Whidbey is a] beautiful location,” he said. “We have a very creative program with versatile musicians.” 

“This is going to be a journey through American history with music,” he added, in regard to “An American Tune.’” “We’re basically telling the American story through music.”

According to Vance, the storytelling will include Appalachian music sung by Catherine Webster and a variety of unique instruments like the Irish banjo [invented in New York] and baritone banjo, as well as a washboard used in the mid-to-late-19th-century by musicians who couldn’t afford traditional percussion instruments.

For those who have not yet attended a chamber music concert, but who are interested, Cunningham suggested that “An American Tune” may be an excellent choice.

“I think this year we definitely have something for everyone,” she added.

Maxine Eilander, Managing Director of Pacific MusicWorks, who is performing on the baroque harp in “Enchanted Isle,” and her husband Stephen Stubbs, founder of Pacific MusicWorks, who will be performing in both “Enchanted Isle” and “American Tune,” said they are looking forward to returning to Whidbey for the festival.

“Enchanted Isle” is described as songs of the Scottish Highlands or the “Wild West of 17th century Europe.”

Stubbs noted that, although each program is played by similar musicians, the performances will differ greatly. As for “American Tune,” he said it is the groups attempt to tackle a rarely attempted feat: reconstructing 19th century American music. He added that with Catherine Webster, who is experienced in singing both classical and country styles, and the inclusion of banjos played by Tom Berghan, fiddles and guitars, it is a experiment in reviving a classical American repertoire. The performance, he said, will be authentically reflective of what a 19th century American band would have sounded like playing the original songs by “the father of American music,” Stephen Foster.

“All of this has sort of one foot in classical music and one foot in folk music,” said Stubbs.

Tickets cost $10 for students and $20 for general admission. In an effort to encourage children and families to attend, kids are free. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

Vance said the performances will each be lively and enjoyable, a sentiment with which Cunningham concurred.

“Hopefully anyone who comes will have a wonderful, transcendent experience,” said Cunningham.


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