Music festival showcases classical works, period instruments

A summer of classical tunes is back for the seventeenth year.

A summer of classical tunes is back for the seventeenth year.

The Whidbey Island Music Festival launches July 9 and puts on four weekends of baroque and classical era chamber music at venues across the island. Participating musicians play on original instruments or faithful replicas from the time periods of the featured composers.

Festival founder and director Tekla Cunningham said some Whidbey musicians will join others from the Seattle area, California and even as far away as Boston at the festival.

The first weekend’s show will be “Bach’s Coffee Cantata: An Afternoon at Zimmerman’s Coffee House.” Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote both religious and secular music, including some works that were performed at Cafe Zimmerman in Leipzig. Coffeehouses were new to Europe during Bach’s time, but the craze caught on and spread all over the continent.

Bach wrote a comic opera about a father bribing his daughter with a husband to convince her to give up coffee in response to the trend. This piece, known as the “Coffee Cantata,” will be performed at the Whidbey festival alongside pieces from two of Bach’s contemporaries, who were far better known than he was during their lifetimes.

This show will take place at 3 p.m. July 9 at Coupeville High School and 3 p.m. July 10 at St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods church in Freeland. The July 9 performance will feature a pre-concert show from Seattle Historical Arts for Kids at 2:15 p.m.

The next show in the festival will be “Heroines: Women of power and influence,” a series of arias about a number of women from Greek mythology. Cunningham said the selected works examine how baroque composers handled these women’s stories and explore universal themes of heartbreak, love and courage.

Performances of “Heroines” will take place at 3 p.m. July 23 at the Cultus Bay Gardens in Clinton and 3 p.m. July 24 at St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods.

The festival will resume in August with “Bohemian Rhapsody: The Classical Oboe Quartet from Mozart to Krommer.” This program will showcase the uniquely bohemian sound of oboe and string music from the period.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” will be performed at 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Cultus Bay Gardens and 3 p.m. Aug. 7 at St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods.

The festival’s closing program will be “Tales of Love and Longing: Songs and Chamber Music of Johannes Brahms and Florence Price.” This show features the sonatas that were Brahms’ final chamber music compositions in his lifetime, as well as pieces by Price, a Black American composer whose work combines European and American styles along with hymns and spirituals.

Audiences can see “Tales of Love and Longing” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Noorlag Salon in Oak Harbor and 4 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

Cunningham, a baroque violinist who will be performing in the festival as well as directing it, said she enjoyed designing an experience that will be satisfying and uplifting for musicians and audience members alike.

Cunningham founded the festival in 2006 when, after moving back home to the Seattle area and regularly visiting relatives on Whidbey, she realized there was no classical music festival on the island. She was interested in planning an event that would allow her to stay on Whidbey during its prime summer months rather than traveling to other events.

After a rough couple of years for virtually everyone, she said, the Whidbey Island Music Festival is “a great opportunity to come together and celebrate music and community.”

Tickets are available for purchase at