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By S. Scarlett Moberly / May 31, 12:00 AM
Boston Accent: Early Adopter

Boston Early Music Festival executive director Kathleen Fay shares her passion for the music of the past


Early Music, explains Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) executive director Kathleen Fay, includes vocal and instrumental repertoire spanning the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque eras—roughly 400–1750—which is performed in the style of what the original composers and artists had in mind. “A phrase commonly used is ‘historically informed performance’ to describe our approach to, or interpretation of, this music.”

Fay first became interested in Early Music when she attended BEMF in 1985 as a volunteer. “It was love at first sight and sound!” says Fay. “I became completely enthralled by what I heard and learned, and I have been utterly captivated ever since.” Fay became executive director of the festival in 1989 and has worked steadily over the ensuing decades to build both the festival’s offerings and reputation.

Since its first festival in 1981, BEMF has evolved beyond its origins as a trade show and concert series. “Today,” says Fay, “we carry out five main activities: producing Baroque opera; presenting an annual concert series in Boston and New York City; promoting the field through our biennial weeklong festival and exhibition; recording Grammy-winning opera CDs; and producing touring programs by various BEMF ensembles.” The highlight of 2019’s festival is the North American premiere of Angostino Steffani’s Orlando. “There’s something for everyone in a BEMF opera production,” says Fay, “and I can guarantee that attending Steffani’s Orlando will hook you for life!

“Our festivals are like gigantic block parties,” says Fay of the 15,000 attendees that flock to the city. “Boston is literally crawling with fans of Early Music from 8 a.m. until midnight! BBC Radio 3 recently called us ‘arguably the most important and influential Early Music event in the world’ and we strive to live up to that reputation.” Having cemented Boston’s place in the Early Music world, Fay looks forward to building on the festival’s offerings, as well as expanding touring, recording and education programs.

Fay’s enjoyment of Early Music has not waned over the years. “As a classically trained pianist, I truly love all types of music—especially classical music—but music from earlier centuries speaks to me in a very special way. I am fascinated by the sheer beauty, elegance and richness of this repertoire. I love the improvisational aspect of it. You will never hear this repertoire performed the same way twice!” 

Boston Early Music Festival 

June 9–16 at various locations in the Back Bay, Fenway and Theatre District, bemf.org

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