What began as a way to honor local philanthropist Irving S. Gilmore’s tremendous love for music, specifically the piano, has grown immensely, now boasting more than 100 concerts at various venues across West Michigan.
Since 1991, the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival has hosted world-class music in the Kalamazoo area. But it’s not just concerts. You’ll also find master classes, a film series and a musical play throughout the 19-day festival, all of which focus on some element of keyboard music.
And while the long roster of happenings may seem a bit overwhelming to first-time attendees, Festival Director Dan Gustin recommends newbies try dipping their toes into some of the free events.
“It can be very daunting to look at the brochure and say, ‘Wow, I don’t know where to start,’” Gustin said. “Look for something that seems intriguing for you and just try it. If you like it, try something else — what have you got to lose? If people take that approach they’ll end up coming to more than one thing. … It’s a major event right in your backyard.
Even those who aren’t typically versed in classical or jazz music will notice some familiar names, with Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers (April 30), Pink Martini featuring China Forbes (April 27) and the iconic Tony Bennett (May 7) counting themselves among this year’s performers.
With all of the big names on the bill, there’s one area of the event that’s largely out of the public eye — one that’s important to the festival and its legacy.
|The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival
April 26–May 14
Full schedule at thegilmore.org/festival
“[The awards we give out are] the part the public doesn’t see about The Gilmore,” Gustin explained of both the Gilmore Young Artist Awards and the Gilmore Artist Award. “These are American pianists under the age of 22. Every two years, we select two of them and give them award money and promote them. Every four years, we give a major, across-the-world award. It has no restrictions on nationality or anything else, just that they are especially worthy and can use the boost that the award gives them.”
The process for selecting the award winners is unique. In fact, it’s not a competition at all. Every four years, Gustin secretly selects five other members for a judging panel who communicate privately, exchange recordings and covertly attend concerts all over the world searching for their recipient.
“The selection is never made on one or two performers based on the pressure of competing,” Gustin said. “It’s based on what they do. They don’t know that they’re under consideration. They don’t even know that we’re [at the concerts].”
Winners not only receive the substantial monetary award and the recognition that goes with it, but they also become a part of the Gilmore Festival family.
“At the Festival we bring back artists from previous years,” Gustin said. “People here get to know them, watch them perform and watch their careers. This year, we have at least a couple of the Gilmore Artists back, like Kirill [Gerstein] and Ingrid [Fliter].”