Welcome to the 17th biennial Berkeley Festival and Exhibition—or as we like to refer to it, BFX! Founded in 1990 and produced by the San Francisco Early Music Society (SFEMS), the Festival has become one of the world’s largest and most important early music conclaves, deemed “a remarkable institution on the American musical scene” by The New York Times.

After the acute challenges of the pandemic, this year’s Festival will serve as a testament to the enduring resonance of eight centuries of music, as well as the resilience of the global early music community.

Rachel Podger

Whether you will join us online or in person, sample the great wealth and power of our musical heritage through 17 main stage concerts, from works written in the Middle Ages all the way through the mid-19th century. Enjoy passionate and powerful performances from the leading exponents of early music, ranging from world-class ensembles based in the Bay Area to national and international touring ensembles. This year, highlights include the Festival debuts of several artists and groups, including the Sollazzo Ensemble in their American debut, as well as the return of BFX favorites Vox Luminis and Rachel Podger. We also welcome Chanticleer—which began life as a SFEMS affiliate—back to the Festival stage after more than a decade and a half.

For the first time, the Festival will expand into San Francisco, bringing two days of performances to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, in addition to eight music-filled days in Berkeley. We will also be providing digital concert content—also a first for the Festival.

As the premier service organization for historically informed performance in North America, Early Music America will return to BFX to present its Young Performers Festival, as well as its Emerging Artists Showcase competition, with both events sponsored in part by a National Endowments for the Arts grant. This year’s Festival will also feature a new collaboration with the Berkeley-Bucknell Chamber Music Collective, as well as an ongoing partnership with the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies.

Early Music America

One of the unique aspects of BFX is the continued strength of the Fringe, a series of independently-produced concerts by soloists and ensembles from around the world. At the last in-person Festival in 2018, over 70 Fringe concerts took place, and a similar number will keep music flowing in between main stage events.

Also be sure to check out this year’s Exhibition and Marketplace, a three-day bazaar featuring dozens of national and international makers and sellers of historical instruments, music scores, books, and paraphernalia, as well as abundant information for all early music lovers.

Originally conceived by then-Director of Cal Performances Robert Cole and the late Joseph Spencer, proprietor of the Berkeley institution The Musical Offering Café, the Festival has presented unique and amazing events: Mark Morris Dance Group’s interpretation of Rameau’s Platée; “Le Carousel du Roi,” featuring dressage horses and riders executing elaborate ballets from 17th-century France accompanied by shawms and sackbuts in their natural setting (outdoors); and the North American premiere of a long-lost Mass by Alessandro Striggio for 40 and 60 voices. Until his retirement in 2018, Cole served as the Festival’s artistic director, and this year marks the first in-person Festival under the artistic direction of Derek Tam, SFEMS’ Executive Director.