Following Irving Gilmore’s death in 1986, the Trustees of the Foundation he created with the guidance of his attorney Richard M. Hughey began the process of deciding how the considerable resources of the Foundation were to be utilized. The purposes of the Foundation, as stipulated by Mr. Gilmore, include support for the Arts, Human Services, Education and Youth Activities, Community Development, and Health in the greater Kalamazoo area. Because of Mr. Gilmore’s intense life-long passion for music and the piano, one of the first initiatives the Foundation’s trustees explored was the creation of an international piano competition in Southwest Michigan similar to the prestigious Chopin Competition in Warsaw, the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Belgium, the Leeds Competition in England, and the more recent Cliburn Competition in the U.S.

Under the leadership of Director Russell Gabier, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation sought the advice of the Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Western Michigan University, Robert Luscombe. Luscombe suggested that the Foundation explore the idea of a piano competition by engaging David Pocock, an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University, to research and test the concept. Pocock traveled extensively in 1988 talking to leaders in the world of music. He recommended that the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation make a regular series of awards based on a non-competitive process similar to that developed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago—awards made by an anonymous series of professional panels who deliberate in private without the candidates knowing that they are under consideration. Pocock suggested that the “Gilmore Awards” be made without an open competition to pianists of considerable promise who have not yet made a major career. He also recommended that the Awards should be substantial in order to make an impact, and that they should be used to help deserving artists develop their careers and musicianship. Pocock further recommended that a music festival focusing on keyboard music be established in Southwest Michigan to celebrate the piano and keyboard music in all its varieties and to promote the artists who win the periodic Gilmore Awards.

The Foundation accepted these concepts in 1989, and an independent 501c3 corporation and then an independent Board of Trustees were established to operate the biennial Festival, Awards, and subsequent young artist, educational and commissioning programs. The Gilmore Festival Board was headed by Gayle F. Werme. Mr. Pocock was hired as the organization’s first Artistic Director and David Hook as its first Executive Director.

The first Gilmore Festival and Awards were given in 1991 and have continued since then, more or less in their current format. The Festival has doubled in size since 2002, and now includes concerts in the “off-season” years in addition to expanded educational and commissioning programs. In 1997, Irma Vallecillo became Artistic Director, and Douglas Patti was Executive Director for a brief period in the late ‘90s. In 2000, the positions of Artistic Director and Executive Director were combined by the Festival trustees and Daniel Gustin was appointed Director.

The thirteenth Gilmore Keyboard Festival will be presented in 2016, and the next Gilmore Artist will be announced in 2018. Thirty Gilmore Young Artists have been awarded.

From its inception, The Gilmore, has enjoyed the broad support of individuals, foundations and businesses in the Southwest Michigan communities it serves. It is also supported as an “Anchor Organization” by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs as well as by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Back to Top