Portland Bach Festival adding educational component
The Bach Virtuosi Institute will bring 10 young musicians to the city to study.
By Bob Keyes
In its second year, the Portland Bach Festival this June will add an educational institute for a select group of young musicians and a concert in downtown Portland at Etz Chaim Synagogue, home of the Maine Jewish Museum.
The expansion was inspired in part by a trip to Suzhou, China, last fall by founder Lewis Kaplan and a half-dozen of the festival faculty, who worked to establish the festival’s presence in a music-rich country and to recruit students.
The festival, which will run June 18-25 with concerts in Portland and Falmouth, will be preceded by the Bach Virtuosi Institute. The institute will bring 10 young musicians from the United States and elsewhere to Portland to study with festival performers, beginning June 14. The student musicians also will perform at festival concerts.
It’s important for the festival “to be global and maybe even more so today, given the world situation and all the turmoil,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan, senior professor of violin and chamber music at The Juilliard School and former artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, said the educational institute also will add stature and reach to the festival.
“The analogy that comes to mind is a teaching hospital. When you have brilliant students, it adds a tremendous dimension. They keep everyone on their toes. You’re dealing with very bright people with new ideas,” he said. “It’s just one more step in making the Portland Bach Festival a truly honest international festival.”
Kaplan, who lives in New York and Brunswick, began the Portland Bach Festival last spring to celebrate one of classical music’s most beloved composers with a focus on his music and legacy. He hired musicians from New York, Maine and Europe to perform a half-dozen concerts in baroque and modern styles in and around Portland. Applications for the Bach Virtuosi Institute are open now and will close Feb. 1. Because enrollment is limited to 10 students, Kaplan expects stiff competition.
The 2017 festival will follow a similar format as its inaugural year, with concerts at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary on Foreside Road in Falmouth, St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, and an outdoor Bach and Beer concert at Ocean Gateway. This year, there also will be a concert at Etz Chaim Synagogue on Congress Street. The idea of bringing music by a devout Lutheran into a Jewish synagogue is interesting to Kaplan, and something he hopes adds a dynamic “that is beyond musical.”
“I think it’s very poignant and real meaningful,” he said.
More than 1,000 people attended last year’s festival and every concert sold out, Kaplan said. He has resisted moving concerts to larger venues, because he thinks the intimacy of the settings makes the concerts more appealing. To accommodate larger crowds, Associate Artistic Director Emily Isaacson is arranging to broadcast one of the concerts on a big screen on the lawn at St. Mary’s in Falmouth, so people can watch it picnic-style for free.
A Musical Farewell
Portland Bach Festival
Episcopal Church of St. Mary, Falmouth
June 26, 2016
by Christopher Hyde
The Portland Bach Festival closed on a high note Friday, at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth, with stunning performances of three major works and a cameo appearance by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who happens to have studied at Juilliard, majoring in drama. The Mayor emphasized the importance of the arts, especially classical music, in creating a vibrant city.
The concert included a world premiere of Bach’s Concerto for Three Violins BWV 1064R, reconstructed by Sebastian Gottschick. His wife, violinist Ariadne Daskalakis, was one of the soloists in Friday’s performance.
I am familiar with the version for harpsichords, apparently transcribed by Bach from a now lost three-violin concerto. It has virtuoso parts for each of the solo instruments and for the concertino as a whole, and was apparently written as a showpiece for Bach and two of his sons.
The violin version, artfully performed by Daskalakis, Renée Jolles, and Yibin Li, with the Festival Orchestra, works even better than the keyboard arrangement. Each violin (and its player) has a distinctive sound and style, making it easier to separate the voices and appreciate their combinations.
Either version is amazing when performed well, and Friday’s performance was as good as it gets. I must confess that as a youngster I agreed with Berlioz, that most of Bach was boring. I now share the opinion of festival founder Lewis Kaplan, that Bach is simply the greatest composer in the Western Classical Music pantheon. I was misled by somber, academic performances, and in any music, performance is (just about) everything.
The myriad cantatas are a case in point. The program began with Cantata No. 196, “Der Herr denket an uns.” written to be performed at a betrothal. As sung by Sarah Bailey, soprano, Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone, and Jason McStoots, tenor, with the festival orchestra and the Oratorio Chorale under Emily Isaacson, it was enough to make one want to go to church every Sunday in the year. Pure joy.
Its high point was an unusual duet for tenor and bass, which repeats the phrase “more and more” from “May the Lord bless you more and more, you and your children.” eleven times. Bach had 20 children, 10 of whom survived into adulthood.
The evening concluded with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050, with Jolles, violin, Emi Ferguson, flute, and Arthur Haas, harpsichord, with the Festival Orchestra.
I used to like the piano version, as played by Glenn Gould, since the keyboard part stood out, but the harpsichord, under Hass’ touch, wins the contest. unifying the structure and spinning out the intricate solo like a string of understated pearls. The combination of flute and violin, contrasting with the tone of Rob Regier’s harpsichord, was ravishing.
After the final note, and a long standing ovation, the audience didn’t want to go home. Kaplan and Isaacson plan to do it again in 2017. Better get your tickets now.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at email@example.com.
Concert review: Portland Bach Festival off to a promising start
The inaugural concert draws an impressive roster of musicians.
By Allan Kozinn
If you know the violinist Lewis Kaplan, you probably also expected that when he gave up the directorship of the Bowdoin International Music Festival after leading it for half a century, he would be back with something else soon. And indeed, the enterprising octogenarian began pulling together ideas for his next project as soon as he announced his retirement. That project, the Portland Bach Festival, opened its inaugural season Sunday evening at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth with a robust program that touched on Bach’s organ music, solo instrumental works, concertos and cantatas.
Kaplan’s plan has a lot going for it. As a summer resident of Maine since 1964, when he co-founded the Bowdoin festival, a winter resident of New York, where he teaches at the Juilliard School and Mannes College the New School for Music, and a visiting professor at the Royal College of Music in London, Kaplan has both a love for the area and solid contacts in the international musical world. With Emily Isaacson, the director of the Oratorio Chorale, as his associate artistic director, he has further links to Portland’s musical life. Between them, they’ve put together a board to raise the money to support such a venture.
Bach, moreover, is not a tough sell, and the six-day festival, which runs through Friday and includes concerts (each preceded by a lecture), master classes, children’s programming, a violin exhibition and a “Bach with Beer” performance, is sold out. Granted, the festival’s main venues – St. Mary’s and the round chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland – are fairly intimate. But that is as it should be for much of this music.
For his roster, Kaplan drew on both Portland and New York musicians, with the latter making up what appeared to be a hand-picked orchestra of mostly young musicians with a strong sense of Baroque style, several of whom will be heard as soloists during the festival. Portland’s main contributions are its choirs – Isaacson’s group as well as St. Mary’s Schola – and Ray Cornils, the city’s municipal organist, who recently announced that he would leave his position in 2017.
Cornils opened the festival with the Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541). In truth, the acoustics at St. Mary’s were dry for organ music – not what you would expect in a church with a brick and wood interior. That dryness made Cornils’ phrasing in the Prelude seem oddly clipped, although one could argue that the reading’s rough-hewn quality supported the improvisatory spirit that lies at the heart of Bach’s preludes. In the necessarily more orderly Fugue, Cornils compensated with more flowing lines, but the absence of reverberation (the final chord, for example, had none at all) was still telling.
Beiliang Zhu, a young cellist who won first prize at the International Bach Competition in Leipzig in 2012, gave an exemplary performance of the Cello Suite No. 6 in D major (BWV 1012). For the occasion, she used a five-string Amato instrument, made in 1600 (85 years before Bach’s birth), which had once been owned by the British early music cellist Amaryllis Fleming. Zhu’s tone was warm, if not especially large (again, a more vibrant acoustic would have made her sound blossom more fully), and she played with the transparency and fleetness necessary to create the illusion of counterpoint within Bach’s nimble dance forms.
The rest of the concert was devoted to music for larger ensembles, for which St. Mary’s acoustics are more amenable. That said, Kaplan’s orchestra for the Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor (BWV 1060R) – a reconstruction of a lost work, based on the surviving double harpsichord concerto – used the minimalist forces that musicologists now say were available to Bach. That meant two violins and a single viola, cello and double bass. Kaplan was the violin soloist and conductor, and John Ferrillo, the principal oboist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, contributed a rich-toned, beautifully nuanced account of the oboe line that wove deftly through the work in a lively interplay with both Kaplan and the orchestra.
The concert ended with the popular Cantata No. 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” with the Oratorio Chorale supported by a slightly larger orchestra, the organist Bruce Fithian and, in the final chorale, the audience, which was asked to join in the singing, as the congregation in Bach’s day would have done. Kaplan conducted a firm, focused performance, with elegantly phrased contributions from the vocal soloists – Jason McStoots, tenor; Sarah Brailey, soprano; and Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone – and lovely accounts of the work’s oboe and violin obbligatos from Ferrillo and the violinist Renée Jolles.
Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:
With Bach festival, Portland gives classical music fans a reason to stay close to home
The inaugural festival begins June 19.
By Bob Keyes
Not too many years ago, the best classical music in Maine in the summer could be found anywhere but Portland. Maine’s most revered music festivals occurred on the midcoast, from Brunswick to Blue Hill. The coast of Maine still offers some of the best festivals, but increasingly Portland is giving classical music lovers who live here or who visit a reason to cheer.
In June, the former artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival debuts a new event, the Portland Bach Festival. It runs June 19-24, with performances at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary on Foreside Road in Falmouth and the intimate Emmanuel Chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland. Other events will be at Ocean Gateway and the East End Community School.
Lewis Kaplan, who departed Bowdoin after 50 years as artistic director in 2014, will direct the festival with assistance from Emily Isaacson, artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale.
“Bach has always been a real love of mine,” said Kaplan. “I am not retired. What would I want to do? Naturally, Bach came to mind.”
Musicians from around the world will perform, many of whom Kaplan has worked with during his half-century of teaching at the Juilliard School in New York. There will be masterclasses and kids concerts during the day, and performances in the evenings. There’s a Bach and Beer event at Ocean Gateway, as well as a community sing-along.
Kaplan’s goal is to create a festival that keeps Portland music fans close to home — at least through June. He plans to make it an annual event.
There’s more music on the calendar in Portland, too.
PORTopera (portopera.org) presents a fully-staged version of “Carmen” July 27 and July 29 at Merrill Auditorium. Stephen Lord conducts. The Portland Chamber Music Festival (pcmf.org) hosts a series of concerts at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus, Aug. 11-20. This summer marks the 23rd season for the festival.
Here are other festivals across Maine this summer.
Bowdoin International Music Festival, Brunswick: June 25-Aug. 6; bowdoinfestival.org
Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival, Blue Hill: June 25-Aug. 5; kneisel.org
Salt Bay Chamberfest, Damariscotta, Aug. 9-20; saltbaychamberfest.org
Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, Harrison, July 12-Aug. 9; sllmf.org
Bar Harbor Music Festival, July 3-31; barharbormusicfestival.org
Portland Bach Festival Coming Soon
Portland Bach Festival
June 19-24, 2016
by Christopher Hyde
The new Portland Bach Festival, (June 19-24) featuring internationally known artists, the Oratorio Chorale, St. Mary Schola, period instruments, a Bach and beer party at Ocean Gateway, and the Maine premier of a Bach concerto for three violins, is coming up soon, and ticket sales are brisk, according to festival artistic director Lewis Kaplan. Since the venues are intimate—St. Mary’s Church in Falmouth, and St. Luke’s in Portland— it would be advisable to purchase them soon.
The festival is the brainchild of Kaplan and Emily Isaacson, director of the Oratorio Chorale. Kaplan, a prominent violinist and teacher (at Juilliard), recently resigned as artistic director of the acclaimed Bowdoin International Music Festival, which he co-founded over 40 years ago.
While there is always interest in Bach, regarded by many as the pre-eminent composer of all time, the festival also fills in a (relatively) empty time slot, between the regular concert season and the beginning of summer music festivals throughout the state.
Kaplan believes that it will be well attended by local audiences, and also serve as an incentive to music lovers to visit the state. “Concerts in the round, with period instruments, will give audiences an authentic experience of Bach. I’ve played in concerts around he world, and I want people attending these in Maine to feel that the musicians are playing just for them.”
As for the premiere of the Bach Concerto for Three Violins, here is what violinist Ariadne Daskalakis, who will be playing the work, wrote to me about it:
“It is surmised that Bach originally composed a Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major (sometime around 1716 – in which case we would have a 300th year anniversary!) which he then transcribed for 3 harpsichords. (It was a common practice to transcribe pieces for different instruments and to reuse material as necessary.) In the meantime only the autograph of the version for 3 harpsichords survived – known today as the Concerto for 3 Harpsichords in C Major BWV 1064. Various scholars have used that piece to reconstruct the version for 3 violins – now known as the Concerto for 3 Violins in D Major BWV 1064R. At the Portland Bach Festival in June we will perform a reconstruction of this piece by the German musician Sebastian Gottschick (who happens to be my husband). The music is all original Bach, and the score has been reconstructed with the intention of capturing all the voices in a manner suitable for the instrumentation.
It is a substantial 3 movement work. The 2 outer movements are quite festive and the slow middle movement is plaintive and lyrical. The 3 solo violins have significant individual roles throughout the piece, and sometimes they play together as a group within the ensemble.”
The concerto will be played at the final concert of the festival, at St. Mary’s Church, on June 24. The program also includes my favorite Brandenburg Concerto, Number 5, with its glorious harpsichord part, to be played by Arthur Haas on a harpsichord by R.G. Regier of Freeport.
Other highlights, in chronological order, include the Cello Suite No. 6, played by the award-winning cellist Beiliang Zhu, on a baroque five-string cello, the Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin, and Continuo in C Minor from “A Musical Offering” – BWV 1079 and the famous Chaconne from the Partita for Violin in D Minor – BWV 1004, played by Kaplan.
Chorale works will include the Cantata, “Wachet Auf” – BWV 140, and the Cantata, “Der Herr denket an uns” – BWV 196, sung by the Oratorio Chorale, and the Motet, “Singet Dem Herrn” – BWV 225, by St. Mary Schola,
Each concert will be preceded by a half-hour exposition of the music, free and open to the public. Children’s events are also free and will include a special concert and an instrument-making workshop.
A complete schedule and information about the artists is at www.portlandbachfestival.org.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I felt compelled to add this wonderful interview with Yo-Yo Ma, my former chamber music student at Juilliard, from Mother Jones Magazine.
I enjoyed reading about Yo-Yo’s perspective on introducing young children to playing instruments.
Here’s an excerpt and the entire Q&A follows in the continued section.
“I was given a violin when I was little and I just sounded horrible, so I wasn’t interested. [Laughs.] It wasn’t interested in me! I didn’t do anything until I saw a double bass at the Paris Conservatory. I said I wanted to play it. Is that like a four-year-old saying, “I just want to play the biggest thing?” Possibly. We compromised on the cello. I still love the double bass. Wynton Marsalis likes to say, the bass line in the jazz group, that’s the blue-collar worker. That’s the guy who’s building your streets. You may not hear it all the time, but if you take it away, everything falls apart.”
“My mother was a singer and my father was a composer, musicologist, and string player. My father was very analytical, so I had really good training in that way. I started playing the Bach Suites—the first suite is all about patterns and change—just little snippets at a time, two measures a day. By connecting them, you actually are figuring out in a pretty substantial way, what are the patterns? So in a short time, I was able to learn a lot of music. A little bit is doable. It’s not Mount Everest—it’s a mole hill. My father would say, “If there’s something that’s very difficult, split it into four parts where you can actually solve a problem by first solving little problems.” That was an unbelievable time-saver later on. And my mother really addressed the idea that you acquire technique in order to transcend it. Because the point of music is to be moved. Just because you can play a piece doesn’t mean you’re reaching deep inside somebody else.”