Lewis Kaplan, co-founder and longtime artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, plans to launch an early summer classical music festival in Portland that will celebrate the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and add to Portland’s growing reputation as a destination for classical music.
The inaugural Portland Bach Festival will run June 19-24 at churches in Portland and Falmouth. One concert, “Bach and Beer,” will be scheduled outdoors on the waterfront and feature Portland craft beers.
“I just started thinking, ‘I want to do more,’ ” said Kaplan, 82, who left Bowdoin after 50 years, during which he made the festival a leader in the education and refinement of young musicians from around the globe. “I am not retired, and I thought … Portland would be a very good place to do it, that the time was right.”
‘MAJOR PERFORMERS’ LINED UP
Portland will now be able to boast a summer full of classical music: the Bach festival in June, PORTopera in July and the Portland Chamber Music Festival in August. In addition, the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s reputation as a regional orchestra continues to grow, and the chamber festival is expanding to year-round programming.
Kaplan, senior professor of violin and chamber music at The Juilliard School, has had a long-term love affair with Bach. The festival will include four performances in baroque and modern styles, along with lectures and master classes. There will be collaborations among musicians from Maine, New York and Europe, as well as performances by two Maine-based chamber vocal ensembles, the Oratorio Chorale and the St. Mary Schola.
Concerts are scheduled for The Episcopal Church of St. Mary on Foreside Road in Falmouth and the intimate Emmanuel Chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland.
Appropriate performance spaces are key to the festival’s success, said Kaplan, who lives in New York and Brunswick.
“We live in a crazy world, and that is not an outrageous statement,” he said by phone from New York. “The idea of performing in a sanctified area and people finding peace and solace with some of the greatest music ever written, is reason enough to make this festival.”
Emily Isaacson, artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale, will serve as associate artistic director of the festival. She is a Brunswick native who now lives in Portland.
The festival will enrich the cultural offerings of the city, she said.
“Portland has become a world-class city, and a world-class city deserves world-class art,” Isaacson said. “People are coming to our state to see the incredible landscape, to enjoy the charm of our cobblestone streets and to dine in our fabulous restaurants. We want them to come for world-class music as well.”
Kaplan agreed. “The New York Times just wrote about Portland as a food destination,” he said. “Many of my friends in New York are looking for a reason to come to Portland.”
The festival benefits from Kaplan’s contacts in the music world. As he did when he ran the Bowdoin festival, he has recruited a dozen “major performers” from the United States and Europe, including Ariadne Daskalakis, a baroque and modern violinist from Germany; John Ferrillo, principal oboist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Beiliang Zhu, who won the first prize and the Audience Award at the International Bach Competition in Leipzig in 2012.
Maine performers are Bruce Fithian, a tenor and director of the St. Mary Schola; organist Ray Cornils; and Amanda Hardy, first oboist of the Portland Symphony. The Oratorio Chorale will serve as choir in residence.
“We want to be measured against any of the top performers in the world,” Kaplan said. “These concerts had better be damned good from the start. That’s our standard.”
Kaplan said the festival will become an annual event.
CHAMBER FESTIVAL UNVEILS LINEUP
The Portland Chamber Music Festival, set for Aug. 11-20, announced its lineup Thursday with four evening concerts featuring performers from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Chicago and Kansas City symphonies, the Minnesota Orchestra and others. That festival also will include two local pianists: Cape Elizabeth native Henry Kramer, who won the 2015 William Petschek Recital Debut Award from The Juilliard School, and Portland resident Diane Walsh, who has toured the globe as a soloist and chamber musician and was the onstage pianist in the Broadway production of Moisés Kaufman’s play “33 Variations” starring Jane Fonda.
Alice Kornhauser, executive director of the Portland Chamber festival, welcomed news of the Bach festival. “The more the merrier for cultural tourism in Portland,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a ton of early music and baroque music, so I am really interested to see how it does. I’m also interested to see if the (concertgoers) who come from New York and other places might benefit the Portland Chamber Music Festival.”
Isaacson and Kaplan have a long history together. While a student at Bowdoin, Kaplan’s grown daughter baby-sat Isaacson when she was a little girl in Brunswick, and the families have been friends for many years.
Ticket prices listed on portlandbachfestival.org range from $35 for an individual concert to $100 for a season pass to all four events. Students would pay $15 and $45, respectively. Free events include the Bach and Beer concert, as well as children’s activities, master classes and lectures.