July marks the high season for Maine’s many music festivals, and Brunswick is the venue for two of them this weekend.
The Bowdoin International Music Festival is Maine’s biggest classical gathering, boasting about 80 concerts by established professional musicians, well-known ensembles and the upper echelon of conservatory students. Most of these performances are held on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. BIMF enters its third (of six) weeks this Friday in a concert that features the final 2011 Bowdoin performance of one of the top string quartets in the U.S.
Brunswick is also the venue for one of Maine’s most modest bluegrass events. The White’s Beach Family Bluegrass Festival, which runs July 15-17, has been a showcase for Maine bands for the more than a decade.
Back in Portland, New York organist Stephen Tharp will be the next performer in the 99th summer concert series on the mighty Kotzschmar Memorial Organ.
Of all Maine’s dozen-plus classical music festivals, none matches the size and artistic scope of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, a fixture of the Mid-Coast cultural community for 47 years.
The festival got started as a modest series of chamber music concerts in the summer of 1964 when the late Robert K. Beckwith, then chairman of the Bowdoin College music department, hired an ensemble fronted by Lewis Kaplan, an eager and ambitious Juilliard violin teacher.
Kaplan is now one of Juilliard’s most senior and most esteemed master pedagogues, and the modest concert series has now expanded to a six-week gathering of more than 200 students – mostly enrolled in conservatories or pre-professional programs – and a faculty of about 50 who guide advanced studies and coach chamber music ensembles.
There are three concert series that mostly feature the festival faculty, interspersed with a few students. The flagship series runs Fridays. On July 15, the program highlight will be a performance by the nationally renowned Ying Quartet in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet in D Major, one of a set of six ground-breaking quartets written in the early 1780s.
Top billing on the Monday Sonata series for July 18 will be two long-time BIMF regulars, violinist Sergiu Schwartz and pianist Peter Basquin.
On Wednesday, July 20, the Upbeat! series continues with a performance of a modern piece for harp and violin written by Jean Cras. The performers will be harpist June Han and violinist Muneko Otani.
Friday concerts are held at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School. The Monday and Wednesday series are held at Studzinski Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. All three concert series are slated for 7:30 p.m. Call 725-3895 or visit www.bowdoinfestival.org.
Don’t expect to find any Juilliard violinists at the White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick. Just fiddlers galore. Plus banjos, guitars, mandolins, upright basses and the “high lonesome” tenor voices.
One of Maine’s most modest bluegrass affairs, White’s Beach has primarily focused on showcasing in-state talent for nearly a decade and a half. The small stage, constructed to imitate a front porch, establishes the down-home flavor. I’ve attended this festival several times and enjoyed every visit.
This year’s lineup of artists includes Phat Grass, Nit Pickers, Pine Hill Ramblers, Cribstone Bridge, Cliff Marshall Band and Mainely Grass.
Bring lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray, and plunk yourself down for hours of music Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday morning. Plus bring bathing suits and take a swim in the pond. White’s Beach Campground is on Durham Road about 2.2 miles west of Route 1. Call 729-0415.
When Pope Benedict XVI visited New York City in 2008, an organist was needed for three of the pontiff’s high-profile public events – a trio of services that would be attended by 60,000 people and broadcast live to millions around the world.
To do the keyboard honors, the organizers of the papal visit turned to Stephen Tharp, the city’s top organist. Recognized as one of the foremost performers of our age, Tharp has played 35 solo intercontinental tours and more than 1,300 concerts worldwide since his professional career began in 1987, earning him the reputation as the most traveled organist of his generation.
Tharp won’t need to hop between continents to play the mighty Kotzschmar Memorial Organ on July 19 as one of the 2011 summer season guest performers on the behemoth instrument in Portland City Hall. The concert series, now in its 99th year, is sponsored by the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, a support group that helps the city maintain the huge machine.
The Kotzschmar Organ was a gift to the city from publishing magnate Cyrus H.K. Curtis. It was named in honor of a Curtis family friend, Hermann Kotzschmar, a German immigrant who was the publisher’s childhood music teacher and the city’s most prominent musican in the late 19th century. Built by the Austin Organ Co. of Hartford, Conn., it was the second largest organ in the world when it was installed in 1912.
The original organ was enlarged in 1927, again funded by Curtis. At this time the Antiphonal Organ was added, as well as a large number of ranks to the Swell division and a number of percussion stops.
During a massive renovation project of the auditorium in the 1990s, a new and enlarged wind chest was constructed. Additional pipes were added in 2003.
Today the Kotzschmar boasts nearly 6,900 pipes in 102 ranks in eight divisions: Swell, Great, Solo, Orchestral, Antiphonal, Echo, Pedal and Percussion. The Echo and Antiphonal divisions can be heard emanating from the large grid in the ceiling near the rear of the hall.
The city and FOKO plan to raise more than $1 million for a new round of repairs and renovations with the intention of restoring the instrument to tip-top condition for its 100th season next year.
In keeping with Tharp’s reputation as a champion of new music, his July 19 program is fairly heavily weighted toward modern compositions. Among them will be Eugenio Maria Fagiani’s Symphonic Suite based on Psalm 100, which was commissioned by the organist and dedicated to him. Earlier and better-known composers will be represented in works of Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Liszt.
Catch Stephen Tharp at the multiple keyboards of the mighty Kotzschmar Organ 7:30 p.m. July 19 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Pre-concert discussions are held at 6:30 p.m. in the rehearsal room. Visit www.foko.org.
The Ying Quartet, a major classical music ensemble based at the Eastman School of Music, appears three weeks every summer at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick. The quartet’s final 2011 festival performance is slated for July 15.