Out & About: Focus on 2 Brunswick music festivals

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Alfresco bluegrass has long been part of Maine’s summer arts scene, and the genre’s defining pick and twang will be heard this weekend in Brunswick. Located on a campground in the rural southern sector of town, the White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival is a two-day affair that primarily features Maine and New Hampshire artists.

Derek Bermel is both a virtuoso clarinetist and a distinguished contemporary art music composer. The July 22 Upbeat! concert at the Bowdoin International Music Festival – running through Aug. 7 in Brunswick – highlights Bermel in both roles.

In Harrison, Deertrees New Repertory Company is re-building the thespian traditions of its namesake theater in Harrison. Last weekend DNRC launched its second season with a fine professional production of “Lettice and Lovage,” a wonderfully sophisticated British comedy.

White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival

One of Maine’s great summertime pleasures is relaxing in a reclining lawn chair for hours on end, listening to the pick and twang of bluegrass music. This summer’s first opportunity is coming up this Friday and Saturday at a campground in Brunswick.

The White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival runs Friday evening plus Saturday from late morning until late evening. For those two days, the campground is closed to the general camping public and totally devoted to the festival, which draws several hundred aficionados who sit around a small stage dressed up as picture-perfect (and proverbial) front porch. I’ve attended several times in past years, and I love this modest event.

White’s Beach turns to New England bands to fill its roster. Three from Maine will open on Friday evening: Back to Basics, Wilf Clark & the Misty Mountaineers and Back Woods Road. Back to Basics is the host band; they specialize in musical performance laced with comedy.

Four additional bands, most appearing in two different time slots, will perform on Saturday: Pretty Girls Sing Soprano, Monadnock Bluegrass Band, Bobby & Ted and the Gelina Family.

Monadnock Bluegrass Band hails from the southern tier of New Hampshire and named for the region’s iconic 3,165 peak. Interestingly, the five Granite State musicians first performed in public in Maine in the summer of 2003, appearing at a bluegrass festival in Sidney.

Bring your lawn chairs, bathing suits and sunscreen to the White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival, 472 Durham Road in Brunswick. Call 729-0414 or visit whitesbeachandcampground.com.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

From its inception in 1965, the Bowdoin International Music Festival has rested on a triad of artistic concepts. First is topnotch performances of established works of classical music. Second is composing new works. Third is teaching both performance and composition.

With its six-week program employing about 55 world-class performers and pedagogues in several concert series and special-focus endeavors, BIMF is perfectly suited to do a good job with all three. I’ve been a regular BIMF concert attendee – sampling all of the series and special focus areas – for the past 16 years and always enjoy my time.

Derek Bermel exemplifies all three BIMF musical anchors, and audiences will hear them all in the upcoming July 22 Upbeat! concert. As a performer, Bermel is a virtuoso clarinetist, and he’ll be featured in Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, a 1942 work that ranks among the composer’s most frequently performed pieces.

As composer, the program features Bermel’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. Bermel himself will play the clarinet part. Bermel is one of modern music’s most respected creative forces, whose honors include the Rome Prize in composition. For 2015, he’s the composer in residence at BIMF, and directs the composition studies program.

Later this summer, the composition program will be featured in the Charles E. Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, a BIMF sub-unit. Over the festival’s long history, many masterworks of modern music were premiered at the three-day Gamber Festival, including George Crumb’s famous “Eleven Echoes of Autumn.”

The Gamper concerts also provide opportunities for first public performances of works that were created in Brunswick in the preceding weeks, both by students and by visiting composers Chen Yi and Kevin Puts. Gamper concerts are slated July 30 and Aug. 1-2.

The two pieces featuring Bermel form the middle of the July 22 concert. It will open with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Quintet for Flute and Strings, and it will end with Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 4, the so-called “Dumky.”

The Bowdoin International Music Festival’s Wednesday Upbeat! series runs through Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-3895 or visit bowdoinfestival.org.

‘Lettice and Lovage’

Comedies and drama have been part of Deertrees Theatre’s creative mix since its inaugural season of 1936. But theatrical offerings were always imported productions or locally produced plays that mostly featured New York actors.

Deertrees’ newest theater company is breaking that mold. Organized in 2014, the Deertrees New Repertory Company is a professional troupe that mainly employs actors and directors from southern Maine, particularly Portland’s fertile thespian community.

DNRC was started by Deertrees’ executive and artistic director Andrew Harris as part of his multi-year campaign to physically restore the 79-year-old wooden edifice and restore its historic role as a centerpiece of Maine’s cultural life.

As its first offering of its three-show summer season, DNRC opened a superb professional production of “Lettice and Lovage,” Peter Shaffer’s wonderfully sophisticated British comedy that revolves around the competing worldviews of two fascinating women.

“Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!” Those are the words that Lettice Douffet lives by. But when she’s employed as a docent in the Historic Preservation Trust’s dullest museum, she runs afoul of top management by inventing wildly colorful stories for the purpose of entertaining visitors and encouraging their tips.

Lotte Schoen, the straight-laced director of the Trust, is appalled by Lettice’s historical fabrications and fires her. But despite their antipodal personalities, Lettice and Lotte find common ground in their mutual hatred of modern architectural monstrosities. They form an unusual bond over multiple glasses of lovage, a highly alcoholic cordial infused with the namesake herb.

The show revolves around the imaginative and effusive Lettice, and Maureen Butler plays this larger-than-life role to perfection, enchanting and entertaining her audience from opening curtain to denouement. I also liked Patricia Mew’s forceful interpretation of the opposing personality. Paul Haley plays a couple of parts as foil to the two women, and he draws the show to its very unusual conclusion.

This is definitely one of Maine’s best bets for summer entertainment. “Lettice and Lovage” is scheduled for three more performances – 7:30 p.m. July 17, 25 and Aug. 7 – at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747 or visit deertrees-theatre.org.

Sidebar Elements

Monadnock Bluegrass Band will be one of seven New England ensembles playing this Friday and Saturday at the annual White’s Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick.