Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival Keeps It Fresh

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Since its origins in the beginning of the 17th century, chamber music has delighted listeners with its intensity, intimacy, poignancy and ability to touch the roots of emotion. It’s no small wonder that the 400-plus-year-old genre is still going strong today.

Now in its 30th season, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival is more popular than ever, according to founder and artistic director Marya Martin. The world-renowned flutist started the festival in 1984 with four artists in two concerts and she has nurtured the festival’s growth ever since.

“We are a very sought-after festival, everyone wants to come play here so we get the pick of the musicians,” Ms. Martin said during a telephone interview last week. “The people we have playing is a very prestigious roster, there’s probably four festivals in the country with such a prestigious roster. We’re up there.”

Over a four-week period, beginning with a free outdoor concert on Wednesday, July 24, at the Bridgehampton Historical Society, and ending August 18, 45 musicians will perform eight concerts at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, plus a benefit show at the Atlantic Golf Club on Saturday, July 27, at 6:30 p.m., and a performance at the Channing Sculpture Garden on August 9 at 6 p.m.

The BCMF ensemble will include a mix of the top professional chamber musicians in the world and younger musicians at today’s forefront of classical performance. They will be performing scores written both by classical composers—such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn—and contemporary composers—such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts.

Chamber music is written for a small instrument ensemble, usually consisting of two to 13 musicians, and was meant to be played in the home or other small venues. It is said to be like a conversation between the musicians; there is no conductor, so communication between musicians is extremely important for staying in time in chamber music.

Listening to the other musicians is crucial for a successful ensemble, according to violinist Ani Kavafian, who will perform during the festival during select dates. With so many different performances, with so many different musicians, she said that organization and constant practice is imperative for those who want to establish a successful career as a chamber musician.

“In order to play chamber music you have to have an extremely open ear to hear everyone else’s part, listen to the score and hear what everyone else is playing,” Ms. Kavafian said. “This is especially true in contemporary music, it’s not as easy of a lead, cues are important, ear is important.”

Ms. Kavafian, who has performed in 28 of the 30 Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festivals, studied at Juilliard and is currently a professor at Yale School of Music. She’s had a multi-faceted career, performing as a soloist, concert master in an orchestra and has been an artist of the Chamber Music Society since 1979.

At a festival as prestigious as the one in Bridgehampton, some pretty big egos are brought together, Ms. Kavafian said, adding that with an all-star ensemble, sometimes compromise is necessary.

“Your interpretation meshes with others, everyone has a personality, there are five different voices, personalities, that you have to intermingle with,” she explained. “Sometimes it’s like making a deal, ‘I’ll play softer, you play a little louder …’ That’s psychology, knowing how to speak to people, that has nothing to do with music but everything to do with psychology.”

Every composer has a personality, the violinist continued. With classical composers, there is an abundance of interpretations, but with contemporary composers the body of work to learn their voice is smaller. If it is a premier, then the musicians playing the score are the ones to present the first interpretation of the work.

“If it’s contemporary, it’s more difficult. You have to really know every single note and understand your part as it relates to the others playing with you,” Ms. Kavafian said. “I think the score is the most important thing for people to look at, that’s the voice of the composer.”

On Sunday, August 11, Mr. Puts—who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his first opera, “Silent Night”—will be premiering “Seven Seascapes,” a score commissioned by Ms. Martin. The work is based on seven poetic quotes about the sea he found fascinating and inspiring. Another of his pieces, “Traveler,” will also be performed.

“It’s very exciting,” the composer said of the premier. “With chamber pieces it’s different groups of instruments, so you never quite know, it will be a surprise to hear it. It will be fun and it’s something new. I can’t anticipate how it will sound.”

When writing new music, Mr. Puts reported that he just jumps into the process. For “Seven Seascapes” he was reading an Emily Dickenson poem, “Exultation is the Going,” and decided to use short excerpts from seven ocean-inspired poems from which to draw his own inspiration.

“When I read them, I had a visual image and a sonic idea to put them in order and make sense in a narrative way, a flow. So I started reading poems, started sketching ideas in my head in terms of what I would do with each one musically,” the composer reported of his process.

This will be the composer’s third appearance at the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. He said that he has great respect for the performers that Ms. Martin selects, which is why he is confident premiering the new piece she commissioned him to write.

“Since I won the Pulitzer I have had a lot more opportunity to do things. There seems to be a lot more choices out there, but when you have a group like Marya does … they will do something greater than I can even imagine with it,” he said.

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival performances will be held on select dates from Wednesday, July 24, through August 18. Ticket prices range from $15 to $150, depending on the concert and seat location. For more information on ticket prices and concert scheduling, visit bcmf.org or call 537-6368.

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