Love, Genius, Madness, and More at This Year's Music Festival

The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival's new season
At last year’s Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Alan Alda narrated a program of music by Mozart. This year, he will use the letters of Brahms and Clara and Robert Schumann to narrate their music. Michael Lawrence

The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival kicks off its month-long, 13-concert series on July 30 with a program of music by Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, and Robert Schumann, in a composer portrait called “Love, Genius, Madness,” narrated by Alan Alda. To tell one of the most intriguing stories in music history, Mr. Alda has put together a narrative based on the letters of the three composers, which will paint a picture of their lives and relationships. The six-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner narrated a similar program on Mozart last season.

The concert has already sold enough seats that a second performance of it has been added, on July 31. Mr. Alda’s narrations are sure to bring an immediacy to the dramatic personalities and relationships of these historic figures. One of his many interests is improving the art of communication, particularly in the field of science, and this is the subject of his recently released book “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?”

In this program he will use the same tools for communicating that he writes about in the book, and various Romances and Quartets of the three composers will be performed by Marya Martin, founder and artistic director of the festival, playing flute; Kristin Lee on violin, Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu on viola, Jakob Koranyi on cello, and the pianist Gilles Vonsattel. The 6:30 p.m. concerts take place at the festival’s main venue, the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, noted for its fine acoustics.

A free outdoor concert on the grounds behind the church will put Italian Baroque in the spotlight on Aug. 2 at 6:30. With two Vivaldi Concertos and the beloved Albinoni Adagio for Strings, it is sure to please. There will be seating under a tent, or concertgoers may bring lawn chairs or have a picnic on the grass. Though it is free, tickets should be reserved.

This year there is a water theme running through the series that reflects the “seaside setting” of the festival: A Vivaldi concerto with the subtitle “La Tempest di Mare” (“Storm at Sea”), “Jeux d’eau” (“Water Games”) by Ravel, Debussy’s “Poisson d’or” (“Goldfish”), and “Seven Seascapes” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, commissioned by the festival in 2013. There is a new work as well, also commissioned by the music festival, that will have its premiere on Aug. 9, “Island Nocturnes” by Elizabeth Brown, scored for flute, horn, violin, viola, cello, and piano.

Ms. Brown, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, has also received grants, awards, and commissions from Orpheus, St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Electronic Music Association, among others. She said earlier this week that she has known Ms. Martin for a long time, as she too is trained as a classical flutist. “Last summer she programmed one of my pieces; then after that she asked if I would write something for this year. And of course I said yes.”

Speaking about how she might begin the process of composing, Ms. Brown said, “Sometimes I imagine I’m at the concert and see the performers onstage and try to hear what they’re playing — it’s pretty intuitive.” She does not work fast, she said; “Island Nocturnes” took her “many months . . . the piece gradually took shape and there was a lot of melancholy music and a lot of dreamy music.” Of the finished work, she writes, “The nocturnes are mostly the stuff of sleep and dreams. Emotion is magnified and logic is forgotten.”

The program at the Parrish Art Museum on Aug. 14, now an annual feature, is called “Light|Waves” and is inspired by the museum’s exhibition of Clifford Ross’s photography. The concert, of Debussy, Ravel, Glass, and Part, will be preceded by a brief introduction to the show. Tickets include access to the Parrish’s collection.

A benefit concert at Bridgehampton’s Atlantic Golf Club on Aug. 5 is called “Get in the Groove,” with works that have been influenced by the popular music of the day: the American composer and fiddler Mark O’Connor’s lively “F.C.’s Jig for Violin and Viola” from 1991, selections from Kenji Bunch’s “Ralph’s Old Records” for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, and piano, written in 2015 but inspired by 1930s and ’40s big band and pop music, and the Brahms Piano Quartet in G Minor, which has a Rondo based on the colorful music of the Roma.

Another regular event that is a big draw is the Wm. Brian Little concert, named after a late member of the festival’s board, which takes place in the delightful sculpture garden of the Channing Daughters Winery. On Aug. 18, the Gypsy-jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel will appear again with festival artists. The program is called “Bach & Django,” as in Django Reinhardt. Speaking recently about this program, Ms. Martin wondered, “Who would have thought that this French Gypsy guitarist in the 1940s was a Bach fan?”

On the Bach side, there will be the Vivace from the Partita in G Minor for solo violin, the Django-Grappelli version of the Bach D Minor Concerto, and the famous “Air for the G String.” These will be interspersed with jazz improvisations on the music just heard, as well as some of Reinhardt’s music. “It’s a program made in heaven,” said Ms. Martin. Wine and hors d’oeuvres start at 6 p.m., with the hour-long concert at 7.

The Saturday Soiree on Aug. 26 showcases music of “Beethoven: The Young Lion.” Ms. Martin explained, “I’ve been getting into how a perfect little program can be crafted around one area of a composer or one time and place in history, and that’s interesting to me these days, and that’s how the young-Beethoven program came about. These are fun pieces. Not many composers have written horn sonatas; it’s sort of rare. The ‘God Save the Queen’ Variations is highly unusual but very funny and quite wonderful. It’s not played often.”

In addition to all this, there are six Core Classics concerts highlighting Mozart, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Ravel, Faure, Beethoven, and Schubert, but imaginative programming usually has outstanding American contemporary composers alongside the classics.

The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival always puts together an exciting and top-notch array of performers. Fans of the festival will recognize the names of players who have appeared often: Ani Kavafian, violin; the New York Philharmonic concertmaster Frank Huang; the principal violist Cynthia Phelps; Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet, and Orion Weiss, piano. The roster of 34 names includes some new ones also, such as Nikki Chooi, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera; Scott Lee, a violist who in 1996 was the youngest-ever winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and the bassist Xavier Foley, who won the Young Concert Artists Auditions last year.

About the yearlong process of preparing for the festival, Ms. Martin said, “You put the work in, then you angst about these programs and change it 20 times — but now is the time when I’m really getting excited and can’t wait.”

Tickets range from $35 to $175, with $10 student tickets available for many programs. Details can be found at, or 631-537-6368 after Tuesday, along with clips of previous and upcoming performances, and CDs from past years.