Bridgehampton Chamber Festival's Kickoff Heralds Spring

Marya Martin before one of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival's concerts at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church Michael Lawrence

The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival spring series will present a fifth season of solid classical repertoire mixed with contemporary compositions, first-time guests and familiar faces, and a variety of instrumental timbres, with three concerts beginning on Saturday. 

When the festival added the spring series to its long-established summer events, it was something of a daring proposition at first, but it has proven to be a big draw and a successful endeavor. 

The series will consist of a piano duo, a string quartet, and a Baroque chamber ensemble. “I like to think of the three concerts in the spring series as different musical experiences, either in periods of music, combinations of instruments, or different soundscapes,” Marya Martin, the founder and artistic director of the festival, said last week. “This series has all of that, but what I would love people to think of and listen for is the three different soundscapes: the percussiveness of the two pianos, compared to the blend and cohesiveness of a well-oiled string quartet, and then a concert of mixed instruments, all of which have different personalities but will play music from one country within a pretty small time frame.”  

The piano duo on Saturday will be Orion Weiss and Shai Wosner. Their program features two masterpieces, Schubert’s Sonata in C Major for Piano Four Hands and Brahms’s Sonata in F Minor for Two Pianos. The latter is an earlier version of the better-known Piano Quintet and is not often heard in this form. These two sonatas will be interspersed with two contemporary works by David Lang, one of the most frequently performed living American composers, the intriguingly titled “gravity” (2005) and “after gravity” (2008).  

Mr. Weiss has performed with major orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic. His 2018-19 performances range from the Lucerne Festival to the Minnesota Orchestra. Born in Israel, Mr. Wosner is known for such innovative pairings of traditional and contemporary repertoire, as his concerts and recordings cover the gamut from Beethoven to Ligeti.

Both Mr. Weiss and Mr. Wosner have appeared individually with Bridgehampton festival before and have appeared elsewhere as a duo, but this will be their first appearance in Bridgehampton as a team. When asked last week about working with Mr. Weiss and their concert tour, Mr. Wosner said, “It’s such a wonderful experience to share pieces that you truly believe in with such a close friend. We took this program to the West Coast and to the South and now to the Hamptons and later on to more places, and it’s fascinating how these pieces speak to people no matter the venue, time of day, or geographical location.”

In describing how the program fits together, he continued, “I love the David Lang pieces not only for their simple and sincere beauty, but also for the way that they can serve as preludes of sorts for the bigger pieces by Schubert and Brahms. ‘Gravity’ shares the falling motif that opens Schubert’s great sonata, and so it prepares the ground for Schubert’s expansive canvas that is perhaps the greatest piece ever for four hands. ‘After gravity’ converses with ‘gravity’ in the sense that it is meant to convey a feeling of weightlessness, a musical line that seems to never quite land, until the very end perhaps. And for the purpose of our program, it ‘zooms in’ on the same note that Brahms’s sonata is centered on.”

The Jerusalem Quartet will appear on April 14, marking the debut of this world-renowned ensemble with the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. With Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler on violin, Ori Kam on viola, and Kyril Zlotnikov on cello, they will perform two of the standard quartets in the literature, those by Debussy in G Minor and Ravel in F Major, along with Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5.

The New York Times has described the Jerusalem Quartet’s music as having “passion, precision, warmth, a gold blend.” The ensemble appears regularly on the world’s great stages and makes biannual visits to North America. A recently released recording includes the Debussy and Ravel Quartets, and this spring the soprano Hila Baggio will join the ensemble to perform Yiddish cabaret songs from 1920s Warsaw.

Aficionados of Baroque music should take note of the program on May 11, “German Baroque Masterpieces.” Handel will be represented by his Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Minor for Violin, Oboe, and Continuo; selections by Bach will be the Violin Sonata in G Major, and the Trio Sonata for Flute, Oboe, and Continuo in G Major; and Telemann’s Quartet for Flute, Oboe, Violin, and Continuo in D Major will end the program. Two somewhat less-well-known but influential and important Baroque composers will also be heard in the Sonata in B-flat Major for Flute, Oboe, Violin, and Continuo by Johann Friedrich Fasch, and the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Continuo by Dieterich Buxtehude.

The ensemble for this program is some of BCMF’s regular players: Ms. Martin on flute, James Austin Smith on oboe, Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu on violin, Nicholas Canellakis on cello, and Kenneth Weiss on harpsichord.

“This program of these five German composers does make one wonder about what an incredibly fertile and creative time this must have been in Germany,” said Ms. Martin. “They all knew each other and admired each other — although it wasn’t always without some competition. Telemann was offered the big job at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig that Bach so desperately wanted, but then turned it down. I think Fasch had also been considered for the job since he was an alumnus of the boys’ choir! It’s so wonderful to think of these composers as real people coping with everyday issues.”  

When asked about the two composers who are not so well known, she commented, “I love Buxtehude, although he is not a household name. His work is a wonderful combination of pure joy and a little crazy dizziness, and this sonata is no exception. His is a very original voice. And Fasch’s ability to make all the instruments sound otherworldly is something else!”

The first and last concerts are on Saturdays, the middle one on a Sunday, all at 5 p.m. Tickets are at $40 and $60, with a $10 student price available; subscribers will receive a discount for the three concerts. All events are at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church. More information is at 212-741-9403 or 917-940-2983, or bcmf.org. The festival’s summer series, which will take place in August, will be announced in May.