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Chamber Music to Highlight Connections

Tue, 07/12/2022 - 08:42
The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will return to the Parrish Art Museum's terrace for a concert this year.
Michael Lawrence

The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will present 11 concerts from July 31 to Aug. 21, nearly as many as before the pandemic, with an overall message of "One World, Many Worlds." 

Marya Martin, the founder and artistic director of the festival, said last week that the theme highlights connections in music -- contemporary works inspired by the masters, dance from a particular culture -- noting that while we may have felt isolated from the rest of the world in recent years, today the world seems smaller. 

"I am one of those people who feels that music or programming is not a completely separate endeavor; it is part of your whole process, which is affected by everyday life," she said. "And I think the last couple of years can't go by unnoticed without having some impact on us all." We look forward and back in time, she said, and these are the threads that run through the series. 

The festival begins with a recurring audience favorite, "A Mozart Portrait with Alan Alda," in which the veteran actor and longtime friend of the festival weaves a charming narrative of the composer's life during the years he wrote the pieces to be performed -- a flute sonata, a flute quartet, a piano trio, and a piano quartet, composed from about 8 years old to near the end of Mozart's short life. 

"I love putting together these stories about composers, especially when I can work from the letters they wrote just as they were composing each piece," Mr. Alda has said. "And that's especially true of the Mozart evening. His unique personality shines through in both his music and his words."

A free outdoor concert, which until recently had been an annual event, returns on July 27 with a different timbre, this year with Sandbox Percussion, whose 2021 album "Seven Pillars" was nominated for two Grammy Awards. This ensemble of four plays a wide array of standard percussion instruments as well as a number of "home-made" ones, such as glasses of water tuned to certain pitches. The Guardian called Sandbox "utterly mesmerizing," and a brief visit to their YouTube channel will verify this claim. 

The event will take place on the grounds of the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church; concertgoers may bring a picnic and a blanket or sit in seats provided under a large tent. The atmosphere is especially inviting for families and children, with options to sit and listen or walk about. The concert is offered to the community at no charge, but guests have been asked to register online in advance of it. 

There are about 30 stellar and world-class instrumentalists who appear in various combinations over the course of the festival's 11 concerts. Most of them have been with B.C.M. before, some of them many times. But about six will be onstage with the festival for the first time this summer. Sandbox Percussion had been scheduled for 2020, so will now be making their debut. There will also be two pianists who have recently won the prestigious Young Concert Artists competition in New York City: Ying Li, who will be in the Mozart Portrait, and Zhu Wang, who will appear in the annual benefit concert at the Atlantic Golf Club on July 30. The benefit concert features the first movement of the Dvorak Piano Quintet in A and Zhou Tian's "Viaje," "voyage" in Spanish. "Viaje" aims to fuse "the composer's Chinese American sensibility with the lore of ancient Spain."

As is a hallmark of the festival, most of the programs artfully combine some of the beloved staples of the chamber repertoire with outstanding newer works by contemporary composers. On July 31, "Travels With Dvorak" presents Telemann's delightful "Gulliver's Travels" suite for two violins and Dvorak's large-scale Piano Quintet in A Major. Those two are bookends for a relatively new and very timely composition by Eric Ewazen, "A Season of Our Times."

"I often tell my students that music reflects the time that it is written in," Mr. Ewazen said last week, reflecting on the pandemic. "I thought I would write about the seasons of our time, rather than about nature; it's more about the experiences we have been going through."

In response to living in Manhattan during the beginning of the pandemic, he wrote three movements, called "Season of Hope," "Season of Loss" -- which is more subdued, minorish, soft, and poignant -- and "Season of Renewal."

"A Season of Our Times" was presented by B.C.M. last summer in a version for flute, string quartet, and harpsichord. "This year we are doing the alternate version of the work that uses piano. Because the work is a response to the pandemic, and because we think it deserves another hearing in a different setting, we've scheduled it again this year," Michael Lawrence, the executive director of the festival, said this week.

The festival wouldn't be complete without a major work by Beethoven, in this case the Quintet for Winds and Piano, on Aug. 4. This is combined with the contemporary American William Bolcom's "Introduction and Rondo: Haydn Go Seek‚" for piano trio. As you might guess from the title, this is tongue-in-cheek music in which you hear snippets and quotes from Beethoven's teacher Haydn, along with Bolcom's own style, which is inspired in part by American songwriting. 

The evening ends with Spohr's Septet in A Major for flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, cello, and piano. 

Another master, Brahms, will have his Piano Quartet in G Minor heard next to Valerie Coleman's "Tzigane‚" for wind quartet. Tzigane is another word for Gypsy (Hungarian), and both the Brahms and the Coleman have rollicking dance movements inspired by their colorful traditions. Also on this program is Lowell Liebermann's 1989 "Fantasy on a Fugue by J.S. Bach," for wind quintet and piano.

Ms. Coleman, who was named Performance Today's 2020 Classical Woman of the Year and is in the Washington Post's "Top 35 female composers in classical music," will be heard from again on the program at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill on Aug. 8. Her "Umoja," meaning unity, is named after the principle of the first day of Kwanzaa, and will be heard in its version for wind quintet. This concert especially illustrates the theme of "One World, Many Worlds," with the Austrian Alexander Zemlinky's "Humoresque," the 20th-century Frenchman Jean Francaix's String Trio, offerings from Sibelius and Mozart, and Derek Bermel's "Wanderings‚" for wind quintet. 

Another modern work inspired by Haydn is Caroline Shaw's "Entr'acte," scheduled for Aug. 11 along with a trio by a lovelorn 16-year-old Shostakovich and a Mozart piano quartet, for an evening called "Clarity and Beauty."

A newly written work by Paul Moravec, a Pulitzer Prize winner, will be premiered on Aug. 14. This is based in part on a single movement that he wrote some years ago in memory of Ms. Martin's mother, called "Nancye's Song." Originally for flute and piano, he rescored it for flute and strings, and that prompted the commission of two more movements, to form a complete suite. Ms. Martin said they had just recently received the score for it, with great excitement. Sharing the lineup is Carlos Simon's beautifully mood-setting "Be Still and Know" and Brahms's Piano Quartet in C Minor. 

The Wm. Brian Little Concert, held in the lovely sculpture garden at Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, is called "Bach to Bluegrass," and will be preceded by light food and wine. Referring back to the overall theme of the festival, Ms. Martin said, "If you knew nothing about bluegrass or Bach, you'd listen to that program and think it was all a continuum. I find myself looking at music now with the idea of what we all have in common."

Finally, on Aug. 21, is the "Joyful Finale." The featured newer piece is Jessie Montgomery's Duo for Violin and Cello, which the composer says was written as an "ode to friendship." There will also be Martinu's Trio for Flute, Violin, and Piano, and Schumann's thrilling Piano Quintet in E-flat.

Except as noted, events will be held in the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church at 6 p.m.; the benefit begins at 6:30. Pandemic protocols, including masking and proof of vaccination, will be in place and may change if warranted, with the latest information posted on the website. Tickets for most events are $50 or $75, $10 for students, with $35 for the Parrish concert and $175 for the event in the sculpture garden. 

More information is at or at the box office, 212-741-9403.

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