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Bridgehampton Chamber Music: Rare Gems and New Discoveries

Tue, 07/11/2023 - 11:37
The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will return to the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill for an outdoor concert this year.
Courtesy of Bridgehampton Chamber Music

"Hot-tempered. Ill-mannered. Stubborn. Eccentric. Inquisitive. Driven. Innovative. Beethoven was all of these, and his music both contains and transcends all of these qualities."

That is how Bridgehampton Chamber Music describes the composer whose music is one of the main themes of its 40th summer festival, featuring 11 concerts in a month, beginning on Sunday. Also running through the month, highlighting another innovative angle, will be six works chosen from the festival's decades of commissioning new compositions for various combinations of chamber instruments. 

Although the first concert is called "Beethoven: Innovator," it will be "Beethoven with a twist," said Marya Martin, founder and artistic director of the festival. For example, the first program will include a version of his Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, arranged by the composer's contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel for a quartet of flute, violin, cello, and piano. The idea behind this and other Hummel arrangements of Beethoven symphonies, Ms. Martin explained, is that "these pieces are so brilliant that people in households should be able to play them in their living rooms with their friends. That's going to be such a blast!"

Also on the first night's program will be the Piano Quartet in E-flat and the rarely heard Seven Variations on "God Save the King‚" for piano.

Just as Beethoven was grounded in tradition yet kept pushing the boundaries, so has B.C.M. greatly expanded its repertoire with commissions by composers such as Kenji Bunch, Eric Ewazen, Kevin Puts, Bruce MacCombie, Elizabeth Brown, and Ned Rorem, all of whom will be represented this summer. "That is a real testament to Marya's finding composers and works that have long-lasting effects," Ani Kavafian, a professor at Yale University and a violinist who performs regularly with B.C.M., said. "There has not been a dud among them."

Ms. Kavafian played in the very first concert 40 years ago, "and I think just about every summer since," she said. "The South Fork is a place that's so close to my heart. I love being there. I've gotten to know some of the community." 

In the beginning, she recalled, she and Ms. Martin said to each other, "We're going all over the world and playing in festivals. Why don't we just do one near our home?"

The idea came to fruition. They planned two concerts with four players on a summer weekend. Ms. Kavafian helped with the programs, her husband helped with the artwork, and Ms. Martin herself sold tickets from her porch. One of the biggest challenges early on was performing at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church in the summer without air conditioning. "It was rough. Air-conditioning was installed a number of years later in the church, and "that was a huge thing for all of us!"

Since then, the summer festival has grown to a world-class four-week series with capacity audiences. More recently, B.C.M. has added a spring and fall series, as well as its own recording label. In the meantime, other classical music festivals have come and gone. The church, with its notable acoustic, continues to be the main venue for most events, except for three as noted. 

Next Thursday, the program will offer two standards, Mozart's Piano Concerto in A and Shostakovich's Piano Quintet, and the newer "Bridgehampton Suite" by Eric Ewazen, commissioned by B.C.M. in 2006. On July 23, the evening is similar, with Haydn's Symphony no. 4 (arranged for flute, string quartet, and piano), and Brahms's Piano Quintet in F Minor, alongside Ned Rorem's "The Unquestioned Answer‚" from 2002. Ms. Martin notes that Rorem, one of the best-known contemporary American composers, died in November 2022, so this performance can be seen as a tribute to him. He was there when the commission was premiered just over 20 years ago, she said, and at its conclusion, in his excitement, "he ran up the aisle and jumped onto the stage! He would have been in his mid-70s then."

"Marya's programming is a really interesting balance. People will always hear some classics, but then you will have something new to discover‚" Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, a violinist for the July 23 event, said last week. "So I think everyone goes there not only to hear something they love, but also to feel adventurous, discovering something that they didn't know that they would love." Eventually, she said, "some of the rare gems and new discoveries may become well known to the audience."

Ms. Wu is among the younger artists on the roster. "I've been playing at the festival for more than 10 years," she said. "I feel like I grew up there, at the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. Marya and Cindy Phelps, who is also one of the most frequent performers there, are like my teachers. I actually studied with Ani Kavafian's sister Ida," who has also been on the B.C.M. stage.

"Festival of Color," on July 27, will feature the French masters Debussy and Faure, along with the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's multi-shaded Three Madrigals, scored for violin and viola. 

The annual benefit concert at the Atlantic Golf Club on July 29 focuses on Dvorak, with an arrangement of the familiar "Goin' Home" melody from his New World Symphony and selections from his Piano Quintet in A. "Light Upon the Turning Leaf‚" by Bruce MacCombie, was commissioned in 2010. "The title reflects my appreciation for light and energy of the sort which can be sometimes gained by meditation as well as by music and poetry, all of which can help to provide a sense of wholeness, strength and well-being to life's journey," the composer has written.

On July 30, the MacCombie and Dvorak works will return, along with Beethoven's trio for clarinet, cello, and piano. 

Carl Czerny, Beethoven's most famous student, will be represented on Aug. 3 by his Fantasia Concertante for flute, cello, and piano, along with the master's Septet in E-flat. "Summer Hours‚" by Kenji Bunch, will be heard again, four years after its commission. 

The works on the docket for Aug. 6 were all inspired in some way by a personal relationship: Dvorak's Terzetto for two violins and viola, Elizabeth Brown's "Island Nocturnes" (a 2018 commission), and Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat.

An outdoor setting at the Parrish Art Museum on Aug. 7 brings "Landscapes and Pastorales," including the birdsong of the contemporary Russian composer Sofia Gubaldulina's "Sounds of the Forest" and the hunting calls of a movement of Beethoven's Sonata for Horn and Piano. Donald Crockett's "Night Scenes" consists of four vignettes that "evoke scenes from imaginary movies," according to the composer. 

Also in a different and picturesque setting is the annual Wm. Brian Little concert, to be held in the outdoor sculpture garden of Channing Daughters Winery on Aug. 11. This one has a delightful and somewhat different flavor. Along with selections from Dvorak's "American" string quartet and some Copland songs, will be Leonard Cohen's popular "Hallelujah" and a setting of "Amazing Grace." (For both outdoor events the audience is under a tent or enclosure.)

In addition to strings, flute, and piano, a featured artist for this American Adventure is the bass-baritone Joseph Parrish, who will accompany himself on piano. Mr. Parrish, a graduate student at the Juilliard School and a winner of the prestigious Young Concert Artists auditions in 2022, is perhaps the newest talent on the roster. Ms. Martin heard him audition, "and he was stunning! B.C.M. gives a prize to one of the winners, which is, to come and perform with us the following summer!"

Bringing this 40th anniversary season to a close will be "A Seaworthy Finale," on Aug. 13. Thomas Ades's "Albion" and Elgar's Piano Quintet in A lend a British flair. The commissioned reprise, from 2013, is Kevin Puts's "Seven Seascapes‚" for flute, horn, violin, cello, bass, and piano. Each movement is inspired by a quote from a poet or author, including Emily Dickinson and D.H. Lawrence.  

There are almost 30 stellar artists who will appear throughout the series; audience veterans will recognize many of them. On the B.C.M. stage for the first time will be Graeme Steele Johnson, a clarinetist, and Brannon Cho, a cellist. 

Most concerts begin at 6 p.m. Tickets for most of the events are $75 and $50; students $10; the concert at the Parrish is $35. The event at Channing Daughters is $175, which includes hors d'oeuvres and wine. More information is at, including a generous number of free recordings from previous years and some to purchase, or at 631-537-6368 or 631-537-3507.

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