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The Harp, Mozart, and Creativity

Tue, 04/09/2024 - 12:26

BCM Spring, an annual series from Bridgehampton Chamber Music, will offer three concerts this month and next, featuring the elegant and graceful harp, the spirit of Mozart, and composers at the high point of their creativity.

Of the first program, on Saturday, Marya Martin, the founder and artistic director of the festival, said recently, “I was thinking, what would be something unusual, something fun. And the idea of having a harp program in that space, I thought would be quite wonderful.” She was referring to the notably fine acoustics in the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, the venue for the concerts.

There hasn’t been a harp concert there for several years at least, although Bridget Kibbey, the harpist for the first of the series, has played with BCM a number of times in the past. Three French pieces on the program are from the same period, the 1880s to the 1930s, “when French music exploded,” Ms. Martin said. “The music in France, along with art and literature, was in an incredibly creative time. Each discipline encouraged the other. Impressionistic art ties in very much with the sounds and the shapes of the music of the time.”

Ms. Kibbey is a winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and recently released her newest solo recording, “Crossing the Ocean,” with Pentatone Records. She has appeared at festivals such as Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart, Spoleto, Chamber Music Northwest, Bravo! Vail, and with the La Jolla Music Society.

Ms. Kibbey will be joined by Ms. Martin on flute, Kristin Lee on violin, Cong Wu on viola, and Mihai Marica on cello, for Jean Francaix’s Quintet for flute, string trio, and harp, Saint-Saens’s Fantaisie for violin and harp, and Albert Roussel’s Serenade for flute, string trio, and harp.

For a completely different flavor, there will be music by Nino Rota, a 20th-century Italian composer. Rota is perhaps best known for his many film scores, notably for “The Godfather.” He has contributed much to the classical world, some of which has been played by BCM before, and his Sonata for flute and harp will be a rarely heard treat on the program.

The next concert, on May 4, will feature music by Mozart, the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc, and Salina Fisher, a contemporary composer, all for piano and wind instruments. Although the works of Mozart and Poulenc have very different tonal palettes, both composers have a great depth and elegance as well as impish and tongue-in-cheek moments, and these two sides of their spirits will be displayed in Mozart’s Quintet in E flat and Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and winds.

Ms. Fisher hails from New Zealand (as does Ms. Martin), and her elusively titled “Unfinished Portrait” for flute, oboe, bassoon, and piano is “more ethereal, dealing in layers of sound and how each sound affects the other,” Ms. Martin said.

Michael Stephen Brown is the pianist for this program. In 2022, he opened the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society’s season with Bach and Mendelssohn concertos, and performed recitals at the Beethoven-Haus Bonn in Germany and the Chopin Museum in Spain.

Mr. Brown spoke recently about the Mozart Quintet: “It’s a fun piece; the mixture of the winds and piano is such a fresh combination that I never get tired of it.” He said Mozart wrote in a letter to his father that this was his favorite piece to date.

“Poulenc is really one of my favorite composers,” Mr. Brown added. “His music is so alive, so jazz-influenced, and Ravel-influenced, and this sextet is unbelievably fun to play . . . and it ends in a surprising way.” But we won’t give that away.

About his connection to BCM, he said, “I’ve been coming to the Bridgehampton festival for about 10 years or so. I love it there, it’s like a second home to me now. . . . A lot of the audience have become dear friends, from staying at some of their houses.”

He is a Long Island native, from Oceanside, took part in Pianofest here, and in 2008 came back as that program’s composer in residence. “I feel like the Hamptons has a special musical home for me.”

Coincidentally, Mr. Brown is also a composer of note, and has been commissioned by BCM for a new work for this summer’s series, for an unusual combination of instruments, namely piano, percussion, cello, and flute. And Ms. Fisher has been commissioned by BCM, jointly with a group in New Zealand, to write a piece to be premiered here in 2025.

Audience veterans might recognize the names of the other performers for this concert: Stewart Rose, horn; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; James Austin Smith, oboe, and Jose Franch-Ballester, clarinet.

The third concert is on May 18, called “Masters at Work,” with two monumental and mature works, Mozart’s Piano Quintet in G minor and Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in E flat. In between those two will be a smaller piece from the early 20th century, “Trois Aquarelles” (“Three Watercolors”) by Philippe Gaubert, for flute, cello, and piano.

These are “beautiful little pieces . . . a breath of fresh air among the classicism of Mozart and the nationalistic, big, country sounds of Dvorak,” Ms. Martin said.

Performing will be Inon Barnatan, piano; Chad Hoopes, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola, and Paul Watkins, cello.

All three programs are on Saturdays at 5 p.m. Tickets begin at $50, and there is a subscription to the three for $120. More information is at or 212-741-9403.


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