by Bob Keyes
Lewis Kaplan won’t predict how the Portland Bach Festival will evolve a few years from now or even next year. He’s concerned only about the inaugural festival, which begins Sunday and continues through June 24 with performances in Portland and Falmouth. The festival celebrates one of classical music’s most beloved composers with a focus on his music and legacy.
Kaplan, founding director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, launched the Bach festival to satisfy a long-held love of Bach and a desire to bring more classical music performances to Portland in the summer.
He’s put together a lineup of exceptional musicians and programming that includes secular and sacred music performed in cathedrals and chapels and outdoors at Ocean Gateway – with a menu that includes a batch of “Double Bach” beer by Baxter Brewing Co.
There are six concerts in six days, and the primary venues are the Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth – home of the St. Mary Schola vocal group that will participate in the festival – and St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, both endowed with excellent acoustics.
Many performers are coming up from New York and Boston. Among the notable performers: John Ferrillo, principal oboist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; cellist Beiliang Zhu, first prize and Audience Award-winner at the XVIII International Bach Competition in Leipzig in 2012; cellist Nicholas Canellakis, a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; and Ariande Daskalakis, an American violinist of Greek descent with a flourishing international career that is based in Germany.
There are a lot of Maine musicians involved, as well, including University of Southern Maine Professor Robert Lehmann, Portland String Quartet violinist Dean Stein, and Portland Municipal Organist Ray Cornils. Festival co-founder and Associate Artistic Director Emily Isaacson is artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale.
There are four primary festival concerts, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Monday and June 23-24, each requiring a ticket or festival pass. The festival passes are sold out, a testament to the early success of the festival. Programming ranges from one of the Brandenburg Concertos to motets and cantatas and cello suites.
Stein, a former student of Kaplan’s at Juilliard and in Maine, will perform as first violin on the festival’s first concert, on the cantata “Wachet Auf, Ruft unds die Stimme.”
“It is wonderful that Portland now has a festival devoted to the music of Bach,” Stein said. “Bach’s music challenges you to grow as a musician and speaks to the highest in our art.”
The Bach and Beer event, at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Ocean Gateway, is free, with beer and food available for purchase. The event will pair local brews from Baxter, including the “Double Bach,” with short musical interludes by festival artists. There’s also a cantata sing-along at 6 p.m. Wednesday, with the audience invited – indeed, expected – to join in.
Kaplan expects the Bach festival to begin big and to become something bigger with time. Exactly what, he’s not sure. “When I started Bowdoin in ’65, if you would have asked me if would it become what it did 50 years later, well, there’s no way I ever could have dreamt it,” he said. “So we’ll see. We’ve got pretty sophisticated listeners in Maine. I’m not trying to give anyone a sale. I have great confidence in the performers and great confidence that audiences will appreciate them. I think this is the right time for this festival, and Portland is the right place.”
PORTLAND BACH FESTIVAL
WHEN: Sunday through June 24
WHERE: Portland and Falmouth
CONCERT DETAILS: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the Episcopal Church of St. Mary, 43 Foreside Road, Falmouth; 7:30 p.m. Monday, St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland; kids concert, 3 p.m. Tuesday, and Bach and Beer, 5 p.m. Tuesday, Ocean Gateway, Portland; Cantata sing-along, 6 p.m. Wednesday, St. Mary, Falmouth; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, St. Luke’s, Portland; 7:30 p.m. Friday, St. Mary’s, Falmouth
HOW MUCH: $35 in advance, $40 at the door per concert; $20 and $15 for students; festival passes are sold out