by Bob Keyes
In its second year, the Portland Bach Festival this June will add an educational institute for a select group of young musicians and a concert in downtown Portland at Etz Chaim Synagogue, home of the Maine Jewish Museum.
The expansion was inspired in part by a trip to Suzhou, China, last fall by founder Lewis Kaplan and a half-dozen of the festival faculty, who worked to establish the festival’s presence in a music-rich country and to recruit students.
The festival, which will run June 18-25 with concerts in Portland and Falmouth, will be preceded by the Bach Virtuosi Institute. The institute will bring 10 young musicians from the United States and elsewhere to Portland to study with festival performers, beginning June 14. The student musicians also will perform at festival concerts.
It’s important for the festival “to be global and maybe even more so today, given the world situation and all the turmoil,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan, senior professor of violin and chamber music at The Juilliard School and former artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, said the educational institute also will add stature and reach to the festival.
“The analogy that comes to mind is a teaching hospital. When you have brilliant students, it adds a tremendous dimension. They keep everyone on their toes. You’re dealing with very bright people with new ideas,” he said. “It’s just one more step in making the Portland Bach Festival a truly honest international festival.”
Kaplan, who lives in New York and Brunswick, began the Portland Bach Festival last spring to celebrate one of classical music’s most beloved composers with a focus on his music and legacy. He hired musicians from New York, Maine and Europe to perform a half-dozen concerts in baroque and modern styles in and around Portland. Applications for the Bach Virtuosi Institute are open now and will close Feb. 1. Because enrollment is limited to 10 students, Kaplan expects stiff competition.
The 2017 festival will follow a similar format as its inaugural year, with concerts at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary on Foreside Road in Falmouth, St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, and an outdoor Bach and Beer concert at Ocean Gateway. This year, there also will be a concert at Etz Chaim Synagogue on Congress Street. The idea of bringing music by a devout Lutheran into a Jewish synagogue is interesting to Kaplan, and something he hopes adds a dynamic “that is beyond musical.”
“I think it’s very poignant and real meaningful,” he said.
More than 1,000 people attended last year’s festival and every concert sold out, Kaplan said. He has resisted moving concerts to larger venues, because he thinks the intimacy of the settings makes the concerts more appealing. To accommodate larger crowds, Associate Artistic Director Emily Isaacson is arranging to broadcast one of the concerts on a big screen on the lawn at St. Mary’s in Falmouth, so people can watch it picnic-style for free.