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INTERVIEW: Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival Founder Marya Martin On The Spring Series, Summer Shows, And The Festival's Future

Nicole Barylski

Eric Ewazen and Marya Martin. (Photo: Brian Hatton)

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (BCMF) will launch its 3rd annual BCMF Spring series on Saturday, March 11th at 6 p.m. The trio of concerts will premiere with the Brahms Horn Trio with music by Eric Ewazen, including the world premiere of Divinities at Dawn - a piece that was written for Marya Martin, BCMF's founder and longtime Hamptons cultural champion.

We caught up with Martin to chat about the upcoming performance, as well as this year's summer festival.

"We love doing the concerts in the summer - we've done those now for 34 years, and this is only the third year we've done the spring series," she shared. "It's always exciting to start a new venture because we're making sure we have a good audience."

There's a comfort in the spring series, as it tends to bring out festival regulars. "In the summer, we have a mixture of out-of-towners and locals. Mainly, in March, we found it's mostly locals, and so it's really interesting to see how we get to them," Martin noted. "I'm always excited also to see - it's funny, over the 34 years when I'm on the stage, I look out and I see all these familiar faces that I've known over the years, and so it's like greeting old friends. It's always a nice, warm feeling when I go out and welcome everybody to the concert. In March, you see all these old friends."

Have you noticed any other differences between the summer and spring concerts?

MM: The summer is three concerts a week - so basically it's a concert every three days. It's very intense. You program slightly differently because you have 14 concerts in four and a half weeks. Here, you've got a concert every month, for three months. I thought of this three concert series not as three separate concerts, but as the development of one concert - so that the first concert is really celebrating the French horn and woodwind players. There's a lot of work for flute and French horn, but one of the greatest works in the French horn repertoire is Brahms' Horn Trio, and we are playing that on the first night. Most of the works are trios. In the April concert, we have string quartets, which is a whole different sound - a very different type of work. In the last concert, we have a string sextet. I like to think that when you make these different soundscapes, people come in and hear something different every time.

When you launched the festival in 1984, did you ever dream it would become the longest-running summer classical music festival?

MM: No, in fact I'm not sure I actually dreamt anything. I was young, and my husband and I had this idea to start a music festival - or we had this dream to have really good music in a place that we loved because, generally, at that time, I used to travel for the whole summer playing at various music festivals. It was actually my husband's idea. He said we know we're in a beautiful place, but there's really not much music going on. Wouldn't it be incredible to have great music out here? That's as far as we dreamed. And, of course, we started with two concerts and four people. Now, with the summer and the spring, we have 18 concerts and 54 musicians.

What I love about it is in the very beginning, I guess I'm sure I was very idealistic. People said, "Oh people are too busy going to cocktail parties. They don't want to hear music in the summer." And I really thought that's not true. There's a real audience for classical music, especially these days when there's so much strife in the world and there's so much craziness and division - that to come into a very calm, peaceful building, which is the Presbyterian Church, the acoustics are beautiful. You can sit there and sort of be transported back in time. When you think of playing the Brahms' Horn Trio that was written in 1865, we are playing it exactly the way it was composed. If you shut your eyes, it could be back in 1865. You can't sit on a piece of furniture that was built then because they're gone. It's sort of a wonderful feeling to be able to honor beauty and our sense of history and everything else that goes with great music.

The spring series will include the world premiere of Eric Ewazen's Divinities at Dawn, which was written for you. You must be thrilled!

MM: I am! Eric and I go a long way back. I've played a lot of his music, he's written pieces for me, I've commissioned works by him, I've recorded a lot of his stuff - so it's a very nice relationship and a very comfortable feeling. It's exciting to give the first performance of a new work because he knows my playing so he basically composes, if he's writing for me, he composes with me in mind and it's always a very nice fit.

He had written the piece years ago, but set it aside. How did you convince him the timing was right?

MM: It was written in 2005. Recently, he and I were talking, and believe it or not, there's such thing as the New York Flute Club - there's thousands of flutists who belong to it. Last year, I had played the Ewazen Flute Sonata that he wrote for me, and we're sitting after having coffee, and I said, "Eric, it's time to get another piece for flute and piano." He said, "You know, Marya, you're absolutely right." And lo and behold, he rethinks this piece he wrote and gives it to me. He's a very talented man, composer, great teacher - he's on the facility at Juilliard. And he's written hundreds of works - he's quite prolific. It's very romantic in nature. The flute sonata he wrote for me, I premiered in 2011, and of course, nowadays, with social media, I was recorded and that was up on YouTube. The wonderful thing is now there's a bunch of recordings up on YouTube - there's all these people playing it, which is wonderful. To get a piece out in the world, it used to be difficult. That's the amazing thing about social media or YouTube - it's incredible.

BCMF features both veterans and rising talent. How do you curate each festival's lineup?

MM: I've worked with all these people before. There's certainly a personality for each player and some playing styles work better with some people. I always try and mix likeminded players. There are some people, for example, that play exquisitely but they're more intimate in their playing. This program has the French horn, which is a big sounding instrument, so you have to think of the right person to balance the personality of the instrument, and the work that you're playing.

What do you hope for the future of the festival?

MM: Last year we started a new idea, which was the very opening concert being a composer portrait and we did an entire concert of Mozart. We invited Alan Alda, who has been a great friend of the festival and he wrote a script. Mozart was a very prolific letter writer and all those letters - to his father, to his wife, to his sister - were kept. So Alan made this incredible script of these letters and Alan would tell a story of what was going on exactly in Mozart's life when he composed that piece, and it was in Mozart's own words - from the letters. It was just a great concert. So, this year, we're doing a similar idea starting off with a composer portrait of Brahms Schumann, Robert Schumann, and Clara Schumann. There's an amazing story there because it was sort of like a love triangle. So, 2017 is booked already. We are now booking the musicians for 2018 and deciding what the programming will be then.

I would love to bring in some young players and have them maybe for three days before the festival starts and have a mini residency where they go out into the community and do a bunch of free concerts - go to the Bridgehampton Library, the Sag Harbor Library, the community center and these would be posted and listed. People could go for just 30 minutes, walk in, listen to something and walk out. To me, music should be part of people's lives and we haven't gotten there yet. It's difficult because music was taken out of public schools a couple of generations ago. It does matter when the education of music is not present anymore. People are scared about classical music. They think it's elitist. They're scared that they won't know anything. I don't care if people don't know anything, if they clap between movements. I just want them to be open to listening to this music and feeling it. On the first concert, these young players would play with us. I love the idea of seeing a Starbucks - 11 a.m., people go get their coffee and then you have a string quartet playing for 30 minutes. It's actually like the old days where in the old meeting places there would always be music, and people would just come and start playing.

The Spring Series will continue on Saturday, April 1st with the Brentano String Quartet, who are currently celebrating their 25th anniversary. The Quartet's first BCMF performance will showcases quartets by Beethoven and Mendelssohn and string quartet arrangements of selections from Bach's Art of the Fugue. The final program on Saturday, May 6th, features two of the chamber music repertoire's gems: string sextets of Dvořák and Brahms.

Tickets range from $10 (students) to $50.

The Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church is located at 2429 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. For more information, call 631-537-3507 or visit www.bcmf.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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