At first the water theme was unintentional, said Marya Martin, the artistic director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. "We had commissioned a work by Elizabeth Brown called 'Island Nocturnes,' and we already had programmed into the series, toward the end, another piece we had previously commissioned from Kevin Puts called 'Seven SeaScapes.'"
Then there is the BCMF concert at the Parrish on August 14, in conjunction with Clifford Ross's huge hurricane wave-inspired works, which will feature maritime-inspired music. "And we've always had some sort of beach scene on the front of our programs," Martin said. "It makes sense, since we are in an oceanfront community."
So there it is: this year, the official theme of BCMF – which kicks off its 34th season at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church on Sunday with a special program narrated by Alan Alda – is water.
Even the free Italian Baroque concert on August 2, held on the grounds of the church, will feature Vivaldi's lively "La tempesta di mare" -- the sea storm.
But it's not all water. The first offering, "Brahms and the Schumanns: Love, Genius, Madness" concentrates on the music and private lives of this famed musical "thrupple" (a couple, plus one). And on August 18, BCMF will host gypsy-jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel in the Channing Daughters Winery sculpture garden for "Bach and Django" -- a program of music by J. S. Bach and Django Reinhardt -- and wine and hors d'oeuvres.
In addition to serving up familiar musical pieces, Martin said it is part of the mission of BCMF to support the new along with honoring the old. "We've commissioned works from young American composers quite a lot. It's different in Europe – you hear classical music more, in the stores or restaurants. Here, it's mainly pop. So because it's not part of the culture here to the same extent that it is elsewhere, rising American classical composers are not necessarily offered the same support here that they would receive in other countries."
BCMF has commissioned works from composers Bruce Adolphe, Kenji Bunch, Bruce MacCombie, Mark O'Connor, Howard Shore, and Pulitzer Prize-winners Paul Moravec, Kevin Puts, and Ned Rorem, and features contemporary works in its programs each season.
"What better way to recognize the deep connection between the festival and the beach than by building a season where water and sea are always close at hand?" Martin said. "Composers for centuries have been influenced by the elements, and water in particular. We're thrilled to flood our programs with flowing melodies and turbulent rhythms," she continued.
The festival's roster of artists includes flutist and BCMF founder Martin; violinist Ani Kavafian, who played in the festival's first year; New York Philharmonic concertmaster Frank Huang and principal Viola Cynthia Phelps; longtime festival artists Stewart Rose, horn, and Long Island native Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord; and newcomers such as Metropolitan Opera concertmaster Nikki Chooi, and the young bassist Xavier Foley.
BCMF has developed a loyal core audience among local residents and summer visitors, who have had a wide range of music introduced to them over more than three decades of summer concerts and, since 2015, a BCMF spring mini-series. The festival is still based in the graceful 1842 church —which boasts admirable acoustics — and has gradually expanded to include its other special event venues.
Martin is thrilled that Alda is narrating the season premiere, with two shows on Sunday and Monday. "It's such a treat to have him there," she said. "He is such a great communicator and the audiences really enjoy his involvement. It adds another level to the music."
With 13 concerts in only five weeks, the New Zealand-born Martin barely has time to enjoy everything that the East End has to offer. "But sometimes Ken [Davidson, her husband] and I can get down to the beach at around 6 in the evening, with a bottle of wine," she said, then quickly added, "Not on concert days, of course!" But the ocean is where, Martin admits, "I can take all of my stress and any problems, and just drop them there."
Tickets may be purchased on the festival's website, www.bcmf.org, or by calling 631-537-6368. A full schedule of events, including the BCMF's annual benefit, can be found there as well.