Looking For Red, White and Blue Between Bach, Beethoven And Brahms: Can American Music Be Found at American Music Festivals?

Brunswick, Maine
July 2-August 6, 1999

Like Tanglewood and Aspen, the Bowdoin Festival is connected to the hip through its music school. In its 35th season, this six-week festival offers contemporary music unapologetically next to Romantic and Baroque works and, in addition, gives music by living American composers its own five-day festival in a festival.

Calling this year’s festival “Masterpieces of the Millennium” (this summer is unavoidably awash in retrospect), Bowdoin groups its music into three series. MusicFest, a formal chamber music series, presents traditional works. The more informal Upbeat! series features six concerts of mixed contemporary and traditional. Here we find György Ligeti, David Rakowski and Toru Takemitsu, along with earlier 20th-century composers like Bartók and Poulenc, mixed with stalwarts like Beethoven. This year also features Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, a popular choice for millennium chamber programs.

But it is within Bowdoin’s Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music (now in its 34th year) that we find the most exciting stuff. These five concerts will premiere composer-in-residence Ralph Shapey’s Bowdoin-commissioned Gamper Festival Concerto and feature an all-George Crumb program to celebrate the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s 70th birthday with performances of Eleven Echoes of Autumn (commissioned by Bowdoin College in 1966), Voice of the Whale and other works. (The Gamper Festival has a good record of commissioning right from the git-go: George Rochberg and Morton Subotnick were commissioned its first year; George Crumb and Mario Davidovsky the next.)

Works by Arthur Weisberg, Elliott Schwartz, Akira Miyoshi, Jay Kauffman and Ronald Roseman are also features, as are student pieces. Concerts of solely student composers continue throughout the six weeks and are free to the public. Considering that many Bowdoin alumns have gone on to do pretty well in their composing careers (Sebastian Currier, 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner Melinda Wagner), these concerts are a bargain.

Crumb, who has spent summers at Bowdoin over the past 33 years, and Shapey, the first musician to be awarded the Genius Award from the MacArthur Foundation, are this season’s guest composers, along with Schwartz and Composer-in-Residence Rakowski. Resident composers of recent years include Robert Beaser, William Bolcom, Chou Wen-chung, John Corigliano, Richard Danielpour, David Del Tredici, Lukas Foss, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and the late Stephen Albert.

Bowdoin’s music school and summer festival focus on bringing up the next generation of contemporary musicians. Founder and Artistic Director Lewis Kaplan is proud of Bowdoin’s success at continuing the legacy. “It is quite remarkable to see students performing the works that we premiered and commissioned,” he says. “It gives a sense of continuity, a sense of excitement, that what you’re doing is not a one-time performance — great, good-bye, thank you — but some of this music will live.”

From Looking For Red, White and Blue Between Bach, Beethoven And Brahms
by Mic Holwin
© 1999 NewMusicBox

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