Marya Martin: Twisting the Classics

Posted on 30 July 2009

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By Andrew Rudansky

Marya Martin, Artistic director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival wants to dispel a few myths about chamber music. Primary amongst these myths, that you need to wear a tuxedo to enjoy chamber music. The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, a concert series Martin started 26 years ago, has been on a mission to dispel this and other myths about the music that has been a part of her life for decades.

This year the BCMF will hold 12 chamber music concerts performed at various locations. Most of the concerts will be held in the BCMF’s traditional venue, the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, 2429 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton. “The Church is small,” says Martin, adding that it was the intimate setting that attracted her to the venue. “In my opinion it is the best way to listen to chamber music.” The church houses from 330 to 340  people per concert, Martin explains that this small setting allows the spectators to really be invested in the music and “almost touch the musicians.”

“People who have come to this festival in the past know that this is a really fun experience, its not a formal concert…and nobody has to wear a tie,” says Martin. As Artistic Director of the festival she has made it a point to place contemporary groundbreaking acts amongst the “old guard” who prefer the classical masterpieces of Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms.

 When Martin puts the program together every year she invites different musicians she knows personally or professionally and places them together  to form small bands for each concert.  Martin describes how she has to strike a delicate balance of performers, taking into account experience and ingenuity, “We do a little of both, the ages of our musicians range from the twenties to the sixties. Martin explains that the older people while more technically proficient and experienced can sometimes lack the energy and creativity of a younger musician. “We believe in mixing things up here,” says Martin, who consistently aims for a balanced dichotomy when pairing older musicians with younger counterparts.

 The BCMF: Offbeat series is an example of Martin’s commitment to bringing  new and fresh faces in chamber music to the East End. Each year Martin invites bands in the chamber music community that are known for innovation and genre-bending performances. This year Brooklyn Rider, a wildly imaginative string quartet, and Real Quiet, a classical trio that isn’t afraid to delve into the world of electronic or contemporary music will both be playing at the festival, Tuesday, August 11 and Thursday, August 6 respectively. “Its like going to an art gallery in SoHo instead of going to the Metropolitan Museum,” says Martin using the analogy to describe the atypical and unique nature of these performances.

Brooklyn Rider started when brothers Eric (cello) and Colin (violin) Jacobsen teamed up with Johnny Gandelsman (Violin) and Nicholas Cords (Viola) during their studies at Juilliard. Colin Jacobsen is a veteran of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival stage, having come to the festival seven times. However this is the first time he has brought Brooklyn Rider with him. Musicians who come back year after year isn’t uncommon  to the BCMF says Martin, “some people have been back for 14 years strait.

Real Quiet is comprised of Felix Fan (cello), David Cossin (percussion) and Andrew Russo (piano), each accomplished soloist in their own right. The trio specializes in world music or what Martin describes as “offbeat contemporary.” This mix of classical arraignments and contemporary sound might sound strange but Martin does not believe the two need to be mutually exclusive. “Any music where people play together is chamber music,” says Martin, and most definitions of the term describe chamber music as any group of musicians (under 13 total) that play without the aid of a conductor.

Bringing burgeoning and new acts to the festival seems natural to Martin, “we were the younger crowd when we started this festival,” she says.

Of course there is something for the tie-wearing crowd as well, scheduled next to these untraditional acts are some of the biggest names in classical chamber music. “I like mixing the old and new pieces together,” says Martin, “You have to keep things interesting, if I served up Beethoven and Brahms every week I would be bored,” to say nothing of the people in the audience.

Famed Clarinetist Anthony McGill will make two appearance at the BCMF this year, first on Wednesday, August 19 and then again on Thursday, August 20. McGill, who has already come to the festival twice before, is highly lauded throughout the world of music, he is the principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and played along side Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, a performance in which he had a solo.

This blend of innovative newcomers and established masters has spelled success for the BCMF. The BCMF has made three albums if chamber music and the festival adds concerts to the schedule every few years. But despite the sold out concerts and growth of the festival Martin isn’t terribly interested in expansion, “I’m not craving more concerts under my belt.” Martin has been more interested in quality over quantity, “the most important thing I believe is to focus on the best possible performance in any one piece…bigger doesn’t always mean better, usually bigger just means more headaches.”

Martin says that after everyone is in their seat, the musicians are on stage and the music starts, “its just wonderful to have that energy and sense of awe around.”

The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival’s 26th season starts at July 29 and runs to August 23. For more information about any of the concert dates or tickets please call 537-6368 or visit their website at www.bcmf.org.

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