by Annette Hinkle
Those who have lived on the East End for any length of time realize it can take years of building a presence in this community before someone (or something) is considered “local.”
Which means, at this point, with nearly three decades under her belt, you could say Marya Martin and the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival have truly arrived.
It was way back in 1984 when Martin, a flutist and part-time Bridgehampton resident, set out to change the classical music scene on the East End. She did so by founding the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival (BCMF), a place where musicians like herself could expand their repertoire in the summer by exploring scores that both intrigued and challenged them, yet still enjoy a relaxing few weeks by the shore.
It’s a concept that seems to have stuck. Tonight, the BCMF kicks off its 29th season with “Beginning Brooklyn,” a free hour-long outdoor concert at the Bridgehampton Historical Society featuring the group “Brooklyn Rider.”
While the term “chamber music” typically implies a certain 18th century stuffiness, the fact is, just because it’s classical doesn’t mean it’s not cutting edge. Over the years, Martin, director of the BCMF, has prided herself on introducing a wide range of classical pieces to East End audiences, including many contemporary works.
The festival has developed a loyal following over the years, and Martin hopes tonight’s concert will bring even more new listeners through the door. She points out that groups like “Brooklyn Rider” are helping her do just that by re-defining the genre with a unique vision that appeals to younger audiences.
“They start singing sometimes in harmony,” explains Martin. “They have done a lot of world music, and often they play electronically enhanced. They’ll put a pick up on a violin to give them more sound color to work with. They’re impeccably classically trained, but they’re going in a way I think young people will enjoy. They have a huge following. It’s really amazing and it couldn’t have happened 20 years ago.”
For the remainder of the festival, which runs through August 19, most of the 11 BCMF concerts will be held at the venerable Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church on Main Street. But tonight’s free opening night concert, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is held in the much more laid back setting on the lawn of the Bridgehampton Historical Society. Martin has found it’s a great venue for introducing chamber festival newbies to the unexpected pleasures of classical music.
“The numbers go up — we have about 1,000 people for the free outdoor concert,” she says. “People bring blankets and bottles of wine. We love to get people there because if they haven’t been to a chamber music concert, they often don’t think of going. They think it’s an elite and stuffy thing.”
“But I don’t feel our concerts are that at all,” she adds, “and I feel if I can get them in the door, I can get them to come back.”
If the parameters of what constitutes chamber music has expanded in ways Martin couldn’t have envisioned just a couple decades ago, so too has the festival’s own capabilities. Martin is particularly excited that BCMF now has its own recording label and is distributing its music on CDs and via Internet downloading. The festival’s first two CDs — “BCMF Live 2011 – Works by Mozart and Spohr” and “BCMF Premieres,” were recorded during last summer’s festival and are now available for purchase.
It’s a reality she couldn’t have imagined even just a decade ago
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a while,” explains Martin. “The whole technical change has made it possible and the idea that 10 years ago we could actually have a label, produce our own CD and partner with a big firm to distribute them would have been unthinkable. The idea you can do this is amazing.”
What’s changed, of course, is technology. Martin explains it used to be that in order to make a recording, the musicians had to go into a studio or, in the case of live recordings, an engineer would bring along massive amounts of equipment to do the job on site.
“Now, it’s a minor thing — just a laptop or two and these incredible programs that allow our Grammy Award winning recording engineer to do his job,” she adds. “He comes out and sets up in a little back room in the church and runs cables, sets up the mics and tapes it. He can record the concert and have all the data he needs. Then he goes home and cleans up anything he needs to, gets the codes on it, adds reverb and gets it ready for production.”
But recording is only part of the equation. A bigger challenge, notes Martin, was getting the music into the hands of the public.
“It took us a while to find out how to do this through distribution,” says Martin. “The idea of us trying to publicize these CDs or be a mail order place on our own was daunting. We found the best thing to do was make our own label and partner with a distributor. It’s now on iTunes and Amazon. The biggest thing is having them digitally available.”
Martin expects that BCMF will make three CDs from this season’s concerts, which concert-goers can receive by joining the festival’s recording club.
“When people buy tickets they can sign up for the club, then they will automatically get the CD sent to them from the past season,” explains Martin. “I like that idea.”
But Martin notes, beyond distributing the CDs to concert-goers, the global reach of the Internet means BCMF music can be purchased and downloaded by people all over the world. This is particularly important, she adds, in the case of music which the BCMF has commissioned. Composer Ned Rorem, for example, has received a good deal of attention for music he wrote for the festival, and Kevin Puts, who had a BCMF commissioned piece in the festival last year, recently won a Pulitzer Prize in Music.
“That’s sort of a fun thing to have in our repertoire,” says Martin. “The pieces written for the festival are heard around the world. But a much quicker way to get them heard is by getting the recording made. I believe in these commissions, but unless you record them sometimes a piece can sit on the shelf. If you don’t have a press machine behind them, no one knows about these young composers.”
“I love commissioning something and being part of the process,” adds Martin. “When you feel you have helped make something logistically possible, it’s great.”
The 2012 Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival runs through August 19. In addition to tonight’s free concert, the festival hosts “Summer Celebration” a benefit concert with food and wine on Saturday, July 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Atlantic Golf Club (212-741-9073 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting for information), and “Shadow and Light” a concert at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church on Sunday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and full schedule, visit http://www.bcmf.org/.