Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival is a Celebration of Immigrants

Ani Kavafian and Marya Martin. Photo by Michael Nemeth

On the brink of the 35th anniversary of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Marya Martin found herself taking stock.

“You think about what you’re doing, what you’ve done,” she said. “And you think about your own life, as well.”

At age 19, the flautist emigrated from New Zealand to the United States to study at Yale University, where she graduated with a master’s degree in flute performance in 1979. She would stay, and go on to found a music festival on the East End that has since become a fixture — consistently attracting fellow musicians from near and far.

“Of the 45 musicians that are coming this year, 28 are from other countries. Most of those 28 actually live here — there’s only five that are coming in from a different country — but that is an incredible number of people who have both benefited by the excellence this country has to offer, but also America has had the great opportunity of sharing in the talent of these people,” Martin said. “They could go anywhere in the world and they chose to come and live in America. It’s a point in time where you think about the influences in this country. It seemed the right moment to celebrate immigrants.”

Out of this idea came the theme for the anniversary season, “Destination America” — which begins on Sunday, July 22, at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church — celebrating not only the United States as a place of opportunity, she said, but the gifts its immigrants have given in return.

“We have a Chinese composer who came to this country in the ’90s, someone from Argentina in the ’60s, a bunch of people in the ’50s,” she said. “If you go further on down the line, you have Aaron Copland’s and Leonard Bernstein’s grandparents who came here from Germany and Russia to escape persecution. And look what they’ve given us: this wonderful music.”

Violinist Ani Kavafian will participate in the Copland and Bernstein program during the Wm. Brian Little Concert on Friday, August 10, at the Channing Sculpture Garden in Bridgehampton, marking her 34thseason playing in the festival — which she helped start with Martin and their respective husbands all those years ago, she said.

“It was a group effort, a family effort in a way,” she said, “and it turned into 35 years.”

When she heard she would be performing Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” she said she was thrilled. In her early days on the New York scene, she did a recording of the enduring triumph, with its composer at the conductor’s podium himself.

“That holds a special place in my heart. Overall, I think it’s a very celebratory program. It’s easy to listen to, it’s rhythmically fun, it’s very tuneful, it’s very easy — it’s not easy to play, by the way,” Kavafian said with a laugh. “Anything by Copland and Bernstein is like, ‘Oh boy.’ But it’s always so much fun.”

The festival officially kicks off on Sunday, July 22, with “The Mendelssohns: Fanny and Felix,” a composer portrait by Alan Alda that tells the tale of these two siblings — one, a wunderkind, the other unable to pursue her artistic impulses, but an equally talented composer in her own right.

“There’s always a story with composers — and the music of composers — that you can’t separate from their life,” Martin said. “Their music is them. I think of how life has changed so much, and there are very few times and places where you actually can be exactly in the moment that you might have been in 1825, for example.

“One of these moments is both playing and listening to music, because that music is written down the way it was when the composer wrote the piece: in Mendelssohn’s case, one of the works in 1825. Nothing has changed since then. If you shut your eyes and you can actually hear someone talk about the first performance — what color room it was and what made the 16-year-old write this piece — you actually go back in time in present life, which is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do in this day and age.”

In the spirit of accessibility, a series of five free pre-season concerts by the Canadian-born Rolston String Quartet will pop up around the East End from Thursday, July 19, through Saturday, July 21.

“We have to open up. I want people to experience music, and I think when they do, they will be blown away,” Martin said. “Some people are scared sometimes of classical music; they think it’s very formal. Well, our concerts are not formal. People come in shorts, and I talk to the audience. It’s a very open type of situation, and all I want is for people to relate to the music. That’s my job: to make sure the music is delivered in such a way that it touches them emotionally and they react to it.”

Closing the festival is a new commission from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, who kept with his tradition of writing “American Historical” oratorios, “where I take actual accounts of historical figures and set them to music,” he said.

His newest song cycle, “A New Country,” explores the stories of immigrants coming to America in five movements — from “My Dream” by Anna Vacek and “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus to three texts by Walt Whitman: “You,” “City of the New World” and “Old Ireland.” It will make its world premiere on August 19 at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church.

“It’s hopeful, generally speaking. In one word, yeah, it’s about hope,” Moravec said. “It’s more complicated than that, I cover more emotional landscape than that, but it’s basically a hopeful song cycle.

“What’s expressed in the song cycle is timeless, really. It’s more pertinent today — it’s more timely today — because of what’s going on, which is a mess,” he continued. “I don’t think that art really has a way of changing society, but maybe it can change individuals. What the artist, I think, tries to do is to make something that is timeless and universal, and has great beauty. Beyond that is beyond that.”


The 35th annual Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will kick off its 13-concert season with “The Mendelssohns: Fanny and Felix,” narrated by Alan Alda, on Sunday, July 22, and Monday, July 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, located at 2429 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton.

A series of free pre-season pop-up concerts by the Rolston String Quartet will be held on Thursday, July 19, at 11 a.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton, and 5 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum, located at 247 Montauk Highway in Water Mill; Friday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Hampton Library, located at 2478 Main Street in Bridgehampton; and Saturday, July 21, at 2 p.m. at the John Jermain Memorial Library, located at 201 Main Street in Sag Harbor, and 5 p.m. at the Madoo Conservancy, located at 618 Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack.

Additional concerts, including a free concert on Wednesday, July 25, and a benefit concert on Saturday, July 28, will continue through the end of the summer. For a full schedule, tickets and more information, call (631) 537-6368, or visit