From Bach to Bluegrass with the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival

As part of its 39th season, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will present its annual Wm. Brian Little Concert Friday, August 19 at 6 p.m. at the Sculpture Garden at Channing Daughter’s Winery. Entitled “Bach to Bluegrass”, the concert will be a fusion of two very distinct genres. Recently, festival founder and flautist Marya Martin sat down to talk a bit about the unusual combination of baroque and bluegrass.

Q: I’m curious to know how this idea of ​​doing Bach and bluegrass together in a concert came about. They are two very different styles of music.

Martin: Every year when we organize the festival, we think of a theme for the whole festival. And this year, the theme is “One world, many worlds”. Part of that is that the world is getting very small these days. Without getting into politics, there are things happening in the world that are really very close to home, even if they are far from it.

As I pondered this feeling of one world, many worlds, I began to think about how so many people view classical music as old blanks, like Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – and some people feel a bit intimidated by these guys. who lived there 300 years ago. Maybe chamber music is something they don’t always understand.

But when I listen to Bach, I hear bluegrass. When I listen to Beethoven, I hear strange phrases about things that people compose today. I think life, and therefore music, is on a continuum and they’re not completely separate. Bluegrass is played on classical instruments. On the violin, you have the same bowing, so you have the same sound, and Bach was known for his bowing.

I started thinking about these wonderful violinists who play bluegrass and who are classical violinists. Of course, some of them are fiddlers. We don’t think bluegrass is in a classical concert, but there’s a lot more to linking them than separating them.

Q: How did you choose the specific works that are on the program?

Martin: I listened and listened and listened. Because I’m a flautist, not a violinist, I don’t play bluegrass. But every time I make these programs, I spend hundreds of hours listening. I get recommendations, I go on YouTube, I find out who’s playing bluegrass. It’s a real kind of process.

Q: And from the program, it looks like you picked a mix of bluegrass from different regions.

Martin: Yes, I didn’t want it to be from one region. When Bach wrote the Brandenburg Concertos, there were three movements. What I tried to do was make my own three moves work. A movement of bluegrass and two of Bach or the reverse. We start with bluegrass, we turn into Bach in the middle of the track, then we come out and do some more bluegrass. So it’s really going to be quite a different gig.

This is the first time that I have mixed genres so much. Generally, I like to have all kinds of different music throughout the festival. But it’s, I think, really interesting to have a style of play that goes straight to something else. Hope it works, because we haven’t tried it.

Q: Is Bach one of your favourites?

Martin: Bach is an amazing composer. He is one of those composers who, of course, have stood the test of time. I really think you can browse composers of all generations and it will take you back to Bach in a way.

Q: You mentioned some of the links between bluegrass and late baroque music. Can you talk specifically about how things are going from one to the other?

Martin: In a way, Bach is based on a chord structure. And when he’s running away, he’s got this mathematical chord structure in his brain and he’s going in and out of that chord structure. Bluegrass, in a way, does exactly the same thing, as does jazz. There is a four-bar phrase and the baseline is repeated.

So bluegrass definitely has improvisational parts, but there’s also a very well-arranged harmonic scheme underneath bluegrass.

Q: Do you think including a different genre in the festival will appeal to people who may not be as familiar with classical music?

Martin: Well, it’s called the Brian Little Concert and I’m still pushing ideas with this concert because it’s being held outside in a tent. We have drinks and appetizers first, so it’s more low key. The music can be a bit more relaxed and I feel like I can push the limits of what I give to the audience.

We get a real mix of people at this gig, and I can do Brahms, I can do Bach, I can do bluegrass and they really understand what I’m doing. What’s good now is that people trust me after 39 years and they know that if I decide to do a folk program, it could be Brahms folk music and then it could be Stéphane Wrembel playing folk on the guitar. So I have a very good relationship with the public who trust my programming.

Q: How long has the Brian Little Concert, in particular, been part of the festival program?

Martin: I think Brian Little has been going there for 20 years. Brian was a wonderful board member who sadly passed away untimely. It’s not a memorial concert, but it was his idea during his lifetime to do an outdoor concert. And we did it for just a year before he passed away. And he was very good friends with [the late] Walter Channing. It’s a beautiful outdoor space – it’s gorgeous.

Q: Since it’s an outdoor concert, does that make things more complicated, acoustically speaking?

Martin: It does. We have a sound system because there are no natural acoustics in a tent. It’s not that we need to amplify the sound, but we need to give the sound some sparkle, like you would in a church or a concert hall.

Q: And what does it look like when you perform outdoors as a musician?

Martin: Well, the sound isn’t as nice outdoors. Now, audiences love being outdoors, but for me when I’m making music and creating a track, the sound is really important because it determines the phrasing and how passionate or pianissimo I can be. And if you’re playing in a tent that doesn’t respond so much to what you’re doing, it’s not as musically rewarding.

We have a sound system which makes up for the difference, I love playing in this place. I stand on stage and look, and I see Walter’s sculptures and I see the vines in the background. It’s quite breathtaking.

Q: What else would you like guests to know about the event?

Martin: I’d like to make sure people know what an amazing evening it is, because you go there at 6 p.m. and we have Channing Daughters wine, we have appetizers. We were so lucky. The evening was always beautiful, but we pitched a tent in case it wasn’t.

People walk around the property and look at Walter’s carvings. I like to think of it as a time when we all take stock and think about how lucky we are. With so many horrible things going on in the world, here we are in this beautiful sculpture garden with a glass of wine in our hands and about to listen to some great music.

It’s a beautiful evening. It’s one of my favorites of the festival because it’s kind of perfect — this beautiful grounds, the sculptures, the music and the light. It’s just a great atmosphere and we get a big crowd. It seems like a real highlight of the season now.

Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival Wm. Brian Little’s ‘Bach to Bluegrass’ concert takes place on Friday August 19th in the sculpture garden of Channing Daughters Winery. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with wine and appetizers followed by the concert at 7 p.m. Featured musicians are: Marya Martin, flute; Ben Beilman, violin; Kristin Lee, violin; Matthew Lipman, viola; Mihai Marica, cello; Don Palma, bass; Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord. Tickets are $175 at bcmf.org. Channing Daughters Winery is at 1927 Scuttle Hole Road, Bridgehampton.

Comments are closed.