Over the summer, over 250 music students fill the College’s dorms for six weeks to learn, practice and play music at a top-tier level.
The Bowdoin International Music Festival attracts students from 23 different countries and from the top conservatories in the country, including Juilliard and the Berkeley School of Music.
“We are a combination of a summer music institute and a concert series,” said Casey Oakes, the director of marketing and communications for the festival.
The festival encompasses ensemble and solo performances in seven different concert series and educational experiences through master classes. Students apply to the program to be under the mentorship of a specific teacher, who works with them for the entire session. In master and studio classes, students perform in an ensemble of four to five people for a teacher to then break down and evaluate their performance.
“[Sergei Schwartz] would basically critique us in front of everyone, which was simultaneously the most terrifying and inspiring experience,” said Anne McKee ’20, who participated in the festival two summers ago, “I never really felt that I was the worst in the room at violin being from Maine and having not that many people playing violin, but all of sudden I definitely pegged myself in the lower 10 percent of all the people there. That was definitely an experience where the humbling part was really real for me.”
Outside the master and studio classes, students would typically spend their time immersed in music.
“Every other moment in the day was spent practicing or listening to other people practice,” said McKee. “There was just one time when I went into a random studio class of a different teacher. I was just walking in slightly late and all of a sudden I heard my favorite violin concerto being played and wafting through Kanbar auditorium. It was this incredible girl, who you can just see the hours of practice paying off as she’s playing.”
Acadia Mezzofanti ’19, the official photographer and videographer for the festival, said there is a lot of artistry in classical music that goes unnoticed.
“The professional performers would evaluate not only how their musicianship was, but also how their movements achieved the emotion that they were trying to express,” said Mezzofanti. “There’s so much energy that goes into music that needs to translate and captivate the audience.”
The festival has a strong connection to the Brunswick area.
“Our primary audience base would be folks who live in Brunswick that appreciate classical music,” said Daniel Nitsch, executive director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival.
The festival hosts a concert series, called community concerts, that takes place at various locations, such as assisted living homes, breweries, public library and churches, typically within an half an hour radius of the College. These concerts are aimed to bring classical music to those who would not otherwise be able to afford or attend concerts.
“That community support is so needed for the festival to keep going,” said McKee.
What differentiates the Bowdoin International Music Festival from other festivals across the country for many is the sense of community.
“It seems like at some music festivals around the country there is an elite music crowd and then there’s the rest of the surrounding area and neither of them really match,” said McKee. “But, having everybody cooperate with one another and having the support from the community has been so cool.”
The Bowdoin International Music Festival began as the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival in 1964 when a faculty member of the College, Robert Beckwith, the chair of the music department, wanted a summer concert series to take place on the campus. The festival was associated with the College until 1997, when it became a nonprofit organization. However, according to Oakes, the program has remained a close partner of the College.
One way that program has remained connected to the College is through the “Music in the Museum” concert series. Started three years ago, this concert series takes place in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA), where various performers, such as Beckwith Artist-in-Residence George Lopez, perform on a grand piano.
“It’s a growing trend in the classical music industry of pairing art and music. Both us and the College wanted to get involved, and so it was a natural partnership to make,” said Nitsch.
According to Nitsch, the festival is looking for additional partnerships with the college in the future, including another program in BCMA where composition students will base music to be performed in the museum off specific pieces of art.