BAR HARBOR — Well, summer just hasn’t officially begun in Bar Harbor until the Bar Harbor Music Festival is back in town with its exciting roster of world class musicians, singers and performers, including a pops concert and a staged opera.
As per usual, this July brings back familiar faces and voices as well as some exciting new talents.
Among the fresh faces are this year’s featured new composers Joshua Cody and clarinetist Eric Thomas, both of whom have a fascinating and harrowing story to tell in their personal lives and with their music.
A world premiere of Cody’s piece “Lock It In” and Thomas’s composition, “Threnody for Ann Arceneaux” will be performed July 12 at 8 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, along with other new compositions.
At age 34, Cody, an up-and-coming composer was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a very treatable cancer under normal circumstances. For Cody, the circumstances were abnormal, and the disease proved to be particularly aggressive and resistant to the usual chemotherapy treatments. For 12 months, the young musician fought a nearly losing battle for his life and, at certain points, his mind, undergoing, in addition to high-dose chemo, radiation treatment and a bone marrow transplant.
His journey to survival is recounted in his memoir “[sic]” (W.W. Norton 2012) and also informs his music, which is in itself an evocative journey through strange and often strangely wonderful landscapes.
“Lock It In” was composed especially for this occasion and according to one of its featured musicians, flutist Allison Kiger, has a warmth of tone and intent that is very particular to this piece.
The other featured composer, Thomas was in high school in 1973 when a classmate and her cousin were murdered by what he terms “a fame-seeking serial killer.” Unable, at the time, to express his confusion and rage at the public “adult” response to the incident, Thomas composed his threnody in 2015. In his program notes, the composer describes the piece as a “recounting of our community’s response to her murder.
“While some of the adults around us saw this as an opportunity to deliver an object lesson about problems with our generation,” he continued, “we saw it as an act of horror visited upon an innocent.”
On July 11, at 5:30, the evening before the concert, at the annual New Composers Forum, both Cody and will discuss their works.
Another festival newcomer violinist Claudia Schaer, joined by pianist Max Lifchitz should sound some less personally troubling notes, at St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church on July 20 at 8 p.m. with a program of Debussy, Bartok and Grieg.
The return of those familiar faces and popular Bar Harbor Music Festival traditions should certainly strike a happy chord with festival audiences.
Soprano Janinah Burnett, who seems to love Bar Harbor as much as it loves her, returns for her fifth or sixth summer of singing for festival audiences.
This year she opens the season with the annual Tea Concert July 2 at 4 p.m. at the Maine Sea Coast Mission. The following week, July 9, Burnett engages another BH Fest veteran, baritone David Cushing, for a “Battle of the Sexes” singing pop standards at the Bar Harbor Club.
Flutist Allison Kiger will join guitarist Christopher Ladd at the Congregational Church, July 15 for a concert of folk-inspired classical music; also, pianist Antonio Lopez July 18 for a concert of Faure, Chopin and Granados and on the 22nd the accomplished and lovely Ardelia String Trio will perform.
The Wolverine Jazz Band will once again be jazzing up the Jackson Lab Commons, July 23.
Another familiar highlight of this season should be the hugely popular Festival Opera staged at the newly renovated art deco Criterion Theatre on July 21. This year, Donizetti’s comic opera “Don Pasquale” will be performed with Cushing in the title role. For those who have not attended one of these abridged but excellent productions, now is the time to hear some of the finest young voices in the country on the stage of one of the great surviving examples of Art Deco architecture.
Then, of course, the festival’s string orchestra under the baton of Artistic Director Francis Fortier will return for its traditional three concerts, one of them under the stars at Blackwood Campground July 26, another at historic St. Saviour’s on July 28 and the festival finale dinner gala July 30 at the classy Bar Harbor Club, where the rich and famous of the 19th century used to drink and dance the night away and search for suitable mates for their debutant daughters.