In September 2014, David Ying and Phillip Ying, members of the famed Ying Quartet, became the Festival’s Artistic Directors. Today the Bowdoin International Music Festival comprises seven concert series, an intensive summer study program, and service to Midcoast Maine and the field of music. The mission of the Festival is to provide gifted young musicians from around the world with an opportunity to study with world-class artists, and to provide audiences with classical music performed to the highest artistic standards.
In May 1964, Bowdoin College Music Department chair Robert K. Beckwith invited Lewis Kaplan to propose a summer concert series to take place at the College that summer. Kaplan was known at the time as the founder and leader of the Aeolian Chamber Players, a mixed-timbre chamber ensemble that performed both classical and contemporary music. Kaplan was also asked to design a summer music school for the following summer. Thus the Bowdoin College Summer Music Festival was born.
After a successful first summer of concerts, the Aeolian Chamber Players returned in 1965 with 19 students and a cadre of contemporary composers, including Elliott Carter, Meyer Kupferman, George Rochberg, and Morton Subotnick. Thus began the Festival’s contemporary music component, which came in time to be known as the Charles E. Gamper Festival, after its chief patron. In 1966, George Crumb made the first of many appearances for the world premiere of his Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965, solidifying a tradition of commissioning and offering residencies to notable composers that continues today.
Early students who have gone on to prominence, such as Emanuel Ax and Fred Sherry, helped to cement the Festival’s reputation as an attractive summer program for top students to hone their skills. With alumni in virtually every major orchestra and chamber group worldwide, that reputation is now secure.
The Bowdoin Festival grew rapidly as a program of the Bowdoin College Music Department through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, changing its name along the way to the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival. In 1997, the Festival became an independent non-profit organization, and in 2004 changed its name to Bowdoin International Music Festival in recognition of its world-wide reach. Kaplan continued as the Festival’s director through its 2014 season, when the Festival celebrated its 50th summer as a teaching and presenting institution.
For a lively and colorful representation of the Festival’s history, please take a look at our 50 Variations booklet, which was prepared on the occasion of our 50th anniversary in 2014.