History

A Belief in the Power of Music

Founded in 1995 by cellist Wilhelmina Smith, Salt Bay Chamberfest has remained true to its fundamental principles and earned a reputation for making artistic statements of the first class. Smith believes that musical programs can be crafted in such a way that they highlight larger ideas, be they musical, historical, political, or generally human. Cutting across a large swath of musical styles, the programs at Chamberfest embrace music from the Renaissance to the present day and regularly feature the music of living composers. Rather than bringing an audience a sequence of performances, this kind of program creates an experience that can be thought-provoking and profoundly moving long after leaving the concert hall.

Loyalty to the Finest Musicians

Another founding principle has been to engage musicians who are insightful, committed performers and to feature them in repertoire tailored to their strengths. Summer after summer, audience members walk away with the sounds ringing in their ears of the Brentano Quartet performing Beethoven, Schubert or Berg, or Burt Hara (principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Orchestra) performing Mozart or world-renowned soprano Lucy Shelton singing works by such contemporary composers as Lukas Foss, George Crumb and John Corigliano.

A Magnificent Setting

All of the performances take place in an ideal acoustical setting that is nevertheless very much of a piece with the beautiful surroundings on the coast of Maine: the concert hall is a converted cow barn perched on the banks of the Great Salt Bay in Damariscotta. By day, visitors to the region have their fill of lobster, enjoy a walk along the dramatic coastline or visit one of Maine’s many famed lighthouses, and in the evening they come to hear the finest music imaginable in a setting that exudes all of the rustic charm one could possibly desire.

Expanding Horizons

Though the format of the festival has remained relatively unchanged since its inaugural season, the festival has expanded its offerings to deepen its relationship with the audience and community. Starting in 2005 the festival initiated a masterclass series that gives young musicians from Maine the opportunity to perform for Salt Bay Chamberfest’s world class artists, and to attend festival concerts free of charge. In 2003, the festival added program notes and pre-concert lectures and the festival has twice been awarded grants from “Meet the Composer” in order to bring creative artists to Damariscotta to interact with audiences and work with local musical students. In 2008, Poet Laureate of the United States, Mark Strand participated in a performance, reading original poems he composed to accompany Haydn’s “Seven Last Words,” and he participated in a question and answer session with audience members afterward. As regular attendees of the festival can attest, the concerts are often spiced with delightful surprises including readings by actors, staging and lighting effects, electronic media (such as a string quartet written to accompany Allan Ginsburg’s reading of “Howl”), middle-eastern percussion instruments and many other unexpected but rewarding moments.

The Music Remains at the Center

Some of today’s leading artists perform regularly at Salt Bay Chamberfest. The roster includes members of the Brentano, Juilliard, Guarneri, Borromeo and St. Lawrence String Quartets as well as principal players from the Minnesota, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Metropolitan Opera Symphony Orchestras. Solo artists have included soprano Lucy Shelton, mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe, violinists Jennifer Koh, Soovin Kim and Pamela Frank to name a few. In addition to performing chamber works from the Baroque to modern eras, Salt Bay Chamberfest has programmed music by living composers such as Stephen Hartke, Gyorgy Kurtag, John Harbison, Charles Wuorinen, Sofia Gubaidulina, Elliott Carter, Chinary Ung, William Doppmann, Derek Bermel, Lukas Foss, Earl Kim, Jon Deak, George Crumb, Karel Husa, Nicholas Maw, Bruce Adolphe, Eric Zivian and Richard Danielpour.

Join Us

World class musicians, dedicated to taking musical risks, have been attracted to this concept and they, in turn, have attracted a loyal audience. We hope that you will join us and return many times.