Portland is getting a double dose of Bach, back to back.

Creative differences between artistic leaders has led to the dissolution of the 2-year-old Portland Bach Festival, and each artistic director is emerging with a new Bach festival, both of which will be held in and around Portland over most of the month of June.

The Portland Bach Experience, with conductor Emily Isaacson as artistic director, will be June 8-17 and will feature the performance of Bach and baroque music in a variety of formal and casual settings. The Bach Virtuosi Festival, under the direction of Lewis Kaplan, will be June 17-24 with concerts in churches and synagogues.

The new festivals resulted from a fissure between Kaplan and Isaacson when both were involved in the Portland Bach Festival, which began in 2016 and was staged twice. Kaplan, co-founder and longtime artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival and a professor at The Juilliard School in New York, was the festival’s artistic director. Isaacson, artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale and Maine Chamber Ensemble, was the festival’s associate artistic director.

Both said they were moving on from the festival they created together in order to present music that felt closer to their artistic and individual visions.

“There were artistic differences between Emily Isaacson and me,” Kaplan said in a phone interview from New York. “Our backgrounds in terms of training (were) completely different, our values, etc., were different. It just didn’t work out.”

Isaacson said much the same thing. “Lewis and I had different artistic visions, and we had different visions from the get-go. That became more obvious in the last year,” she said.

The emergence of two festivals reflects Portland’s changing demographics, as well as the different ways classical music can be presented and appreciated, said Alice Kornhauser, executive director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival. Kaplan seems to be taking a more traditional, European approach to music, while Isaacson may be interested in creating a festival that is less formal and more accessible to younger audiences, she said.

There may be some overlap, Kornhauser said, “but there’s room for both approaches.”

She compared the two Bach festivals to Portland’s two ballet companies. Both create valuable work, but take different approaches and engage their audiences in different ways, she said.

The differences between the festivals will feel generational. The Bach Virtuosi Festival will present many of the musicians who came to Portland to perform in the inaugural Bach festivals, associates of Kaplan from New York and elsewhere. Over eight days, Kaplan will present three concerts at St. Luke’s Cathedral and one at Etz Chaim Synagogue, in Portland. The programs will include Bach cantatas featuring soprano Sheherezade Panthaki and countertenor Jay Carter, a concert called “Before Bach and Beyond” that highlights Bach’s influence on other composers, and a performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4.

Kaplan, a violinist, also will teach a masterclass. The educational component is crucial to the festival’s success, he said. “I am 84, and I think I bring a fair amount of experience. I am looking forward to talking to the students about music and why it is important and what it’s about, and give them a couple of violin lessons,” he said. “For me, music is sacred. To impart it to young people is perhaps the greatest thing I can do at this time.”

The Portland Bach Experience will present music in many settings in and around Portland, including indoors in bars, outdoors in parks and in more formal concert settings like the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary in Falmouth. There will be at least nine concerts over two weeks, as well as many other events related to Bach and baroque music in general, Isaacson said. There will be salon-style house concerts and performances in intimate and beautiful spaces that reflect Portland’s arts and culture, including the Eastern Promenade, Monument Square and Deering Oaks.

Most of the musicians will come from Boston and New York, and much of the music will be performed on period instruments or reproductions of period instruments.

Bach wrote some of his music with the intention that it would be performed in formal, religious settings, but much of what he wrote was meant to be played in the private homes and courts of dukes and duchesses. The Portland Bach Experience will reflect the spirit of the music as it was originally written and performed, which also reflects “what is going on with my generation of musicians in small pods and in small moments all over the country,” said Isaacson, 35. “The concept of a concert is a (relatively recent) construct, where you sit down, read the program notes and sit still for 45 minutes until intermission, then you do it all over again. That’s an appropriate way to experience some of this music, but that’s not how all of this music was originally heard.”

In addition to the June festival, the Portland Bach Experience is partnering with the Maine Office of Tourism to create mini-festivals in May and September, Isaacson said. The May festival will begin in Boston, to promote the Portland Bach Experience in New England’s largest city.

German born, Johann Sebastian Bach is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential composers.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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