Visit MaineToday's profile on Pinterest.

About The Author


Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

Send an email | Read more from Bob

Posted: June 12, 2017

Portland Bach Festival makes classical music cool

Written by: Bob Keyes
Bach UGChannel/


In its second year, the Portland Bach Festival is expanding to new performance spaces and adding more musicians and concerts to its offerings. The festival, which celebrates one of classical music’s most beloved composers with a focus on his music and legacy, will present nine concerts in nine days across greater Portland, starting on Saturday and continuing through June 25.

Many of the concerts are traditional, at church settings in Falmouth and Portland. There’s also a kick-off “Bachtails” party on Saturday night at Bayside Bowl, with signature cocktails, Maine beers and specialty food complementing more than a dozen sets of music performed throughout the evening in different settings across the bowling alley and bar, including on the bowling lanes.

Emily Isaacson, the festival’s co-founder and associate artistic director, conceived “Bachtails” as a way to break down barriers, real or imagined, that prevent many young people from experiencing live classical music. It builds on the success of last year’s “Bach and Beer” concert at Ocean Gateway.

“There are so many ridiculous barriers, so part of my drive is to put classical music in unexpected places and pair it with things that encourage greater access to great art,” she said. “I don’t think Bach knew what bowling was, but he would approve of what we are doing, which is bringing music back into a social environment. Bach would have been heard in a court, or it would have been heard in a church, and it would have heard in a public space, with men and women coming together to drink beer or coffee and listen to music.”

When people come into Bayside Bowl, they will receive a menu. One side lists the food and beverages that are available, and the other side offers a menu of musical options. “You can watch Brandenburg Concerto #3 from the second-floor balcony, hear a double choir motet performed from opposite lanes or watch the sunset from the rooftop deck as you enjoy the Double Violin Concerto,” Isaacson said.

The mini-concerts begin at staggered times, so audience members can attend several. Entrance is free, and kids and families are encouraged to attend, she said.

The Portland Bach Festival returns to Ocean Gateway for a "Bach and Beer" concert on Monday. Photo courtesy of Portland Bach Festival

The Portland Bach Festival returns to Ocean Gateway for a “Bach and Beer” concert on Monday. Photo courtesy of Portland Bach Festival

This year’s festival also introduces the Bach Virtuosi Institute, which will feature nine high-achieving young musicians, who are attending the festival on full scholarship. They represent four continents, and one of them is from Maine. Christopher Staknys graduated in 2014 from Falmouth High School. Four are students at The Juilliard School in New York.

Their reason for coming to Portland is to learn from the professional musicians who attend the festival to teach and perform, but the Bach virtuosi will also perform many free concerts throughout the festival, said Lewis Kaplan, co-founder and artistic director.

“I use the analogy of a teaching hospital. If you have a first-class hospital attracting the greatest doctors and the greatest students, they play well together. That’s what we are aiming for here. The students will keep the faculty on their toes. Their youthfulness brings something that is very special.”

Also new this year is a concert on June 22 at Etz Chaim Synagogue on Congress Street that will feature selections from the St. Matthew Passion. “I think that’s going to be a very special concert,” Kaplan said. “We will play from a little stage, and it will be very intimate.”

Most of the concerts are intimate. Kaplan said some people have suggested the festival should move its concerts to larger venues to accommodate more people. But the intimacy of the space — at the synagogue and at The Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth and The Chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral — is what makes the festival special, he said. “I said, no. I wanted the feeing of great music and great artists playing for people with almost the feeling of playing one-on-one.”

Sunday’s concert at 7 p.m. at St. Mary in Falmouth is being billed as “Bach on a Blanket.” The concert will be live-streamed outside of the church, where people can watch for free on blankets. There will be food trucks, and people are encouraged to bring a picnic if they wish. “Again, this goes to the idea of wanting to make this music accessible and to take down some of the barriers,” Isaacson said. “Bring the kids, put them in their pajamas and come and listen to this music. You don’t have to be silent, you don’t have to ask about clapping between the movements. Just come and enjoy a beautiful summer night in Maine with music by some of the best musicians in the world.”

Portland Bach Festival

WHEN: Through June 25
CONCERTS: Bachtails at Bayside Bowl, 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Bayside Bowl, 58 Adler St., Portland; Concert and Bach on a Blanket, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Episcopal Church of St. Mary, 43 Foreside Road, Falmouth; Bach and Beer, 5 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 19, Ocean Gateway; Bach Virtuosi, 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 20, Chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland; Cantata Sing-Along with Oratorio Chorale, 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, Episcopal Church of St. Mary, Falmouth; Music at Etz Chaim, 7:30 p.m. June 22, Etz Chaim Synagogue, 267 Congress St, Portland; Concert, 7:30 p.m. June 23, St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland; Before and After Bach, 7:30 p.m. June 24, St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland; Concert, 6:30 p.m. June 25, Episcopal Church of St. Mary, Falmouth.
TICKETS & INFO: Season pass four main concerts, $125 or $50 for students; individual tickets, $35 in advance, $40 at door, $15 for students in advance, $20 at door. Bachtails at Bayside Bowl and Bach and Beer at Ocean Gateway are free;

Up Next: