Mihae Lee came to the United States from South Korea in 1972. The following summer, she enrolled at the Bowdoin International Music Festival to study piano. Most summers since, she has been coming to Maine to make music.
“It’s one of those states, it’s hard to explain unless you go there and become part of the local scene every summer. I always felt I grew up there. That was part of being in America, being in Maine,” she said.
Lee, who lives in Connecticut, is back for her third summer as artistic director of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival. She began playing at the festival in the 1990s, and took over when longtime director Laurie Kennedy stepped away after the 2015 season.
The festival opens its 46th season on July 17 at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison. The festival has five concerts, each Tuesday through Aug. 14, and there are several community concerts, as well.
All five programs feature chamber music masterworks by Brahms, Schumann, Mozart and Dvorak, with lesser known works by others. In addition, the festival will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Debussy and the 150th anniversary of Rossini’s death, and celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birth year.
Looking back, Lee remembers thinking the festival might disappear after Kennedy retired. Members of the festival’s board of trustees met with musicians to gauge interest. “There was a lot of soul-searching – can we go on? Should we go on? It’s hard for a small organization, and I give the board a lot of credit. They got the musicians involved and sought everybody’s opinion – go on or stop,” Lee said.
With buy-in from the musicians, the board sought a replacement for Kennedy. Lee floated her name, reluctantly. She worried she lived too far away in Connecticut. But her experience as artistic director of the Essex Winter Series in Connecticut was more important than any challenges of geography.
The festival has grown under Lee’s direction. This summer, it will expand its community concert program with an emphasis on music as a force of healing, with free concerts in rehab centers, cancer treatment centers and other health-care operations. Thanks to its recruitment of sponsors, the festival will hold community concerts in Auburn, Bridgton, Falmouth, Norway and South Paris and will continue its annual concert on Chebeague Island, which began in 2000.
The festival will partner with the Bridgton Historical Society to celebrate Bridgton’s 250th anniversary, and with Chestnut Hill Concerts in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Musicians from Sebago-Long Lake will repeat the season’s final concert on Aug. 17 in Connecticut.
Among this season’s 26 performers, eight will make their festival debut: violinist Catherine Cho; violists Mary Hammann, Catharine Lees and Todd Phillips; cellists Ani Kalayjian and Ronald Thomas; bassist Andrew Roitstein and harpist Stacey Shames.
The rest are returning: flutist Susan Rotholz; oboist Stephen Taylor; clarinetist Alan Kay; hornist William Purvis; bassoonist Adrian Morejon; violinists Min-Young Kim, Timothy Lees, Varty Manouelian, Philip Palermo, Movses Pogossian, Keiko Tokunaga and Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu; violist Laurie Kennedy; cellists Elizabeth Anderson; Eliot Bailen and Bonnie Thro; and pianists Yuri Funahashi and Lee.
WHERE: Deertrees Theatre, Harrison
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays starting July 17
HOW MUCH: $25, five-concert subscription $100, free 21 and younger