It’s hard to believe that the Bowdoin International Music Festival will begin its 50th year June 30.

The festival was founded in 1964 by Lewis Kaplan and the late Robert K. Beckwith of Bowdoin College, to prepare gifted young musicians from around the world for careers in music through study with world-class artists. It also provides a chance for the young musicians and their teachers to perform in concert, while giving Maine audiences an opportunity to hear works that would seldom be performed elsewhere at a reasonable price.

This anniversary year will be Kaplan’s last as director. He will be succeeded by co-directors David and Philip Ying, of the famed Ying Quartet.

The festival will mark such a milestone with a special lineup of performances. Most notably, this year will see the entire cycle of Beethoven string quartets performed during the Monday night series by the Brentano, Pacifica, Shanghai and Ying quartets.

In previous years, the Monday night sonata recitals were held at Bowdoin’s Studzinski Recital Hall. The Beethoven cycle will be at Crooker Theater of Brunswick High School to accommodate what is expected to be a larger than usual turnout. Live performance of the entire cycle, one of the monuments of Western civilization, is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

The 16 quartets will not be played in chronological order. Each concert will have, roughly, one early, one middle and one late quartet, beginning June 30, with the Ying Quartet playing the String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, and the

String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1.

While some string quartets have recorded the entire cycle, it is rare to have it performed live at a single location. Check bowdoinfestival.org to learn when your favorites, or those you have never heard live, are being played.

The Bowdoin Festival’s shorter companion, the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, which runs July 31, Aug. 2 and Aug. 3 and was founded in 1965, commissions and presents the work of emerging and established composers.

This summer’s program revisits notable works commissioned by the Gamper, including “O, King” by Luciano Berio, “Eleven Echoes of Autumn” by George Crumb, “Junctures” by Mario Davidovsky, and “A Garden for RKB” by Elliott Schwartz. Premieres will include a cello solo by the Bowdoin Festival’s 7th annual student composition competition winner, Ursula Kwong-Brown, and works by several resident student composers, all of whom will be present at the performances.

The Bowdoin festival’s most popular concerts, the Friday night series at Crooker Theater, will be graced this year by a larger than ordinary number of concertos, including the Brahms Violin Concerto on July 4. It’s a performance I wouldn’t miss. But to recommend just one must-hear concert this year, I am torn between that and the July 25th program, which will include the Debussy Sonata for Cello and Piano, George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) and the Dvorák Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53. Crumb’s work, which has been performed before at Bowdoin, is one of this century’s iconic masterpieces and should be heard live at least once.

While the Festival Friday concerts are often sold out, the more informal UpBeat! series on Wednesday nights has generally been more available. This year the concerts will be held at Studzinski Recital Hall, and the number of seats will be more limited. The concerts will include world premieres of works commissioned by the festival. The Aug. 6 performance is of a new percussion work by Vivian Fung, commissioned by the Aeolian Chamber Players. Having heard some of Fung’s pieces for percussion, I can guarantee that the UpBeat! series will go out with a bang.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. Contact him at

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