BRUNSWICK — For the public, concerts are a summer music festival’s obvious drawing cards, but for the festivals and their participants, these performances are only part of the picture. Like several of this country’s most renowned festivals – Marlboro and Aspen come immediately to mind – the Bowdoin International Music Festival, held on the campus of Bowdoin College, is actually an intensive, high-level training institute for young musicians.

This year, 250 young players have come to Bowdoin for six weeks of study with musicians from orchestras, chamber groups and conservatories around the world. The concerts, in which students and faculty perform together as peers, are simply a part of the festival’s educational mission.

The concert offered at the Studzinski Recital Hall on Wednesday evening showed the strength of these collaborations, although in truth, the performances by all-faculty ensembles, in two of the four works, were at a notably higher level. That should not be surprising, and there is no dishonor in it. But the comparison was clearest in the two works that framed the program.

In Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major (K. 285), which opened the concert, two students – Beomjae Kim, flutist, and Janet Sung, violinist – were joined by the violist Jeffrey Irvine and the cellist Rosemary Elliott from the faculty. It was a lovely reading that warmed as it unfolded. The central Adagio, in which a gracefully operatic flute line is set against pizzicato strings, and the lively Rondo finale, with its rhythmically tricky flute passages, were beyond reproach.

But the first movement, a brisk Allegro, seemed slightly on edge: Kim’s playing was efficient and centered, but also slightly rushed, with nuance sacrificed in favor of drive. You wanted him to let the music breathe, and there were passages where you wished Sung produced a richer, weightier tone (as she proved she could do, in the later movements).

The faculty ensemble that closed the concert showed that nuance, drive and a richness of tone are by no means incompatible, and that players needn’t choose among them.

The work at hand was Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio (Op. 90), a big slice of Romanticism in which lush, slow passages morph into sizzling dances. The players were the violinist Frank Huang, who takes up his new position as the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic next season; the cellist David Ying, who shares the festival’s artistic direction with his brother Philip (they are both members of the Ying Quartet), and the pianist Elinor Freer, from the faculty of the Eastman School of Music (and David Ying’s wife).

Their reading was remarkably tight but also as supple as you could want, with fluid tempos, shapely individual lines and dialogues that came to life, often unpredictably, as the musicians either matched or offered variations on each other’s phrasing.

Between the Mozart and Dvorak, the composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel held the spotlight in Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano from 1942 (it was the young Bernstein’s first published score) and a work of his own, the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, composed for the JACK Quartet in 2013.

Bermel is one of Bowdoin’s success stories. Now a faculty member, he attended the festival as a student 22 years ago, and in his introductory comments, he gave a shout-out to the violinist Lewis Kaplan, who founded the festival in 1964 and directed it until last summer, for consistently championing contemporary music at Bowdoin. (Kaplan was in the audience.)

These days, along with his thriving career as a composer, Bermel is the artistic director of the American Composers Orchestra and the director of CULTIVATE, the emerging composers institute at Copland House.

The Bernstein, which Bermel played from memory, has many of the composer’s later hallmarks – bright-edged, theatrical melodies in the clarinet line, a rich textured piano part, and ample rhythmic variety in both – and Bermel, with solid support from the pianist Peter Basquin, gave it a vital, persuasive performance.

The program listing for Bermel’s quintet did not give the work’s original title, “A Short History of the Universe,” and Bermel did not mention the title in his comments before the performance. He noted, however, that he was inspired by the physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed, whose lectures on the nature of gravity he heard at Princeton. And indeed, the piece, with its bent clarinet pitches and sliding string figures, seems to offer a handful of inventive musical depictions of gravity at work.

That, at least, is one way to interpret the work’s ear-catching approach to tonality. It also draws on Bermel’s passion for weaving elements from other cultures into Western forms. At times, the clarinet writing took on characteristics of Asian or Middle Eastern music; elsewhere, its oscillating string lines and kaleidoscopic clarinet figures gave it an otherworldly quality, free of connections to time or place, and entirely Bermel’s own.

Bermel’s evocative performance was supported by colorful playing from the violinist Renee Jolles and the cellist David Requiro, from the faculty, and two students, Emily Brandenberg, violist, and Seo Hee Min, violinist.

The festival continues through Aug. 8.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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