A musician, music educator and longtime arts administrator from Tennessee is the new executive director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick. Katherine Lehman, who has directed the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in Tennessee for the past six years, will begin her new job in Brunswick on April 15.

Lehman replaces Peter Simmons, who directed the festival 16 years before departing last fall.

Lehman plays the violin, and is a member of the music faculty at the University of South in Sewanee, which hosts the summer teaching festival. Among her performance credits, she is a past member of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

“This is an amazing opportunity to take things that I find personally meaningful and valuable and run with them,” she said in a phone interview.

Rol Fessenden, chairman of the Bowdoin festival’s board of trustees, said Lehman’s experience managing a summer festival distinguished her candidacy. Among other things, he cited her leadership, organizational skills and understanding of “the musical soul of the festival” as her top qualities.

She met with David and Philip Ying, who took over artistic direction of the festival from founder Lewis Kaplan last year, at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York, where they teach and where Lehman studied. The three established an easy rapport, and Lehman said she was impressed with the Yings’ approach to music and music education.


“We started talking, and the ideas kept coming out,” Lehman said. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I met them before, but didn’t know the Yings personally all that well. I was utterly delighted at their approach to music, to teaching, to community building and the direction they want to go.”

That meeting was essential in her decision to pursue the job further, because it showed her “that the things that mean a lot to me are the same things that mean a lot to them.”

“We don’t go into the field for fame or glory or money,” she said. “It has to be about making a connection with the larger world and sharing something you love and cannot live without. We share the same set of values.”

Lehman received her bachelor’s degree in violin performance from the University of Kansas and her master’s from Northwestern University.

Until five years ago, she had never been to Maine. She came for a summer visit with her kids and the children of a recently deceased friend. They spent several days on the midcoast exploring Phippsburg, Boothbay, Bath and Brunswick. “It was a quiet retreat from the world,” she said. “We observed a kind of peace there and a way of living that seemed authentic and beautiful and connected to the earth in a way that I want, and a pace that I want. I love the atmosphere there, and I like the way people think about living.”

The Bowdoin festival began in 1964 and attracts students and professionals from around the world to the Bowdoin College campus for intense summer study. The festival operates independently of Bowdoin College and uses its classrooms and performance spaces for the festival.

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


Twitter: pphbkeyes

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