DAMARISCOTTA — Each of Maine’s summer music festivals has its own character and atmosphere, as well as its own corps of musicians from around the country who return every summer (or nearly), along with newcomers to keep things fresh. The parade of overlapping festivals may be competitive, in a friendly, collegial way, but for a listener, they can also seem like a unified explosion of chamber music, all around the southeastern part of the state.

It’s as if musical life here followed a horticultural calendar of sorts, in which the winter brings choral and symphonic concerts, early music and occasional programs by the area’s string quartets, with opera and chamber music blossoming in the summer. As someone who can never get enough music of any kind, I’d like to see more of everything, all the time, but I have to admit, there’s a certain charm to the idea of musical seasons that change when the weather does.

The Salt Bay Chamberfest, which opened its 23rd season here on Tuesday evening, is based at the rustic Darrows Barn, with free lectures and community events elsewhere in town through Aug. 19.

Its programs are a comfortable blend of familiar works and contemporary scores, a point the festival pressed gently in its opener (although if you prefer a truly daring balance of old and new, you’ll want to catch Friday’s concert, which juxtaposes a string trio arrangement of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations in its first half and Iannis Xenakis’s “Persephassa,” for six percussionists, after the intermission).

Violinist Jennifer Koh took charge of the new-music component of Tuesday’s program, offering two unaccompanied pieces from “Shared Madness,” her commissioning project as the concert’s curtain-raisers. Both works were composed in 2016, and they were similar in spirit, in the sense that the ghost of Paganini hovered over them both.

David Ludwig’s “Moto Perpetuo” shared the insistent drive of Paganini’s similarly titled “Perpetuum mobile,” though not much else. Where the Paganini thrives on speed and virtuosic display, Ludwig’s interest is in extending the violin’s palette with timbres and effects that would have been entirely alien to Paganini – who, like virtually all 19th-century composers, prized the warmth and richness of the instrument’s timbre – but are fairly common in contemporary music.

Here, the violin tones bend, stretch, whisper, slide and rasp, and the virtuosity involved is both technical (its plentiful timbre changes occur speedily and relentlessly, often within briskly arpeggiated passages) and conceptual (the player has to make them sound chaotic on the surface, but also structurally coherent).

Koh played the piece with the musicality and control it demands, qualities she also brought to Missy Mazzoli’s “Kinski Paganini,” a work in which passages based partly on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 are refracted through a contemporary sensibility – and similarly updated timbres – with some inspiration from “Paganini,” Klaus Kinski’s film fantasy about the composer.

As a bridge between these hot-off-the-press scores and the concert’s main draw, the rich-hued, late-Romantic piano quartet by Gabriel Fauré, mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich, supported by pianist Thomas Sauer, gave a dazzlingly florid performance of an aria from Rossini’s “Zelmira,” and more introspective, emotionally charged readings of four songs by Richard Strauss.

Aldrich sang all five selections at her Portland recital in May, and she performed them here with the same virtuosic command (in the Rossini) and emotional depth (in the Strauss) that made these pieces highlights of the earlier concert.

Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor (Op. 45), which closed the program, is a piece that could stand more exposure, suffused as it is with attractive themes and vigorous, almost conversational interplay between the strings and the piano. Sauer and Koh, along with Cynthia Phelps, the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, and Wilhelmina Smith, the festival’s founder and artistic director, made the most of this quartet’s colliding passions in their fluid, finely balanced reading.

This has been a good summer for Fauré’s chamber music: The first of his two piano quartets, No. 1 in C minor (Op. 15), was played at the opening concert of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival last month; the Salt Bay performance completed the set.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: kozinn

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