Lewis Kaplan performs at a previous Bach Virtuosi Festival. Photo by Stanley Warshaw, courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

At age 85, Lewis Kaplan draws energy trying to match or surpass what he has done before as a teacher, performer and music festival administrator. Speaking about the next Bach Virtuosi Festival at hand in early June, his conversation speeds up with enthusiasm as he talks about the roster of stars coming to Portland to play and sing.

He recites a few names and offers quick synopses of their qualifications.

John Ferillo: “First oboe of the Boston Symphony. The two most important positions are first violin and first oboe. To have a great artist like John Ferillo is really something.”

John Thiessen: “Probably the greatest baroque trumpet player in the world.”

Katelyn Emerson, a York native: “One of the greatest organ players in the world.”

Henry Kramer, a recent Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Cape Elizabeth native, will perform in Portland in June. Photo by Stanley Warshaw, courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

Henry Kramer, a pianist from Cape Elizabeth: “He just won an Avery Fisher Career Grant. That’s the highest honor the United States offers a student.”

He pauses. “All of these performers are among the greatest in the world. They are playing and singing in the greatest and most important baroque festivals in the world, and we’re bringing them to Portland. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”

Oh, yes he can.

This is the fourth year of the festival. Kaplan began the festival after spending 50 years at the helm of the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick. He teaches violin at The Juilliard School in New York and lives part of the year in Brunswick.

The Bach Virtuosi Festival begins June 2 and continues with four concerts through June 9. The opening concert at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, “Celebrating Bach: The Return of the World-Renowned Virtuosi,” includes Ferilli, Thiessen and soprano Sherezade Panthaki.

The program includes the motet “Singet dem Herrn,” BWV 225 with a choral ensemble, conducted by Panthaki and including soprano Elizabeth Marshall, countertenor Jay Carter and tenor Brian Giebler, among others. Panthaki called it “the great Bach motet of all time and a personal favorite. One just can’t help but dance to it. All Bach is dance music, and all Bach is basically jazz. This piece is joyful and jubilant, with eight singers, one to a part. It’s an acclaimed roster of singers, hand-picked for this.”

The program also includes Cantata 29 (“We Thank You, God”) and the Sinfonia BWV 249 from the Easter Oratorio.

Sherezade Panthaki sings at a previous Bach Virtuosi Festival with Jay Carter. Photo by Stanley Warshaw, courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

Panthanki, a baroque singer with an international career and previous festival performer, praised Kaplan’s commitment to musical excellence – in his recent work in Portland, his half-century in Brunswick and his lifetime in New York. “People of my generation are grateful to people like him,” she said. “Lewis is such a generous musician in the way that he plays and the way that he interacts personally. He’s respectful of ideas and opinions. He wants a true collaborative experience for everyone involved. Despite how much experience and maturity he has, he always seems to want to learn more, even if it’s from people he’s just met.”

Kaplan said music gives him life. “The thing that Juilliard taught me from a very early age, all that matters is artistic excellence. It’s that that binds us together. It’s respect for what we care about professionally the most – the art of the music. All these musicians and singers have been instilled with that idea of excellence.”

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