Lewis Kaplan performs during a previous Bach Virtuosi Festival. By Stanley Warshaw, courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

Lewis Kaplan always aims for the moon. More often than not, he connects.

Kaplan, founder of the Portland-based Bach Virtuosi Festival and the former longtime artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, aimed for the moon and much more when he sent a humble request to longtime family friend (and Supreme Court Justice) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asking if she would record a spoken-word part for a digital presentation in the upcoming festival.

She said yes.

“When I asked that she do it, we had a response the same day,” said Kaplan, whose wife worked with Ginsburg’s daughter for many years. The Kaplans have shared dinners and attended gatherings with the justice and her family on many occasions, he said.

Ginsburg’s line in the program is brief – Kaplan won’t reveal it, guarding the surprise, other than to say it’s from a piece she wrote called “On Discrimination.” It is part the “Brotherhood/Sisterhood” program about racial disharmony in America, which Kaplan assembled in response to “the climate of hate in the United States.” It includes festival musicians performing the music of Bach to support historical and contemporary writings about humanity, equity and social justice by Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, John Lennon and others, read by Sen. Angus King, U.S. youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, actors Norm Lewis, Bruce Sabath, Anwar Robinson and many more.

Ginsburg sent in her line from “On Discrimination,” and poet and Maine resident Richard Blanco recorded his poem “One Today,” which he wrote for and spoke at Barack Obama’s second inauguration as president. King’s reading of the Gettysburg Address will close the program.

“Brotherhood/Sisterhood” will be presented at 6 p.m. Sunday on the Bach Virtuosi Festival’s YouTube channel. It is the opening night of the virtual virtuosi festival and first of four concerts the festival will present digitally through Aug. 23. All performances are free.

Kaplan, 86, who teaches violin at The Juilliard School in New York and lives part of the year in Brunswick, said he recruited sponsors to pay for the programming, which cost about $100,000. “This is not my gift or the gift of the Bach Virtuosi Festival. It is the gift of many people and foundations, who have supported and given me financing to make this possible,” Kaplan said. “It’s a gift to Portland and a gift to the world.”

He envisions the program as a way to elevate the music of Bach into a higher realm. As the world has become more inhospitable in recent years, the music of Bach has given him solace. “Brotherhood/Sisterhood” is a way to combine a sense of peace with a call for action, he said. “I feel that the music of Bach somehow brings sanity and peace to all of us,” he said.

Blanco shares that perspective. “Poetry and music share so much of the same artistic DNA, so to speak. So, the idea of combining the two seemed phenomenal to me,” Blanco wrote in an email.

Because of the lineup of talent and the theme of the program, Kaplan expects an international audience will watch the performance. Kaplan’s original plan was to present the program live in Portland in the spring, with actors from Portland Stage reading the lines, and musicians performing the music of Bach in between. When the pandemic canceled the in-person festival, Kaplan turned that into an opportunity to recruit more talent. Actors from Portland Stage will still participate, but Kaplan wasn’t limited by those who could commit to physically being in Portland for the performance.

Like Ginsburg.

As he researched material for the program, Kaplan found Ginsburg’s writing during a Google search. “Her line, which is fairly brief, came up,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be phenomenal if Ruth would read it herself?’ ”

She made the recording in June, Kaplan said. Ginsburg’s granddaughter captured the performance, presumably on a cell phone, and sent it along, he said.

Flautist Emi Ferguson will accompany the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sunday’s “Brotherhood/Sisterhood” program. By Stanley Warshaw, courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

To accompany Ginsburg’s words, flauist Emi Ferguson mashed up a Bach partita and sonata that share the same key into a single piece of music, which clocks in between 4 and 5 minutes. She chose Bach pieces “to reflect the text by Justice Ginsburg,” she said in a phone call. “I wanted to make sure there was a feeling of hope and looking toward the future.”

Ferguson, who lives in New York and has been involved with the Bach Virtuosi Festival since its inception, was shocked when she heard about the level of talent across fields – musicians, actors, writers and political leaders – that Kaplan recruited for this year’s virtual festival. “It’s incredible we have so many amazingly distinguished guests from all around the country,” she said. “It’s an incredible honor to get to accompany such powerful words, and words that are so important for people to hear, now more than ever.”

That was Norm Lewis’s motivation for saying yes to the gig, as well. He appears in the new Spike Lee movie, on Netflix, “Da 5 Bloods,” and two years ago starred as Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, in the TV production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” His Broadway credentials go back 30 years.

He will read the words of Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and statesman, in Sunday’s presentation of “Brotherhood/Sisterhood,” and said he was “honored” to be part of the production. A program like this is not something he normally would have considered, but he was glad for the opportunity to work and to spread a message of equality. “Everybody is going through a lot of mental, spiritual and physical challenges right now. Things like this opportunity with the Bach festival, it’s kind of a saving grace,” he said. “It’s a great cause, and it’s a beautiful message.”

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