Members of the Portland Bach Experience orchestra, photographed in 2021. Photo by Christina Wnek, courtesy of Portland Bach Experience

Entering its fourth year, the Portland Bach Experience just keeps growing.

“I’m a big dreamer,” said Emily Isaacson, founder and artistic director of the classical music festival. “So, when other organizations reach out and say they want to be involved, it’s hard to turn it down. Of course I want it to keep expanding.”

This year’s festival, which features 17 events over 13 days, opens Tuesday and runs through through June 12 at locations from Kennebunk to Brunswick. Many of the concerts are free and in settings not traditionally known for classical music.

Emily Isaacson, founder and artistic director of the Portland Bach Experience, a classical music festival that runs this year from May 31 through June 12 at locations from Kennebunk to Brunswick. Photo by Christina Wnek, courtesy of Portland Bach Experience

Isaacson, a Brunswick native, said her goal when she created the festival was to make this style of music not just accessible, but approachable.

“There is so much elitism around classical music and high culture in general,” she said. “We’ve had such a great response, both from attendees and artists who say we’re filling a niche they’re not seeing anywhere else.”

The festival started in 2018 but was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. It resumed last year with record attendance.


Included in this year’s schedule are a Carnival Concert in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood and another at Desert of Maine in Freeport, a BachBends Yoga event on the Eastern Promenade, Bach & Beer at Foulmouthed Brewery in South Portland, and an Ice Cream Concert at the Reiche Elementary School playground in Portland.

The full schedule is available online at

“I love this music, but I also recognize that sitting in a concert hall isn’t a great way to share classical music with a 4-year-old,” Isaacson said. “And a lot of my friends aren’t necessarily interested in coming to shows either, so that really got me thinking: What are the things people need in their lives? What are the barriers? What draws people out? And the answer is community. It’s making people feel welcome in whatever form they are in.”

This year’s concerts will feature more than 50 musicians from Maine and across the country, including two-time Grammy-nominated violinist Jesse Irons, who will have featured solos in a presentation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and The [uncertain] Four Seasons. The latter is the U.S. premiere of a contemporary project with an iteration created specifically for the event that reflects climate change predictions.

Another violinist and Grammy winner, Mandy Wolman, will be featured on Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and other selections.

Isaacson said some of the most popular events of the Portland Bach Experience in recent years are the salon series concerts, which feature musicians in intimate settings where the artists converse with the audience to share the stories.


“The musicians love it,” Isaacson said. “It’s less formal but much more engaging.”

Isaacson said although classical music has a reputation of being “stodgy,” most of it originated in communal settings, not stuffy concert halls.

Portland Bach Experience is a program of Classical Uprising, a nonprofit committed to community development, creative expression and inclusivity. The festival got a major boost in 2019 with a grant from the Maine Office of Tourism.

Isaacson said her long-term goal is to turn the Portland Bach Experience into a northern version of Spoleto, a multi-week arts festival in Charleston, South Carolina, that features music, dance and theater and generates tens of millions of dollars in economic activity.

“I think Portland can be that,” she said. “I’m a fourth-generation Mainer, and when I was growing up, I didn’t always feel like there was a vibrant arts scene. I felt like I had to leave. I don’t want that for my kids. I want them to be able to get all their cultural nutrition here.”

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