A scene from the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music during a past performance at the Bowdoin International Music Festival. Photo by Tim Greenway, courtesy of Bowdoin International Music Festival

For the first time in three years, the six-week long Bowdoin International Music Festival will welcome live, in-person audiences.

“I think everybody is ecstatic,” said David Ying, who serves as co-artistic director of the festival with his brother, Phillip. “Classical music, and chamber music especially, it’s so personal and so based on human-to-human communication. Being able to share music through Zoom has been great, but it’s still a pretty dim substitute for being in the same room together.”

At its core, the festival is educational, a chance for aspiring young musicians to learn from world-class instructors on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick. But the festival also has dozens of opportunities, many of them at no cost, for people to experience the music of Brahms, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven, among many others, sometimes in non-traditional settings.

Students and some faculty members will play concerts in breweries, senior centers, libraries and churches from as far south as Scarborough to as far north as Rockport. Events begin on June 27 and run through Aug. 5. The full calendar, including ticketed concerts, is available online at bowdoinfestival.org/online-public-events.

Dan Nitsch, who has been the festival’s executive director for the last six years, said one of the biggest challenges among arts organizations that specialize in this particular music form is broadening its audience base.

“One thing we’ve found to be successful is not necessarily getting people into Studzinski (Hall on the Bowdoin campus) for a traditional concert but taking our musicians on the road for more community-focused events.


“And being able to see the next generation of literally the world’s best classical musicians here in Brunswick is such a unique opportunity.”

Ying concurred.

“Compared with a lot of festivals in the area, I think we offer the biggest opportunity to hear young people on their way to being mature professional artists,” he said. “Their energy is the fuel of the festival.”

Ritsch said organizers of the festival, which was founded in 1964, are hopeful that audiences are ready to come back in full.

“In the past, in 2019 and before, by now we would have sold out maybe half of our performances,” he said. “This year, ticket sales are going well, but we haven’t sold out yet and that’s a little uncommon.

“I think with the uncertainty of the last two years, maybe people don’t plan ahead in the same way.”


Ticket sales for the 20 concerts in the festival subscription series, which are held in Studzinski Hall, provide less than 10 percent of overall revenue. Most comes from student tuition and donations.

This year, there will be nearly 300 students, some as young as 13, representing 16 countries and 36 states. The cost is $7,000, which includes dorm housing at Bowdoin, and the festival has nearly $500,000 in annual scholarship funds, enough to cover the full cost for about 70 students.

“So many students are extraordinarily qualified and could benefit from a place like the festival but simply can’t afford it,” Ritsch said. “So that’s our challenge now. I think our goal, ultimately, is to become completely need-blind in application process.”

Interest in the festival is growing, too. More than 1,200 possible students submitted applications, up from only about 700 in 2019 before the pandemic.

“Anytime I hear people say, ‘Young people are just not interested in classical music,’ I think, that just doesn’t match our experience,” Ritsch said.

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