Thirty years ago, almost as a means of self-preservation, Marya Martin founded the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival.
Soon after her marriage, the flutist embarked on the summer festival circuit, an annual cross-country pilgrimage that required she leave her new husband, Ken Davidson, a businessman, for eight weeks at a stretch. Dissatisfied with spending so much time apart, the couple decided to start their own festival a bit closer to home.
They began the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival in 1984 with just four artists and two concerts, held at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church. In its anniversary season, the festival includes more than 40 musicians, who will perform in 11 concerts over the course of the next month.
“In the beginning, before the first concert, a lot of people said we’d never get an audience, that people in the Hamptons are too interested in cocktail parties,” said Ms. Martin, the festival’s artistic director, who will perform in each of the concerts. “There was no music out here and it was the perfect place to have music, and we just kept thinking of the dream of having these great concerts here.”
A native of New Zealand, Ms. Martin has performed as a soloist with major orchestras throughout the world. Over the course of her career, committed to expanding the flute repertoire, she has commissioned nearly two dozen new works.
According to Ms. Martin, who studied at Yale and has been a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music since 1996, “chamber music” consists of more than two instruments but no more than 13. Another defining characteristic is that it lacks a conductor, with the musicians forced to rely on one another to know when to slow down or quicken the pace.
The musicians will typically have rehearsed for three eight-hour days before every concert this summer. By the time they take the stage, each performer will not only know his or her part cold, but will be able to respond to slight nuances in each other’s playing almost instantaneously.
Part of the thrill of chamber music is its spontaneity. For instance, if one musician suddenly feels inspired to slow down or play a bit louder, the others will automatically follow suit.
“The more you rehearse, the freer you are,” explained Ms. Martin. “We know each other’s parts inside and out.”
Back in the early days of the festival, Ms. Martin was the young up-and-comer, a role that has shifted with the passage of time.
“When we founded the festival, I was the youngest and some of my colleagues were 10 years older,” she said, while declining with a smile to reveal her precise age. “Thirty years later we’re the 50-year-olds, and we really have a great bunch of young people coming in each year.”
Apart from rehearsal time, Ms. Martin sees part of the magic happening during the evening dinners that she and her husband host three nights a week. During these dinners, she said, egos are finally set aside, with everyone growing tolerant and accepting of one another. The young performers stay with local families, who volunteer to house them for a week at a time, rather than in hotels, which would be nearly impossible, said Ms. Martin, on the festival’s budget. (She is always looking for more families with the space and interest to host.)
During the year, Ms. Martin splits her time between Bridgehampton and Manhattan. Come July, the festival is her sole focus. While many warned her in the early years that turnout would be a problem, the 350-seat Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church routinely sells out.
A free outdoor concert was held last night on the grounds of the Bridgehampton Historical Society to open the series, and the festival will hold its annual benefit concert at the Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton on Saturday night. On Aug. 9, concertgoers will attend “Midnight in Paris: An Evening of French Music Where Classical Meets Jazz” at the Channing Sculpture Garden in Bridgehampton. Ticket prices for that event run $100 to $150, including appetizers and a wine tasting.
All other performances will take place at the Presbyterian Church, where, Ms. Martin noted, the air-conditioning flows freely and the acoustics are superb.
The festival, which emphasizes American composers, will also feature well-known pieces from Bach, Mozart, and Mendelssohn, and, on Aug. 11, a piece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, commissioned by and for the festival.
For Ms. Martin, what began as an experiment has now become an institution. She plans to run the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival indefinitely, energized by all the hard work. During the second half of each performance, after she has left the stage, she can often be seen at the back of the house, where she stands to take it all in.
“When I see people walk out of the church with a smile on their face, or after a standing ovation, I realize that we’ve not only connected with these people, but that everyone is better off for it,” she said. “They’re better off — and I am as well.”
Tickets can be purchased on the festival’s Web site, bcmf.org, or by calling 631-537-6368. Prices for most events range from $30 to $50.