The Seal Bay Festival of American Chamber Music’s (hereafter SBF) mission is to make American chamber music a living experience for concert audiences, conservatory-level music students, and school children, as well as visual artists and art historians, in a geographical and cultural setting (the year-round population of coastal Maine) otherwise little served by exposure to contemporary music. The goal is to bring together leading and emerging composers, passionate interpreters, visual artists, and local audiences with a unique program of engaged community activity and public performance, the result being the fostering of a vital, mutually stimulating relationship among all.
The SBF was founded in 1994 by composers Daniel S. Godfrey and Andrew Waggoner and pianist Arlene Shrut; as co-directors, the three were joined in 1997 by composer/cellist/conductor Paul Brantley. The first festival was held in summer 1995 in Maine. In 2004, the SBF underwent a leadership transition; original co-founder Godfrey remained, and was joined by the distinguished American composers Steven Stucky and the late John Duffy. In all but two festivals since the festival’s inception, the widely acclaimed Cassatt String Quartet has served as the core resident ensemble, complemented by a variety of established performers, both instrumental and vocal. Among these are the late Marc Johnson, cellist of the renowned Vermeer Quartet, pianists Ursula Oppens, Lily Funahashi, and Adrienne Kim and clarinetists, Vasko Dukovski and Derek Bermel. In 2022 renowned guitarist Eliot Fisk will join the festival.
From 2004-2014, the festival presented unique programs of contemporary American music across Maine, and hosted guest composers on-site with the performers in an intensive creative retreat experience. In 2014, the Cassatt String Quartet and Godfrey invited composer Laura Kaminsky to join the festival’s leadership team as composer/artistic administrator. With Godfrey believing that it was time for the festival to have a fresh vision, this appointment represents a shift in leadership, yet he remains an active participant, providing musical expertise and using his ties with the Maine coastal community to keep the festival deeply engaged locally. Going forward, different distinguished composers are invited to participate each year, selected jointly by the quartet, Kaminsky and Godfrey.
Among the composers who have been in residence at the SBF are many who have been recognized with some of the field’s greatest honors: Pulitzer, Rome, Berlin, Grawemeyer, and Koussevitzky Prizes, Grammy and Academy Awards, and more. But these composers are selected because they are willing participants in a threefold dialogue of composer-performer-audience, and are eager to open themselves, their creative process, and their music, to new audiences through the programs of the SBF. Some of the composers who have been in residence at SBF are John Corigliano, Steve Stucky, Laura Kaminsky, Harold Meltzer, Joan Tower, Pierre Jalbert, Sam Adler, Sebastian Currier, Libby Larsen, Shulamit Ran, Elliott Schwartz, Dan Welcher, and Yehudi Wyner, and, in 2016, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Dan Visconti, Hannah Lash, and Chris Rogerson.
Also in 2016, visual artist Rebecca Allan, who has collaborated in multi-disciplinary projects with Kaminsky, and is a well-regarded museum educator with a thriving studio practice, will join the festival, offering painting and drawing workshops for the participants, as well as pre- and post-concert talks that include the composers and art historian Lauren Lessing of Colby College, offering an enlightening perspective on the art exhibited in the various galleries and museums where Festival concerts are presented. All Festival performances take place in art museums and galleries in multiple Maine locations (among the communities served are Vinalhaven Island, Portland, Belfast, Waterville, Ogunquit, Kennebunk, and Rockland).
The Festival’s Composer Institute was founded in 2015 under the guidance of composer Laura Kaminsky, and invites a select number of emerging composers to Maine. These Fellows participate in master classes and workshops of works they have composed for the Cassatt String Quartet; their original compositions are critiqued by the faculty composers, and the Quartet records the sessions, providing the fellows with a valuable tool for their own professional development and self-promotion. In 2016, these young composers will also enjoy the drawing and painting workshops offered by Allan and benefit from public performances of their works by the Cassatt Quartet.
The Cassatt Quartet and the resident composers have enjoyed guest appearances at the Atlantic Music Festival, based on the campus of Colby Collge in Waterville, Maine, presenting concerts, master classes, coaching sessions, and public lectures.
The Seal Bay Festival has received support from: National Endowment for the Arts, Davis Family Foundation of Maine, Delmas Foundation, Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Chamber Music America, the Glenmede Trust Company, New England Foundation for the Arts/Meet the Composer program, the Maine Humanities Council, BMI Foundation, Berta Bornstein Residual Trust, the Golden Rule Foundation, Maine Community Foundation, New York Community Foundation, and Virgil Thomson Foundation. The festival also enjoys the support of a variety of private contributors and businesses in the mid-coast region of Maine.