Bay Chamber Concerts’ Next Generation program has been gathering talented young classical musicians from around the area and around the country for 20 summers. Playing a variety of instruments and selected by audition, they are placed in ensembles and coached in a musical work appropriate to their abilities, yet challenging enough to inspire. Many have gone on to bigger arenas, as a couple of upcoming concerts bear witness.

Curtis On Tour

Bay Chamber Concerts has been connected to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute from the beginning, and this year is bringing the annual Curtis On Tour program to the Rockport Opera House Saturday, March 20 at 7 p.m. This year’s Curtis On Tour features Curtis students performing alongside celebrated alumni and faculty. Violinist Ida Kavafian and cellist Peter Wiley (Class of 1974), both Curtis faculty members, are appearing with Curtis students in a program that celebrates the centenary of celebrated Curtis alumnus Samuel Barber (Class of 1934). It also features short works commissioned for the tour by two Curtis composition students.

Among the Curtis students performing is Benjamin Beilman, who took part in the Next Generation program in 2002 and ’03. The 20-year-old violinist grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and now considers Chicago his home base. It was via Chicago he came to Rockport, as he was a student of Kathie Johnson, the award- winning director of chamber music for the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra who used to split her time between the Windy City and Midcoast Maine. She and her husband, Marc Johnson, cellist for 40 years with the recently disbanded Vermeer Quartet, are Next Generation’s co-founding artistic directors and now live full time in Cushing.

“She had me working in trios and some other chamber groups and invited me to come to Maine,” said Beilman a couple of days back from the tour’s longest leg, one that took the group to Davis, Calif. “Two to three weeks in Maine in the summer playing chamber music with kids my own age? Of course!”

Beilman remembers staying with Marty and Paul Rogers of Camden, whose Elm Street house was used in the locally filmed “Thinner.”

“I remember that house so well,” he said. “There was a trap door. I’m not sure it was put in for the movie, but we had a lot of fun with it.”

Beilman returned to the big blue house in 2003 when he and the other young musicians in the Bay Chamber Trio, which came together during his Next Generation summers, were selected to appear in a taping of National Public Radio’s “From the Top” at the Strom Auditorium of Camden Hills Regional High School. As exciting as that was, Curtis On Tour offers a more realistic public performance experience, which is part of the reason it exists.

“I’m in my third year, so have gotten a lot of the prerequisites done and planned ahead with my teachers to be able to do it,” he said. “Obviously, the education here focuses on training musicians and part of that is knowing how to perform professionally on stage.”

Of course, Beilman already has done a lot of that, including playing Carnegie Hall as a member of the prestigious New York String Orchestra; performing as a recipient of a Gold Award in Music from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; and as a featured artist at the Marlboro Music Festival – all quite prestigious, but Curtis On Tour puts him in a spot he finds particularly challenging.

“I’m sitting right next to my teacher [Kavafian] in the Dvorak Piano Quintet [No. 2]. She’s on first [violin] and I have to watch her closely and try to hang on,” Beilman said.

One of the student-written works, “Lullaby: no bad dreams,” was composed by a friend of Beilman, Christopher Rogerson, and Beilman said it’s been very interesting to work with him on the world premiering piece.

“Often, we play pieces written by people who are, well, they’re all dead. I feel really lucky to be working on this piece,” he said, adding that one reason he and Rogerson get along is because they are both Michigan football fans.

The Curtis Institute, one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world, admits only 160 students each year and it gives each of them a full-tuition scholarship. It also is unusual in that it offers the possibility of attending for five years instead of four. Beilman is considering going that route and why not: “I’m working with the best faculty and the best students I could ever hope to be with,” he said.

Most tickets are $25; prime seating is $45, discounted up to 44 percent with subscription. A limited number of $8 tickets are available for youth younger than 19. For more information or to purchase subscriptions or tickets, contact Bay Chamber Concerts at 236-2823 or toll-free at 888-707-2770 or online at

“From The Top”

Sophie and Josie Davis of Waldoboro may be a few years apart but they have been studying violin for almost the same amount of time: Josie began at age 6 and Sophie at 4. They have been performing for much of their lives, but on Wednesday, March 24, the Watershed School students will play to their biggest audience yet when they appear in National Public Radio’s “From the Top.” Although radio shows sometimes get switched around, the Portland Ovations evening at Merrill Auditorium in Portland is scheduled to be broadcast nationwide and online Monday, April 12.

Both musicians are classically trained via the Suzuki method, but they also paid some dues to the Maine fiddling tradition, thanks to their mother, fiddler Janet McMahon. Both sisters attended the Maine Fiddle Camp in Montville and for a number of years were familiar faces around Waldo and Knox counties as members of McFravis, a family fiddling ensemble composed of the sisters and their mother; and their mother’s twin sister and her two daughters, who hail from Swanville.

The Davis sisters have participated for several years in the Next Generation program in Rockport, as well as the Kneisel Hall Maine Young Musicians Program in Blue Hill. Last summer, Josie took part in the Bowdoin International Music Festival. Both currently study with Gilda Joffe of Lincolnville, Bay Chamber’s music director of education, and are members of the Odeon Chamber Orchestra, which Joffe directs. They also form half of the Calliope String Quartet. That award-winning chamber ensemble, which has gained recognition around the Midcoast, will reconfigure soon as Josie, who is 18, graduates in June. Sophie, 15, is a freshman and the group’s other members are in her class, so Calliope is likely to continue in some fashion.

“I’ve auditioned at a few music schools, but haven’t heard yet. But I want to do a double major, music and something else, maybe international studies,” said Josie during a lunch break at the independent Rockland school. Sophie has more time to consider, but also thinks the music-and-something-else approach is the way to go.

The sisters perform together a lot, most recently in the Rockland Congregational Church’s Sounds of Second Sundays concert series.

“There are a limited number of duets for violin without accompaniment; we play a lot of them,” said Sophie.

“I play piano as well, so we do piano and violin performances together,” Josie said. “We’ve done some weddings, cocktail parties and concerts.”

Last April, the sisters performed a concert to benefit their school with Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer Paul Sullivan. In the fall, they performed a duo violin recital at John Street United Methodist Church in Camden. They made a CD of that performance and decided to send it in to “From the Top,” which has a fairly easy submission process.

“We sent in the CD and paperwork, kind of blew it off in 15 minutes, not expecting much,” said Josie.

But two weeks ago, the sisters heard from the show’s producers that they were selected for the Maine taping.

“It’s an ongoing cycle, so they don’t give a lot of notice before,” said Sophie.

Although they admit the audience in Portland is likely to be more critical than audiences at the local churches, the sisters are not getting too stressed about their upcoming spotlight. They will perform the Largo movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s double violin concerto in D minor.

“It’s not technically that difficult and we’ve done it before,” said Josie. “It’s really more about the experience of playing at Merrill Auditorium.”

There will be a dress rehearsal, as well as a musical rehearsal with host Christopher O’Riley, who will accompany the Davis sisters on piano. The sisters have already had a phone interview with the show’s staff. The interview segments of “From the Top” are known for humorously revealing odd facts about the young performers.

“We tried not to say anything too strange, but they’ll find something,” said Josie.

Asked if he had any advice for the Waldoboro sisters from his appearance on the show, Beilman said they should “feel like you can be yourselves. It’s kids performing and having fun, which is great.”

For ticket information about the 7 p.m. radio taping, visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to