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Out & About: Portland Chamber Music Festival features world-class performers

Lifestyle

Out & About: Portland Chamber Music Festival features world-class performers

During the summer months, the center of gravity of Maine’s music and theater moves out of Portland and disperses along the seacoast and far into the exterior. One especially notable exception to that seasonal exodus is the Portland Chamber Music Festival, which starts its four-concert main series on Thursday, Aug. 11.

There have been some big changes in PCMF management, but Artistic Director Jenny Elowitch remains committed to top-notch performances by world-class musicians and she continues her festival’s longstanding connections to contemporary classical music.

Deertrees Theatre Festival has undergone big changes, too, but its basic format remains constant: four shows over four weekends. Deertrees Theatre Festival starts this weekend and runs through the end of the month.

One Longfellow Square has a pair of programs of special interest to followers of southern Maine’s vibrant songwriting community on Aug. 5 and 10.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

Seventeen seasons of the Portland Chamber Music Festival have flowed under the metaphorical bridge, but “energy” and “vitality” are still the catchwords that violinist Elowitch uses – and effuses – when talking about her event.

There have been big changes in the festival’s management and direction, but Elowitch’s commitment to interesting, audience-pleasing programming remains constant. So does PCMF’s commitment to engaging new music; this year’s 21st-century offerings include a jazz-inspired work by one of America’s top composers plus a light-hearted piece inspired by a cat.

I’ve been covering PCMF from 1994 – months before its public inaugural – and have been an avid attendee since the first concert. This week, I’ll review the big picture plus some details of the Aug. 11 concert. Then next week I’ll focus on the remaining three programs.

For 2011, the festival’s 18th season, Elowitch will totally assume the role of artistic director. She founded the festival with her longtime friend, New York pianist Dena Levine, and the two co-helmed it through 2010. Levine decided to withdraw as co-director last fall, but the parting was amicable and she’ll remain one of PCMF’s featured artists, playing in two concerts this summer.

Don’t expect too many changes. PCMF was a winner from the start and Elowitch won’t mess with success.

“Fundamentally, Dena and I had a very similar worldview of music,” Elowitch said. “I might have a little more of a bent toward contemporary music than she does, but there’s no way that I’m going to abandon the traditional repertoire that our audiences have come to expect and turn this into a contemporary music festival.”

The overall format won’t change either. There are four main evening concerts: Aug. 11, 13, 18 and 20. The roster of performers typically numbers about 20. Most of these are globetrotting American musicians who have known Elowitch and Levine since their conservatory days; several have first-chair positions in major U.S. orchestras.

The Aug. 11 concert exemplifies PCMF’s tried-and-true formula, with selections spanning the 18th through 20th centuries. It opens with Jean-Marie Leclair’s Baroque duo for two violins, then segues into Ralph Vaughn William’s moving, but seldom-performed “On Wenlock Edge,” a major 20th-century vocal masterpiece. The featured singer will be John McVeigh, an internationally renowned opera tenor who lives in Portland, but seldom performs in Maine.

The concert concludes with Felix Mendelssohn’s celebrated String Octet. Musicologists have long noted the composer’s exceptional ability to give all eight instrumentalists a distinct voice in the overall piece, thus retaining its intended character as chamber music and not sounding like an undersized orchestra.

PCMF mainstage evening concerts are scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Abromson Community Education Center on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus at 88 Bedford St. Visit www.pcmf.org for details. There is also a free “family” concert at 11 a.m. on Aug. 14, a collaboration between PCMF, Peekaboo Children’s Center, The Telling Room and the Southern Maine Writing Project.

Deertrees Theatre Festival

Deertrees Theatre, the wonderfully rustic edifice and arts center in the Lake Region, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer. Built by a New York opera activist in 1936, the rose hemlock building has undergone many changes over the decades, including a sad period of abandonment and a mid-1980s rescue and rehabilitation into today’s vibrant magnet for the performing arts.

The annual Deertrees Theatre Festival, which has run for more than a decade, will be substantially changed for 2011, emphasizing lighthearted musical entertainment versus the heavier dramatic and literary fare featured in prior years. A pair of jukebox musicals dominate the first two weekends, while the final two weekends will feature works written and produced by Boston actress-director-playwright-educator Gail Phaneuf.

Halfway through the festival, Deertrees will hold a 75th birthday party on Aug. 15.

Let’s take a quick look at this weekend’s show.

“The Bikinis,” described as a musical beach party, plays Aug. 4-7. It’s a jukebox show that revolves around the reunion of a 1960s-era girl group played by four topnotch professional actresses. Featured songs include “Under the Boardwalk,” “It’s Raining Men,” “When Will I Be Loved” and “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

Deertrees is on Deertrees Road, a mile out of Harrison Village. Call 583-6747 or visit www.deetreestheater.org.

Songwriters at One Longfellow Square

Southern Maine boasts a legion of singer-songwriters, and two of the pillars of that vibrant community will be featured in a pair of programs at One Longfellow Square on Aug. 5 and 10.

On the first date, Delilah Poupore and Friends will be giving a free concert at 6 p.m. as part of the First Friday Art Walks. After relocating from California four years ago, Poupore has made an impact both as a singer-songwriter herself, plus she’s broadened her reach by teaching songwriting classes for several adult education programs and organizing showcases for her students. I’ve heard Poupore and her circle of songwriting friends several times and find them always interesting.

On Aug. 10, the Maine Songwriters Association launches its Second Wednesday showcase at 7 p.m. With more than a thousand members statewide, MSA has been on the scene for more than a decade supporting Maine’s unique songwriting community and promoting the art of song craft.

This monthly showcase will provide some of Maine’s best songwriters an ideal venue for sharing their talent with their fans. The showcase consists of eight individual performances of just 20 minutes each, providing the audience with a tasty sampling of each musician's best material.

One Longfellow Square, the western anchor of Portland’s downtown arts district, is located at the corner of Congress and State steets. Call 761-1757 or visit www.onelongfellowsquare.com.