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Out & About: Music festivals in Portland, Brunswick, New Gloucester

Lifestyle

Out & About: Music festivals in Portland, Brunswick, New Gloucester

Three music festivals are slated for summer’s opening week. The first is the three-day International Piano Festival. Under the aegis of the Portland Conservatory of Music, IPF runs this weekend in the Port City.

That's followed a few days later by the Maine Festival of American Music, which is among the state’s most intimate. Produced by the Portland String Quartet, the programming is unique and intriguing, and the setting – at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester – harks back to American traditions. Plus it embraces new music with strong Maine associations.

The Bowdoin International Music Festival is Maine’s biggest by far. Stretching six weeks, June 26 to Aug. 2, this festival features five different concerts series and programming covers the gamut from classical chamber works to 21st-century compositions.

International Piano Festival

Two decades ago, Portland didn’t have any summer classical festivals. Now it has two. The newest turns 10 years old this weekend, hosted by the Portland Conservatory of Music. The International Piano Festival is one of Maine’s smallest and shortest, with the 2013 edition comprising four concerts over a span of three days, June 21-23.

Festival co-founders are Carol Elowe, the visionary piano teacher from Brunswick (who also got the conservatory started in the first place), and Russian virtuoso Tamara Poddubnaya, who teaches and performs extensively in Europe.

Epitomizing the grand and flamboyant Russian performing tradition, Poddubnaya is the featured performer in the festival’s grand finale on June 23. Her program is still being decided, according to Elowe.

The IPF’s kickoff concert is slated for June 21, when Frank Glazer will play a program that includes pieces by Franz Joseph Haydn, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin and Samuel Barber.

Frank Glazer is the dean of Maine pianists, as well as the ageless Energizer Bunny of the state’s musicians. He has been appearing on public stages since the late 1920s and taught for many decades at the Eastman School of Music. He has been artist in residence at Bates College in recent decades, and gives an annual concert series there. During his lengthy career, Glazer has performed two dozen concerti with orchestras around the world.

Saturday’s public programming comprises a pair of concerts by top-level students.

Glazer and Poddubnaya will appear in Memorial Hall at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Glazer will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. and Poddubnaya will perform at 4:30 p.m. The student concerts are slated for the First Parish Church, 425 Congress St. in downtown Portland, at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Call the conservatory at 775-3356.

Maine Festival of American Music

Another small music festival is among the state’s most intriguing. The Maine Festival of American Music is held at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester, produced by the Portland String Quartet. The PSQ celebrates the roots and heritage of American music, often by exploring the links between American traditions and European classical music.

I’ve been attending this festival in recent years, and I’ve always been fascinated by the PSQ’s efforts -- spearheaded by violist Julia Adams -- to position their art in unconventional and illuminating contexts.

This year’s festival begins June 26 with a program that features David Lonebear Sanipass, storyteller with Maine’s Mic Mac tribe. The musical component of the evening will examine Native American influences in chamber music via compositions by Antonin Dvorak and Charles Griffes.

On June 27 the focus will shift to Shaker music, led by Brother Arnold Hadd and Adams. The program will revolve around Shaker hymns, and there’s a sing-along too.

On June 29 the PSQ will spotlight Kennebunk native Patrick Doane, a New York violinist and composer. In his teen years, Doane studied with PSQ violinist Ron Lantz, and he maintains strong Maine connections. A recent Juilliard graduate, Doane has written a new string quartet that incorporates Shaker music. It will be premiered on June 29.

The three events mentioned above will take place at 7 p.m. at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, Old Route 26 in New Gloucester. Call 926-4597.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Both the music festivals mentioned above are quite small. Maine’s biggest by far is the Bowdoin International Music Festival, which kicks off June 26 and stretches into the first weekend of August. It’s also among the oldest, dating back to 1965 when Bowdoin professor Robert K. Beckwith got together with New York violist and musical entrepreneur Lewis Kaplan, who headed a diverse chamber music group called the Aeolian Players.

Kaplan calls Manhattan home most months of the year, but lives in Brunswick during the summer. Plus spends much of his time flying around the globe, with permanent teaching gigs in London and Salzburg.

He has been the BIMF’s driving force from the get-go. Now in his mid-70s, he retains his boundless energy and love for music and Maine. He recently announced that he will step down as festival artistic director at the end of the 2014 season -- after completing 50 years.

About 250 students attend the festival, which offers a pathway for professional growth for young players. BIMF faculty numbers about 50, headed by Kaplan, a longtime professor at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.

Public concerts are given seven days per week. The two headline concert series are on Wednesdays and Fridays. The June 26 Wednesday Upbeat and the June 28 Festival Friday concerts feature the well-established Ying String Quartet – BIMF artists in residence for years – plus a newcomer to the associate faculty, violinist Laura Lutzke.

A recent Juilliard grad, Lutzke has served as the concertmaster with the New York Youth Symphony and she was named among the “Rising Stars” of the Caramoor International Music Festival in 2008 and 2009.

Another BIMF concert series is the Monday Sonatas, which typically feature solo and duet performances, often matching senior faculty and the festival’s most promising young performers.

And speaking of the young performers, there is no set schedule for the Artists of Tomorrow series, but generally speaking these concerts are slated for Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. These concerts are free.

Kaplan has been a champion of new music from the start of the festival, and always has a composer or two in residence. The fifth weekend of the festival is entirely devoted to contemporary music.

BIMF Festival Friday concerts take place at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School, while most other public events use Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. For a full schedule of times, artists, programs and venues visit bowdoinfestival.org.